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Will 2022 be AAP's Year?

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Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) convener Arvind Kejriwal has decided to contest from Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh in pursuit to his national ambition. Although it looks better positioned in Punjab, it will be interesting to see how the party fares in other three states—Goa, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh.

By VINIT KONERU


For the AAP, a “Delhi-centric” regional outfit, seeking to spread its wings and expand its base in the four election-bound states—Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh—speaks volume about ambition of the AAP's national convener and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. Although Kejriwal-led party has a good track record in Punjab keeping in view the past election wins, the most important battle of all will be Uttar Pradesh, a state dominated by regional satraps and ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. 

Goa and Uttarakhand could also be interesting battlefields, where the Kejriwal's party could try its luck in the assembly polls scheduled between February 10 and March 7. Besides these states, another north eastern state, Manipur, will also go to polls in the slated schedule. 

AAP's national ambition 

The results in these states will determine if AAP can expand its leadership umbrella beyond Delhi and achieve a “national party” status. So far, the AAP has politically achieved in a very short span of 9 years what no other regional party has been able to do in two decades. Be it the Trinamool Congress (TMC), Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), or YSR Congress Party, which are undeniably very strong in their respective states led by charismatic leaders. 

What makes Kejriwal more confident?

Recent wins in local elections of Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Chandigarh have made Kejriwal even more confident to go with all guns blazing in these states. This has to be also seen in the context of 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Unlike 2014 Lok Sabha, when the party's national ambition met the stark reality of pursuing national ambition unprepared, the party came well equipped this time around.  

The fact that the elections in these states come ahead of elections in three Delhi civic bodies—South Delhi Municipal Corporation, North Delhi Municipal Corporation and East Delhi Municipal Corporation, slated to take place in April 2022, and Kejriwal's decision to contest in the upcoming assembly polls also shows that marquee leader is confident and well equipped to take a step closer toward his national ambition. 

The style sheet of the campaign is the same: the electioneering in Punjab, Uttarakhand, and Goa being led by AAP's convener Arvind Kejriwal, staggered release of manifesto promises or “Kejriwal’s guarantee,” robust ground campaign with party volunteers aiming to reach each household with “guarantee cards,” the “Delhi model of development” with a heavy emphasis on health, education water, electricity, and outreach toward women with a monthly allowance for all above the age of 18. AAP has also promised to create employment and provide an unemployment allowance for the youth. 

AAP in Punjab 

Raghav Chaddha, Vice Chairman of Delhi Jal Board, is the in-charge of Punjab, the state in which the party has announced Bhagwant Mann as its chief ministerial candidate. The decision was announced days after the party opened telephone lines for people of Punjab to suggest names for their preferred chief ministerial candidate. 

AAP received around 22 lakh responses under its campaign to elect its CM face for the assembly polls. Kejriwal said last week that he wanted the party’s state unit chief Bhagwant Mann as its CM face for Punjab elections, but the Sangrur MP insisted that the decision should be left on people. In the 2017 Punjab assembly elections, the Aam Aadmi Party went into the polls without declaring a chief ministerial candidate but failed to form a government. It won 20 seats and became the principal opposition in the state. This time, Kejriwal assured the voters from early days that the party will announce its CM face ahead of the polls. 

Besides, the Chandigarh municipal election result, which came out in December last year, could also be encouraging for the Delhi-centric party. Arvind Kejriwal-led party emerged as the leading side in the election as it bagged 14 out of 35 seats, ahead of the BJP, which came second with 12 seats. What makes it even more significant for Kejriwal and a big blow to the Congress is that the APP achieved all of it in its debut attempt. 

AAP in Uttarakhand

Dinesh Mohania, an MLA from Delhi, is in-charge of Uttarakhand. The AAP has decided to contest on all 70 seats in the assembly polls to be held in coming months and has declared Col (Retd) Ajay Kothiyal as its chief ministerial candidate. 

Kothiyal, former principal of Uttarkashi-based Nehru Institute of Mountaineering who joined the AAP in April last year, is well known for his commendable work in the aftermath of the 2013 Kedarnath disaster. 

AAP in Goa

Delhi MLA Atishi has been made in-charge of AAP’s Goa unit, and the AAP has decided to contest all 40 seats in Goa assembly polls. Recently, the party named Amit Palekar as its chief ministerial candidate for the upcoming assembly elections in Goa. Palekar, a noted lawyer and social worker, hails from the OBC Bhandari community. Arvind Kejriwal also held a door-to-door campaign in Cortalim village of Goa. Kejriwal, who was the star campaigner for AAP last time, was seen interacting with voters in Cortalim. 

AAP in Uttar Pradesh

In Uttar Pradesh, the AAP has zero presence, and which is why several meetings were held between Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav and AAP leader Sanjay Singh. Singh is the party in-charge for Uttar Pradesh. A report by The Print suggests that senior members of both parties met multiple times to discuss the seat-sharing plans. However, they could not reach a consensus. However, a senior SP leader, on the condition of anonymity, said that the SP, during the talks, realized that they were not gaining anything as the AAP does not have a specific support base in Uttar Pradesh. 

“The idea of an alliance is not working. We will contest on all 403 seats on our own now," Sanjay Singh, party’s Rajya Sabha member, had said. So far, the AAP has released the list of its 150 candidates without making public its Chief Minister's face for the upcoming Uttar Pradesh assembly elections 2022. Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh will be held in seven phases starting February 10. The tenure of the current Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly will end on May 14 this year. The party had announced that it would contest all 403 seats in Uttar Pradesh. 

AAP's journey

Earlier, the Kejriwal-led AAP was born out of the India Against Corruption campaign led by social activist Anna Hazare. After the party was elected in the 2013 assembly election in Delhi, it gave up power after just 49 days of running the government as it wanted to contest all the Lok Sabha seats during the 2014 general elections. 

Assembly election schedule

The upcoming elections in the five states will begin on February 10: Uttar Pradesh will go to the polls in seven phases from February 10 to March 7, while Manipur will vote in two phases on February 27 and March 3. Goa will go to the assembly polls on February 14 in a single phase along with Punjab and Uttarakhand. The counting of votes will take place on March 10 along with other poll-bound states like Uttar Pradesh and Manipur .

Crucial test for AAP

In its political pursuits of expanding in other states, the AAP has relied on the Delhi model of development, with free electricity, water, healthcare, and education at the top of their agenda. The agenda has helped them defend their government in the national capital in 2020 and also expand its base in some urban local bodies of Maharashtra, Punjab, and Gujarat.

According to a highly placed source in AAP, "The party's Delhi-model offers some value proposition to lower class and middle class voters, that too in cities, where one can see striking differences between ultra-rich and marginals living in the same neighborhood. But that is where the problem lies, while propagating the Delhi-model of development elsewhere, it fails to strike sentimental value with local issues and their culture. And the party might continue with this agenda in upcoming years, with little scope of diversification."

Even before going for elections, the party has become no-player in Uttar Pradesh and nonsignificant in Uttarakhand after declaration of CM face. It is hoping to perform marginally well in Goa, relying on the state's educated and urban voter base. And Punjab is very crucial to the party, as its results will affect the party in MCD elections too. Given the challenges from the well-established parties, it is still early to foresee how AAP—a relatively nascent outfit—performs. However, by improving organizational structure, it has certainly galvanized its cadre in each of these poll-bound states.

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