AAP Has Learnt From Mistakes. And It Will Go Big In Gujarat.

Published: February 16, 2017 16:56 IST
Very recently I was talking to one of the doyens of Indian journalism and he said "Hey man, if you guys win Punjab, Indian politics will change!" I said "Sir, I don't know if politics will change or not, but yes, we are surely going to win Punjab with a massive majority." This was the man who in 2013 had prophesied much before anyone else that there would be a wave for Modi in UP. I did not believe him then, but the results proved his prophecy right. Modi won 72 out of 80 seats in UP. So if he says something like this about AAP, I have to believe him.

When another very senior editor, Shekhar Gupta, who has been very, very critical of AAP and the Anna Movement, writes two consecutive columns eulogizing AAP, then there has to be some truth to it. Shekhar recently wrote that even if AAP were to come second in terms of seats in Punjab, it would count as a national force. Not that AAP needs any certificate from sceptics, but this clearly underlines the simple fact that AAP as a party may be small, but it has a national appeal and its footprint is universal.

The victory in Delhi, in 2015, was hailed as a breath of fresh air, but it was also dubbed one of history's biggest flukes. I remember a year ago when I told another respected editor that we would win Punjab, he looked at me with contempt. The same gentleman has revised his opinion of late. And today, when the party says that AAP will contest elections in Gujarat and also in Rajasthan, I do not see the same dismissive reactions from the power elite. "Acceptance of the outliers" has been the great turning point of Indian political system in the last two years.

The last two years have been very turbulent for the Delhi government. The centre has done everything possible to destabilise a duly elected government. The media has been extremely hostile. Every act of AAP has been minutely scrutinised, and AAP has been held responsible and blamed for everything - even that which is not in its jurisdiction. It was possibly a survival instinct which propelled the party to venture out of Delhi to explore new grounds in search of more political muscle power. Punjab and Goa were obvious choices.
arvind kejriwal gujarat 650

Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party will contest the assembly elections in Gujarat - the home state of his political arch-rival Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Both the states were going to the polls in 2017 along with UP and Uttarakhand. Yes, there was temptation and pressure from the cadre to contest there too, but AAP had learnt lessons from its strategic mistake of the 2014 parliamentary elections when it decided to contest more than 400 seats. In Punjab, AAP had already won four Lok Sabha seats and the ground situation was ripe for another successful political experiment, while Goa with 11 lakh voters did not demand too much resources.
So the party decided to go for the kill in only these two states. The results will prove the point.

In Gujarat, the elections are due in December and next year in Rajasthan. Preparations on the ground are on in these two states along with some others. Gujarat is an obvious choice. After Punjab and Goa, the party has enough time and strength to consolidate its gains in Gujarat which is waiting for a new political alternative.

Like Delhi in 2013 and Punjab in 2017, there is a severe anti-incumbency against the BJP in Gujarat. The BJP has been in power in the state for the last 22 years. According to The Economist magazine, "With just 5% of India's population and 6% of land mass, it accounts for 7.6% of its GDP". Despite all the hype about the Gujarat model, its record in poverty reduction and job creation is much below expectations. The youth is very upset and is looking for ways to vent its anger. Despite great road connectivity, the rural sector is in turmoil. Farmers are committing suicide. Even in the 2012 assembly elections in rural Gujarat, the BJP lagged behind the Congress.

Today, social forces in Gujarat are so disenchanted with the political class that they have launched movements on their own. The dominant Patel community which was the the backbone of the BJP is today on a warpath with the BJP government. Its 23-year-old leader Hardik Patel has been imprisoned for more than a year. The Dalits staged one of the biggest rallies in Ahmedabad after the brutal beating of Dalits in Una district in the name of cow protection. The Kshatriya community is also showing signs of rebellion against the present government on the issue of prohibition. Their leader Alpesh Thakur is attracting a lot of traction from the community. These are warning signals for the BJP.
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PM Modi was Chief Minister of Gujarat for 13 years before moving to the Centre (File photo)

The BJP has also been in a state of chaos since Modi moved to the centre. The BJP had to change its Chief Minister in less than two years. Now it is led by Vijay Rupani who has no base of his own. It is already rumoured that sooner than later, he will be replaced. The party is no longer the disciplined force it was once considered to be. It is divided in many factions. Former Chief Minister Anandiben Patel still has not reconciled with her removal and she is holding a grudge against party president Amit Shah.

The Congress should have been a default choice but it is in disarray. There is not one acceptable face at the state level. It has done very little in last two decades to win back its traditional KHAM vote bank. During Modi's time, the Congress was considered to be the B-Team of BJP. It is still suffering from the same syndrome. At the national level, it is still struggling to put up a decent fight vis-a-vis Modi and the BJP.

Modi's popularity is on the wane. The BJP's credibility is fast eroding, but the Congress's inability to reinvent itself, to get rid of its corrupt past and lack of leadership has prepared the ground for a new political experiment. AAP has the credibility, and now it can showcase its own model of inclusive development in Delhi before the people of Gujarat, Rajasthan and the rest of India. In Arvind Kejriwal, it has a leader which has the credibility, courage and the conviction to fight for the rights of the common man.

He is the only leader among the regional leaders who possesses the gravitational pull among the masses outside his own turf like Delhi, Punjab and Goa. On the issue of demonetization, large crowds came to listen to him in Jaipur, Surat, Ranchi, Bhopal, Meerut, Varanasi and Lucknow. Nitish Kumar, Mamata Banerjee, Naveen Patnaik, Akhilesh Yadav, Mayawati, etc. can't boast of the same stature outside their state. This makes AAP the natural third-biggest political force at the national level after the BJP and the Congress. After Punjab's thumping victory, a new energy will be unleashed and that it will be time to lay the new ground rules for the establishment.

(Ashutosh joined the Aam Aadmi Party in January 2014.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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