Have ticket, can’t win

Posted on: February 9, 2014

The Aam Aadmi Party wants to contest 350 Lok Sabha seats, but where will it get candidates who can win an election? Sonia Sarkar on the dilemma the party faces

If questions were wishes, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) would ride the wave of success. With elections around the corner, the newest kid on the political block is looking at candidates for Parliament. But despite the party’s popularity in some quarters, there seems to be a dearth of suitable candidates.

“So far, we have received around 5,000 applications. We have extended the last date for applications because we haven’t got the right candidates yet,” party leader Yogendra Yadav says.

People seeking a nomination have to fill in a form that’s available online. Candidates will be called for an interview where they will be asked several questions: Do you have a past connection with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or Congress? Do you have a team of volunteers of your own? Has your work made any difference to the local community?

No to the first question and yes to the remaining two would be appreciated.

But while would-be candidates are busy submitting their forms, AAP is in a dilemma. Just where is it going to get winnable candidates from? Winning 28 seats and defeating three-time chief minister Sheila Dikshit in Delhi gave the party a political boost. What it has not given — a legacy that all major parties have inherited or have developed — is a list of experienced candidates.

Of course, a few well-known people have joined AAP, which now boasts of 8 million members. Among them is airline entrepreneur Captain G.R. Gopinath and former banker Meera Hiranandani Sanyal, who wishes to contest from Mumbai South. In Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Kamal Mitra Chenoy, earlier with the Communist Party of India, and journalist Ashutosh are new entrants, as is former Congress leader Alka Lamba. In Gujarat, dancer Mallika Sarabhai is likely to fight the election as an AAP candidate.

But these are all people who have either never fought an election outside campuses, or fought and lost. Sarabhai was defeated by BJP leader L.K. Advani and Sanyal by Congressman Murli Deora in the 2009 general elections. Lamba lost to Madan Lal Khurana in the 2003 Delhi elections.

Earlier this week, AAP came out with a list of names — featuring, among others, BJP’s Nitin Gadkari and Congress’s Rahul Gandhi — which its candidates will fight against in the coming polls. A party functionary also said it would contest from 350 seats out of 543 parliamentary seats.

“We are looking for popularity in an area and acceptability within the organisation,” Yadav says. “Those who leave the BJP or the Congress just before the elections and join us hoping to get a ticket are not welcome,” stresses AAP’s Sanjay Singh who, along with Yadav, is the co-chair of the party’s search committee for suitable candidates.

The party is also looking for people who have done social work for more than 20 years — and that’s not an easy criterion to meet. Sanyal, for instance, is an important fundraiser, but has just five years of social work to her credit. She, however, stresses that she has vast experience.

  • In line: Mallika Sarabhai, who is likely to be a candidate; and (top) college girls at a membership drive in Patna

“I have worked with women in tribal and forest areas and helped them become entrepreneurs. I have travelled across 15 states to live with and document the challenges and successes of women. Plus, I have worked with the youth too,” she says.

The party hopes to do well in the two northern states — Delhi and Haryana — where it has a presence. But in many states, there are hardly any applicants. For the 48 seats in Maharashtra, it has received 300 applications and for the six seats in Mumbai, 60 applications so far.

“Applications for the Lok Sabha seats from Maharashtra are also coming from Delhi,” says Preeti Menon, secretary of the party’s Maharashtra chapter.

In many states it has hardly any presence. In Jharkhand, the party is still to emerge. The scenario is equally bleak in Bengal, where the party has received seven applications so far. But state unit chief Mukul Kesri holds that the party will fight from South 24 Paraganas, South Calcutta, North Calcutta, Howrah and Hooghly (Serampore).

Yadav is not so sure. “Looking at the organisational strength of the party in Bengal, we don’t think that we can contest any seats there,” he says.

In Bihar, the party seems to have been overwhelmed by caste equations. “It is easier to break into a state which has a straight fight between the BJP and the Congress,” Yadav admits.

In the south, AAP is relatively strong in Bangalore, where it has over 1,00,000 members and prominent faces such as Gopinath and V. Balakrishnan, former Infosys board member and currently chairman, MicroGraam.

It has a presence in Kerala too, but not enough candidates. AAP wants to fight the CPI(M) and the Congress in 20 parliamentary seats, but has received 25 nominations so far. “But a lot of social activists who have done good work are joining us,” says Kerala unit convener Manoj Padmanabhan.

AAP has been trying to focus on Gujarat — where it plans to take on BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. Ashutosh and Sanjay Singh have been conducting rallies in Gujarat but the response has been lukewarm. The party has received 105 nominations for 26 parliamentary seats but none of these is from people with strong political backgrounds.

“It is disappointing because Gujarat is a challenging battlefield for us,” Gujarat unit secretary Sanjeev Srivastava says.

The problem with AAP, it emerges, is AAP itself. The party, which has come up on a platform of clean politics, is in a bind. Many people who seek to join the party, and who may win elections, are not clean. On the other hand thousands of incorruptible people who are with AAP and willing to fight the polls do not have the capacity to win.

The preconditions — no political affiliations, 20 years of social work, etc. — don’t help either. To top it, candidates also have to support their applications with at least 100 signatures from each Assembly constituency that comes under the parliamentary seat they wish to contest from. “The parameters are very difficult to meet,” a senior Mumbai AAP member admits.

Another problem is that the party doesn’t have an established ideology — so it’s attracting people with no political backgrounds. “People wear a muffler and a Gandhi cap and come to us for a ticket — they think that’s the trademark for getting a ticket,” Madhya Pradesh member Colonel (retd) V.K. Choudhury says.

Some observers, however, believe that AAP may end with a slew of suitable candidates just before the April-May polls. “If they win 50 seats, it will signify that they have arrived. But it is highly unlikely to happen, given the lack of organisational strength of the party,” says Manisha Priyam, ICSSR fellow at Nehru Memorial Museum Library, Delhi.

Wait and watch, party leaders retort. They wowed Delhi; they hope they’ll end up surprising the rest of the country.

Additional reporting by Velly Thevar in Mumbai, Varuna Verma in Bangalore and Sharmistha Das in Calcutta


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