soniasarkar26

Going national? Really?

Posted on: December 15, 2013

“How can I join the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP),” the Facebook user asks on her page. The answers come in droves. “Here’s a list of offices in the cities,” someone replies. Another user sends a link to an academic for membership forms. “I have made my first member,” he exults when the academic duly fills it in.

When it comes to volunteers and members, AAP should have no complaints. After winning 28 seats in the just concluded Delhi Assembly elections, Magsaysay winner Arvind Kejriwal’s outfit, started only over a year ago, is raring to go. But where will it go, and how?

“We have to go beyond television interviews. We have to go places,” senior AAP member Yogendra Yadav tells visitors pouring in from all parts of India to congratulate party leaders. “We have to find out if we can spell this magic in the rest of the country.”

The 2014 general elections are round the corner. Voters tired of the existing political parties are pinning their hopes on AAP. But its leaders stress that it’s too early for them to take a decision on how many seats they will contest out of the 543 parliamentary constituencies.

“We don’t intend to form a government (at the Centre) but we are sure that we can win 50 seats or more,” senior advocate and AAP national executive member Prashant Bhushan says.

The party has already started taking baby steps to that effect. Its youth leader Kumar Vishwas may fight against Congress’s Rahul Gandhi from Amethi. “I don’t claim I’ll win. But I want to challenge dynastic politics,” says Vishwas, who teaches Hindi literature in Ghaziabad’s Lala Lajpat Rai College.

The party leaders realise that they have to strike while the mood is in their favour. “We have to be quick. If we don’t respond to the wave now, it might go up in thin air,” Bhushan warns.

Growth is already being mapped. Since it was formed in the aftermath of Anna Hazare’s 2011 anti-corruption movement, the party now has a presence in 309 districts across 22 states, with active units in Haryana, Maharashtra, Odisha, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, besides Delhi. New units are being opened in Bangalore and Kochi.

Mumbai’s offices have expanded in recent times with donors giving the party space in Kandivali, Borivali, Mulun, Ghatkopar, Andheri (W) and Santacruz. Mumbai secretary Preeti Menon says 3,000 volunteers are active in Mumbai. “There is a momentum building up across Maharashtra,” Mumbai-based national executive member Mayank Gandhi says, adding that he received around 1,000 text messages from people wanting to join AAP after the Delhi results were out.

The leaders, however, admit that AAP’s magic worked in Delhi because it was the centre of Hazare’s anti-corruption movement. Its name — which means common people — and its symbol, the broom, also touch a chord in the masses.

But what worked in Delhi may not bear fruit at the national level. For one, the party does not have the numbers needed for general elections. “Though we don’t lack leadership qualities, we have a dearth of recognised leaders at the national level,” Yadav says. “The problem is many in the party are reluctant politicians,” a senior AAP leader adds.

Decisions on candidates will be taken in the next few months, but the focus will be on those with a clean image. AAP will also assess the candidate’s strength in a particular constitution and his or her leadership qualities.

“The real challenge is the screening,” says Gandhi. “Recently, a BJP leader came to me and asked what post he would get if he joined us. I told him that if he was joining the party for a post, this was not the place for him.”

AAP members claim that their party is inclusive — and that will continue to be its focus. Of the 12 newly elected Scheduled Caste MLAs in Delhi, nine are from AAP. The three women MLAs in the Delhi Assembly are all from AAP which, however, fielded only six women for the 70-seat Assembly.

“We need more women participation,” agrees party spokesperson Shazia Ilmi, who was fielded from R.K. Puram and lost by a small margin.

But almost all the 28 candidates who won in Delhi were novices, Patparganj MLA Manish Sisodia stresses. “That clearly proves that people vote for the party, and not for an individual.”

The main problem that AAP is now going to face is the lack of an organisational structure. While the list of volunteers is never ending, it doesn’t have the manpower that parties such as the BJP and Congress have.

“We have researched and found that for a Lok Sabha election, there are 15-18 lakh voters in each constituency and an average of 14,000 polling booths. We need three volunteers to man each booth,” a Mumbai volunteer says.

The party also feels that it has to expand in the east. “In Bengal, people were disappointed with the Left and pinned their hopes on chief minister Mamata Banerjee. But they are now disillusioned by her, and are looking for an alternative. That’s our constituency, and we have to tap it,” Yadav says.

The mood in Odisha is upbeat. There is talk of the party joining hands with the Maoist frontal organisation Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh. “We want people to see AAP as a grievance redressing party,” AAP Odisha convener Nishikant Mahaptra says.

But to expand, the party needs resources. The offices have mostly all been donated, the furniture and computers have come free and the workers are all volunteers. The Delhi election is believed to have cost the party Rs 20 crore, which came from donations. “But we would need Rs 200 crore to fight the general elections,” Bhushan says.

They may need more. A source close to a former MLA in Maharashtra says that every day one has to spend nothing less than Rs 1.5 lakh when it comes to the Lok Sabha polls. There’s the cost of paying and feeding supporters; besides, in slum areas, women are given sarees and the men liquor as incentives to come out and vote. On election day itself some candidates end up spending over Rs 1 crore, and that’s a conservative estimate, says the source on condition of anonymity. Indeed, Maharashtra BJP leader Gopinath Munde admitted that he spent Rs 8 crore in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, though he backtracked when the Election Commission quizzed him on this.

But even money is not enough to script the success of a political party — it needs political acumen, strong leaders and a mission. AAP’s advantage is that it has emerged at a time when the image of national parties is at an all-time low. “With the decline of the Left, the space for AAP is getting wider as the party talks about real issues,” feels Manisha Priyam, ICSSR fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library.

Delhi was one step for AAP. It now hopes for a giant leap.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: