The stunning debut by the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the Delhi Assembly election seems to have created a roadblock in the hitherto unchecked march of the Narendra Modi juggernaut to Delhi. What is most galling for the BJP is that Arvind Kejriwal’s party has emerged as its alternative rather than that of the Congress, which has been decimated in four state Assembly elections.
The AAP’s emergence has also stunned caste-based political parties in the state, represented by the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Opposition Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), who together occupy nearly two-thirds of the political space in Uttar Pradesh. In the past two decades, both have flourished on the strength of their caste-based, fossilised vote banks. Political observers believe that the agenda of clean and accountable politics pursued by AAP will prove to be a big headache for both the SP and the BSP, which are more of a family enterprise filled to the brim with tainted leaders with criminal backgrounds.
The Congress and the BJP maintain that the 2014 General Election will be fought over national issues. But, political observers feel that it would be naïve on the part of parties to underestimate AAP’s real impact, which goes much beyond its immediate performance in Delhi.
“Until 8 December, the day of counting of votes in Delhi, both the BJP and the Congress believed that, for the common man, they were the most viable alternatives to each other, both in Delhi and nationally,” says CPI leader Ashok Mishra. “But that is no longer the case. The success of AAP has proved, in the true sense of the word, that a third option is possible even if it does not always win. In many states, including Uttar Pradesh, there are numerous small political parties fighting for the cause of common people. Now, they can join hands with AAP and make life difficult for both the national parties.
“All the political parties in Uttar Pradesh will now have to factor in the emergence of AAP in their respective strategy for the 2014 General Election,” adds Mishra.
A senior Congress leader echoes his views, saying Delhi is not just any other state. “The citizens of Delhi are drawn from all over north India, particularly Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and their electoral preference and behaviour is bound to make an impact in their home states,” he says on condition of anonymity. “In their post-poll analysis, psephologists and political pundits will have to find out as to how people from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar voted in the Delhi election.”
So far, AAP leaders have not announced any master plan for contesting the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. However, in Uttar Pradesh, the brand-new party is likely to contest the Parliament seats in the National Capital Region (NCR). “We are still preoccupied with Delhi,” says Paloni, an AAP leader in New Delhi. “The party is yet to consider the 2014 polls, but it’s certain that we will contest all the seats in the NCR and other parts of the country.”
The NCR in Uttar Pradesh also includes Noida and Ghaziabad, which is represented by BJP president Rajnath Singh, a native of Chanduli district near Varanasi in eastern Uttar Pradesh. According to BJP sources, Rajnath Singh, who had earlier dropped the idea of changing his constituency after Modi’s candidature for the prime minister’s post was announced in September, is again exploring a safe constituency in Uttar Pradesh.
“AAP is an unknown quantity; a spoilsport,” says Ashutosh Mishra, a professor of political science at Lucknow University. “It is yet to be ascertained as to how the politics of AAP played out at the grassroots level in Delhi. But it’s a paradigm shift in a very positive direction, which is sure to give sleepless nights to the BJP leadership, which is aiming to capture Delhi in 2014.
“What is most worrying for the BJP is the emergence of AAP as its viable alternative, rather than that of the Congress, which has been decimated in the recent Assembly elections. The Congress is all set to get a severe blow in the Parliament election. The political space vacated by the Congress in big cities such as Mumbai and Bengaluru will be occupied by AAP.
“Arvind Kejriwal is a shrewd politician. Much to the chagrin of the BJP, his party has quietly appropriated the saffron brigade’s agenda by using slogans such as ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ and ‘Vande Matram’. Words such as nationalism, charitra nirman (character building) and honesty are used a lot in party meetings, which has warmed the hearts of the urban middle class in Delhi. These things are sure to make a big impact in the urban centres of Uttar Pradesh in the 2014 Lok Sabha election.”
Political observers say that if the present deadlock in Delhi over the government formation leads to a repoll, the voters will pick AAP with a thumping majority. Both the BJP and the Congress would be left to fight for their very existence in the National Capital’s electoral politics.
“We have taken serious note of the political changes in Delhi,” admits Uttar Pradesh BJP president Laxmikant Bajpai. “In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP will do its best to field good candidates with a clean track record. We will improve and intensify the party’s communication lines with the electorate. We will put an emphasis on issues that concern the daily lives of common people.”
Interestingly, the Delhi election results have also warmed the hearts of BJP cadres in Uttar Pradesh, as most of the sons, nephews and relatives of top BJP leaders in Delhi lost at the hustings. “In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP is known as RAW (relatives and associates wing),” says local BJP leader Amit Puri. “The Delhi election results have shaken the foundation of the BJP bosses in Uttar Pradesh. The party’s rank and file hopes that the BJP will draw a lesson from AAP and only genuine people will be chosen as party candidates for the 2014 General Election.”
“It’s a good omen for national politics,” says Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, who welcomed AAP’s performance in the Delhi Assembly election. “Both the Congress and the BJP have ruled the country and the states for quite a long time and they need to draw the right lessons from AAP. I can say with confidence that the AAP phenomenon will have no impact in Uttar Pradesh.”
AAP’s promise of clean politics could prove to be a big draw in Uttar Pradesh, where a big chunk of the MLAs face serious criminal and corruption charges. In the 403-member Assembly, 111 MLAs from the SP face criminal charges, followed by 29 from the BSP, 25 from the BJP, 13 from the Congress and two from the Rashtriya Lok Dal. Let the voters decide.