The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has clearly emerged as the joker in the pack in the 2013 assembly elections. The fledgling party which has emerged in just a year with the potential to upset conventional calculations has been giving sleepless nights to both the mainstream parties.
AAP provoked Narendra Modi to address five rallies in a small state like Delhi, in the hope that the Modi effect would make up for the dent in the BJP’s votes by Arvind Kejriwal’s party. Certainly, AAP has created a buzz in large parts of Delhi, both in the ‘bastis’ and middle-class colonies, compelling even Sheila Dikshit to accept it as a factor in the polls. How much of a factor will be known soon enough.
In the past, there have been small parties that hit the headlines at poll time and then disappeared. Sometimes they had a nuisance value, because they damaged one of the main players enabling the other to win. But the AAP is cutting into the votes of both the BJP and the Congress. This is borne out by the revelation in surveys that one third of those voting for AAP in Delhi would vote for Narendra Modi in the Lok Sabha elections.
By taking on Sheila Dikshit in her constituency in New Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal has upped the ante against the Congress. He could have stood from a host of other constituencies and been certain of victory, but Kejriwal chose to beard the lioness in her den, thereby carving out a larger profile for himself and his party.
Broadly, four scenarios will determine the kind of impact AAP will have in the days to come. If the party gets confined to 2-3 seats, even as it garners around 15 per cent of the vote share, it may not disappear but will be reduced to being a group — like the lone member of Lok Satta Party, N Jayaprakash Narayan, in the Andhra Pradesh assembly — which critiques mainstream politics.
And Kejriwal may once again join hands with Anna Hazare who plans to sit on a dharna next week to push for the passage of the Lok Pal Bill in the Upper House.
But if the party wins around 10 seats and garners around 22 per cent of votes, as predicted by several surveys, Kejriwal will go for the spaces where the Congress, and the BJP are weak and vulnerable — be it in UP, Bihar, Uttarakhand, or Himachal Pradesh.
It would be no mean achievement if the AAP does manage to get around 22 per cent of the votes, and that too in a period of one year. For, regional parties like the BSP and the SP, JD(U) and the RJD have hit those figures after years of struggle.
Unlike many regional groups, which rely on caste as their basis, and whose discourse is confined to their respective states, AAP has positioned itself as a national force, reaching out to all segments. Today, the Congress is anchored in consumer politics of goodies and freebies and the BJP in majoritarian politics, bringing in performance and polarization in a new formulation.
AAP is trying to focus on issues of citizenship, governance, and accountability, which could have an appeal for the young.
If, by a freak chance, the AAP gets a majority — repeating what NT Rama Rao did in 1983 in Andhra Pradesh, taking his new party Telugu Desam to power within nine months of its formation — as is being predicted by its in-house psephologist Yogendra Yadav, Kejriwal would go for the third party space in the country. From all accounts, his team has already set up units in many Lok Sabha constituencies.
However, such a scenario will also — and this is ironic — hold the biggest challenge for AAP’s identity, catapulted as it would be into a situation in which it has to deal with huge expectations. It would be called to dismantle the existing system, in place for 15 years now — which is hardly likely to cooperate with it — and to do this with no administrative experience or even a relationship with the bureaucracy to fall back on, is a daunting task. “Government as a movement” is easier said than done. The fourth scenario is one in which Arvind Kejriwal emerges as a giant killer, defeating Sheila Dikshit in the New Delhi constituency. This would undoubtedly make him a national icon against corruption. But he could also become a rallying point, outside the Delhi assembly, for new political forces, which have recently come to the fore, as well as the existing political parties, or their offshoots, in what could become an open-ended attempt to create an alternative to the existing mainline parties. It is not without interest that such an eventuality is being discussed, in muted tones, inside the Congress.
If that happens, it is not inconceivable that Kejriwal decides to take on both Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi in their respective constituencies in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections. He has already shown that he is not a risk-averse leader, and goes for the jugular, whether it was his decision to part company with Anna Hazare, to float a new party, or to take on Sheila Dikshit.
In 1962, Socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia had contested against Jawaharlal Nehru in the general elections but had lost to the then PM badly. But that one act of taking on the country’s tallest figure had laid the ground for the non-Congress SVD governments all over North India in 1967.
Depending on its performance, AAP, then, could turn out to be more than just an “upstart” element in the Delhi elections. Its emergence as a force would show that urban India now wants a new politics, that is more oriented towards delivery and development. These assembly elections will capture some of the ground level shifts that are taking place.
Let’s be clear. Whether it is the Arvind Kejriwal phenomenon, or the Narendra Modi effect — and to a lesser extent even the Jaganmohan Reddy factor — much of their appeal today has to do with a mood in large parts of the country, reflecting a desire for change and for a decisive leadership, which can lead from the front.
The writer is a political and social commentator