Will AAP emerge as an alternative to BJP? writes A L I Chougule

A L I ChouguleUpdated: Wednesday, March 23, 2022, 08:34 AM IST
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Aam Aadmi Party | PTI

While the Congress is struggling with its own problems and has been hit by successive defeats at the national level and across states, Aam Aadmi Party’s spectacular success in Punjab has brought the newbie party to the fore of Opposition politics.

This has led to speculation in political circles that AAP could potentially occupy the political space vacated by Congress and may emerge as a possible challenger to the BJP in the future.

That’s not all. It is also being speculated that AAP's national convenor and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal could also pose a serious challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi sometime in the future. AAP’s intentions are quite clear: establish itself as a political alternative nationally and replace Congress as a prime opposition party on a panIndia level.

While the Punjab verdict shows that AAP may be on the road to emerging as a national alternative, its goal to replace Congress as the primary opposition party is easier said than done. Some political analysts are of the view that it’s too early to think of AAP and Kejriwal as an alternative to BJP and Modi, respectively.

But the chances of Kejriwal emerging as a challenger to Modi and his party are plausible for various reasons. One, the big advantage with AAP is thatit’s not a regional party, while all other non-Congress opposition parties signify regionalism in some form. Two, Kejriwal is a pan-India face, unlike other regional leaders like Mamata Banerjee.

Three, AAP, unlike other non-Congress opposition parties like the TMC and others, is not a one-state party. Kejriwal and AAP have all-India appeal for the simple reason that both have their roots in India Against Corruption (IAC) movement, which had a national footprint. Besides, there are several advantages that Kejriwal enjoys over Mamata Banerjee and her party.

Not only does TMC lack a strong pan-India background like the anticorruption movement to build on, but Mamata also does not have a favourable image as a chief minister as compared to Kejriwal. His administration of Delhi and his concentrated focus on education, healthcare, and other services have earned him national recognition, which Mamata lacks.

Being a Hindi-speaking North Indian, Kejriwal is likely to be more acceptable in the heartland states than Mamata or any other regional leader.

In terms of popularity and wider acceptability, Kejriwal and his party also appear potentially a strong alternative to Modi and BJP. The key to AAP’s success is in states where Congress is pitted against the BJP.

After the victory in Punjab, AAP’s strategy appears clear: it will focus on states where Congress is vulnerable and locked in a direct contest with the BJP. States like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, and Karnataka are its next targets.

Of course, Kejriwal will have to stay away from states where strong regional parties are BJP’s main rivals. The Punjab poll outcome is a result of people seeking change in political narratives and personalities and their old brand of politics. If this change in expectations and voters’ readiness to reject jaded politicians spreads to other states, AAP could reap benefits atthe cost of Congress. The advantage of AAP is that it doesn’t come with any past baggage.

Its biggest strength is that it is seen as a party of and for the common people. Its growth so far has been largely organic. The party is open to new ideas and energies and its members are mostly young men and women, professionals and activists who are seen as honest workers rather than corrupt politicians.

But both Kejriwal and AAP have formidable challenges too. While in the short term the BJP may not mind AAP’s growing influence as long as it comes at the cost of Congress, in the long-term AAP will face the challenge of spreading its national presence;it is unlikely that Congress will allow AAP a free walk in the park. AAP won Punjab partly by showcasing the Delhi model of governance.

But, the Delhi model has its limitations, given that Delhi is not a full-fledged state and it is far easier to administer a revenue-surplus city-state. But Punjab, a full-fledged and complex state with broken finances is going to be a big administrative challenge. Punjab will not only be a test case for voters elsewhere for AAP’s ambitions of going national, but Kejriwal will also have to define what kind of an alternative he wants to provide to the nation and what is his vision for the country. Given that India is divided on communal lines and the economy is not ingreat shape over the last five years under BJP, it is not going to be enough for AAP to be just one more Opposition party but has to have a social and economic vision.

More importantly, it has to be an antidote to the BJP’s ideology and assertive Hindutva. At an ideological level, Kejriwal has so far been seen soft-peddling an indirect Hindutva, while politically he is always seen attacking Congress.

A self-confessed Hanuman bhakt, Kejriwal has never countered BJP’s politics of communalism and polarization. His silence on CAANRC agitation and Delhi riots besides his flirtations with Hindu majoritarian politics which has lately shaded into active co-optionmaybe a well-thought-out part of Kejriwal’s broaderpushof re-orientinghisparty’s ideology. But, in no way it is an alternative to BJP’s polarizing Hindutva. In a recent interview, Kejriwal said he can stand anything but not corruption. Clearly, fighting communalism and the politics of Hindutva doesn’t seem to be a pressing priority for him. Having positioned himself as a pro-Hindu, without being seen as anti-Muslim, Kejriwal’s ideological shift to the Right and his pusillanimous approach to Hindutvabigotrymayhurt AAPinitsplans for national expansion.

For his national ambition, Kejriwal and his party need to show a determination to stop the BJP’s ideological bulldozer.

(The writer is an independent Mumbai-based senior journalist)

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