On the day the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) won the Delhi Assembly election by winning 62 of the 70 seats in February, the party also rekindled its hopes of growing beyond the Capital.
There were huge flex boards at the party headquarters here with a message join AAP to build the nation, and addressing volunteers, senior AAP leader Gopal Rai said, The fight has only begun. I want to tell you and volunteers across the country, you gear up, not just in Delhi, the whole country needs change.
Since then, the party has announced that they will fight in all seats in the Uttarakhand Assembly election in 2022 and has been working in Uttar Pradesh too. The party has also announced that they will be fighting all local body elections, wherever they have a unit.
Political experts said that this will help AAP in building a national organisation, but they may not win seats immediately.
AAP leaders told The Hindu that they have learnt their lessons from previous elections and are confident.
Raising core issues
AAP Uttar Pradesh in-charge and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh, who has been touring the State, said that they were raising core issues such as COVID-related corruption and rise in crime in Uttar Pradesh, which no other party is talking about. Several incidents [of crime] happened against the Brahmin community in U.P. and we are raising it on a regular basis. In COVID-related corruption, 800% commission was taken. Oximeters which you get online for 800, was bought by the U.P. government for 4,000 and 5,000. Analyser is available on the government portal for 1.45 lakh, but was bought from Chinese company for 3.3 lakh. We are trying to make people aware of all these, he said.
AAP Delhi MLA and Uttarakhand in-charge Dinesh Mohaniya was precise about their activities in the State. We are doing three things. One is organisation building. We are welcoming new volunteers and also focusing on booths. We are appointing at least one person per booth and have already done so at 4,500 of the over 10,000 booths. Secondly, we are roping in people from social organisations and other parties. Third is the oximeter campaign. We are visiting at least 10,000 houses in the State, Mr. Mohaniya said. Here, the fight is going to be between BJP and AAP, the leader added.
Failures in the past
Since 2017, the Aam Aadmi Party has been contesting Assembly elections in at least 14 States outside Delhi, but has failed to win even a single seat in 13 States.
The only State in which the AAP tasted some victory was in Punjab in 2017, where it won 20 seats and is the main Opposition. But AAP leaders said they have learnt from their mistakes and are focusing on organisation building.
In different States, the political atmosphere is different. So what works in Punjab wont work in Uttar Pradesh. But our basic learning is that we need a strong organisation to fight and win elections, Mr. Singh said.
We are building the party in more States. Party building is not easy. We are a small party and have limited resources. But we are making plans and following it strictly, Durgesh Pathak, party in-charge of AAPs National Organisation Building Team said.
The AAP MP said that in Uttar Pradesh the party was strengthening their State, district organisations, and frontal organisation for women, students, farmers, minorities. Mr. Singh said that the party will be fighting the panchayat election in 2021 in the State, before the Assembly election in 2022.
Mr. Pathak said that the party will be going forward with organisation, local faces, and party chief Arvind Kejriwals face to fight the election outside Delhi. In U.P., we have Sanjay Singh looking after the whole campaign; in Goa, too, we have local faces, he said.
He said that the party will fight Punjab, Gujarat, and Goa Assembly elections in 2022. The AAP had fought elections in these three States in 2017.
In August, Mr. Kejriwal had launched a nationwide oximeter campaign under which AAP volunteers will go from house to house and check peoples oxygen levels. Multiple AAP leaders said that due to COVID-19-related restrictions, this is the only outreach programme they have at this point.
Its a door-to-door programme to check oxygen levels and through this, we make our presence felt in these areas and build inroads, an AAP leader said.
But the campaign ran into trouble in Punjab with the Chief Minister asking the AAP to stay out of the State with the programme.
Political analyst Neerja Chowdhury said that the partys aim is not exactly to win elections at this point. They are aiming to build an organisation nationally, but incrementally. They know the importance of organisation now. If they win, well and good. But it is not that they are trying to capture a State, she said.
The Kanshi Ram approach
In the long term, they would eye the Congress votes. They would try to replace the Congress, but it is a long-term plan. At least 10-15 years or even more, depending on how things pan out, you cant say exactly. Their approach is what Kanshi Ram of the BSP used to have: To use every election to build the organisation. Now, AAP will do exactly the same. They will fight local body and State elections. The idea is to build an organisation. Without an organisation youre nowhere and the Congress is finding it the hard way now that they dont have people to even man the booths, she said.
Ms. Chowdhury said that she doesnt feel that the AAP is going to challenge the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, at least during the first time they fight the State election. In Uttarakhand, they might mop up some seats. But in U.P., there is a vacuum and which they can come to occupy, Ms. Chowdhury added.
She also said that the AAP is shifting Hindu ward, towards right socially, and it was evident from the Delhi Assembly election. Kejriwal understands that the country has turned that way. Also, he had made up with the Centre, she said.
In States, the BJP might welcome them to undercut the Congress. In the long-term, the BJP will be worried about the AAP, but for now they might welcome them, she added.