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The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which was founded on November 26, 2012, turned five this Sunday. At a public rally to mark the occasion, party chief Arvind Kejriwal asked people in Gujarat to vote for any party that could defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Congress is the principal opposition party in Gujarat and the only party in the state with the wherewithal to challenge the BJP.
Earlier this year, AAP had contested the assembly polls in Goa and Punjab. The AAP performed poorly in Goa. In Punjab, it had hoped to form the government. It ended up being the principal opposition party in the state. At a book launch event on Friday, Kejriwal said that his party continued to believe the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) were rigged in assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Punjab.
In the upcoming Gujarat assembly polls, the AAP was expected to field several candidates. But Kejriwal on Sunday indicated that his party was willing to move away from its sentiment of anti-Congressism. Several other parties, born either out of anti-Congressism or from within the Congress, are recasting their electoral constructs to appeal for anti-BJPism. These include the Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party.
But the Congress, particularly its Delhi leadership, is unlikely to allow any possible understanding between AAP and itself. The Congress party has resisted moves by other opposition parties, particularly the Trinamool Congress, to have AAP join the 17-party Opposition alliance that the Congress currently leads inside Parliament. Congress party spokesperson Pawan Khera tweeted to remind Kejriwal and his supporters that their initial ‘India Against Corruption’ movement in 2011 was accomplished with the support of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Vivekananda International Foundation.
Kejriwal’s appeal suggests the party is coming to terms with its role as the third pole of the Indian politics. The AAP is young, and so is its leadership. It has much lesser baggage than other parties. It is also the only instance, after that of the Bahujan Samaj Party in the 1980s and 1990s, of a new political party successfully contesting elections within years of its inception and capturing political power. Its recent mistakes aside, the AAP still has the credibility and the potential to be the conscience keeper of Indian politics - a space that the increasingly feeble Left parties had once occupied.
The AAP’s first five years have seen incredible highs and lows. After its impressive show in the Delhi assembly polls in 2013, the party performed below expectations in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Activist groups and grassroots workers had come together to contest on AAP tickets in 2014. It had contested over 400-seats and won only four. The AAP, like most others, were blown away by the Modi wave. The AAP’s next big moment came in February 2015. It won 67 of the 70 assembly seats in the Delhi assembly. For the first time since 2014 Lok Sabha, it showed Modi’s magic might not work if faced with a credible local leader.
But, Kejriwal lost popular support among the middle classes soon after. He also became increasingly autocratic, surrounding himself with a coterie of men comprising Manish Sisodia and others, while engineering to throw out founding members like Prashant Bhushan, Shanti Bhushan, Yogendra Yadav and Ajit Jha. There has also been a constant tug of war between Centre appointed Lieutenant Governor of Delhi and Kejriwal-led AAP government.
Kejriwal and his supporters attribute their party’s loss of middle class support base to the abuse and misinformation by the Sangh Parivar. But it is also true that people didn’t take kindly to Kejriwal calling Narendra Modi names when the latter’s credibility remains high in large parts of India.
Of late, Kejriwal has shown more discrimination in commenting about Modi. The Delhi government has also tried to consolidate its position by focusing on delivering better governance, particularly in health and school. Indications are that AAP continues to hold on to its support base among the poor, while the middle classes have slipped away.
Meanwhile, AAP’s national ambitions have taken a beating. Its presence in other states is dwindling. This could explain Kejriwal’s appeal to people to support the Congress in Gujarat. The 2019 Lok Sabha election would be a test for AAP. Could it aspire to be a national player? Early next year, the AAP will debut in the Rajya Sabha with three seats. This would be an opportunity for AAP to send members who would help it punch above its weight.