New Delhi: Having fielded some 450 candidates across India, the Aam Aadmi Party is hoping for the best in the Lok Sabha battle in Delhi, its original hub where it created history in December, and beyond.
AAP strategists are aware that it will have to perform well in the capital’s seven parliamentary constituencies to show that its support base hasn’t shrunk since Arvind Kejriwal’s government collapsed after 49 days.
Although the staggered nationwide parliamentary election began Monday, the real test for AAP will begin only from April 10 when Delhi and 13 other states and union territories will vote.
Publicly, party leaders say they are confident of winning all the seven seats in Delhi – “and about 100 all over India”. But pundits believe this may be a tall order. “We are very confident about Delhi,” party leader and former Delhi education minister Manish Sisodia told IANS.
Asked if his optimism wasn’t misplaced, Sisodia disagreed. “This is what people said about us even during the Delhi election, that we won’t win more than four seats. And see what happened…”
Ever since it took power in Delhi Dec 28, AAP, founded only in November 2012, has expanded dramatically, opening branches in all the states. It now has over 15 million members nationwide.
And for a party that was stridently anti-Congress until it came to power in Delhi, AAP has since steadily become anti-BJP. All of this has attracted new supporters while driving away others.
“Since we ran the government in Delhi, more people have got associated with AAP,” Atishi Marlena, one of their policy makers, told IANS. “We will give a tough fight to our opponents in many seats in the country.”
AAP leaders admit that with the Congress on a steady decline, AAP’s main foe in many parts of the country now is the increasingly aggressive – and confident – Bharatiya Janata Party.
At the same time, AAP is unwilling to shake hands with non-BJP or non-Congress parties.
In Delhi, the party believes that it still enjoys mass support in the slums and Muslims as well as transporters, including autorickshaw drivers who played a key role in the December 2013 victory in Delhi.
Political pundits believe AAP’s best chances of victory in Delhi are in East Delhi, where its candidate is Rajmohan Gandhi, a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, and in North West Delhi where it has fielded former Delhi minister Rakhi Birla.
All across India, the party has given ticket to the maximum number of people who don’t count politics as their profession.
These include an actor, IT professionals, a former Miss India, rights activists, a corporate executive, a cobbler, an auto-rickshaw driver, farmer leaders, former police and civil officers et al.
AAP leader Kejriwal, the party’s best-known face, has challenged BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in Varanasi. AAP’s Kumar Vishwas has taken on Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi in Amethi.
But the financial crunch has badly hit the party’s campaign.
In Delhi, for instance, there are hardly any poster or hoarding of AAP. This is in sharp contrast to the BJP and the Congress which have plastered the city with Modi and Rahul Gandhi advertisements.
For AAP, the election is a way to connect with people.
“Irrespective of the result, we are reaching out to voters all over the country, for the first time after the Delhi election,” Sisodia said.
(Alok Singh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)