If the Aam Aadmi Party wins seats in the Gujarat Assembly Election, Arvind Kejriwal's party will be designated as a national party.
Punjab was the destination of Arvind Kejriwal’s first victory outside of Delhi, and the party is already dealing with challenges in state governance. Current elections in Gujarat and the Municipal Corporations of Delhi are crucial to Arvind Kejriwal’s national aspirations. Arvind Kejriwal’s expansion plans in all the states where the party is attempting to grow will take a significant hit if the AAP performs poorly in Gujarat and also fails in MCD. In the same way that Kejriwal will be impossible to stop if the AAP wins in Gujarat and gets power in the MCD, the opposition will have to rethink its plan because of the AAP leader.
The Gujarat Assembly Election will be a crucial lesson for the Aam Aadmi Party. It is clear as of now that the party will majorly get the votes from the disenchanted Congress voters, but this is the first-ever election for Arvind Kejriwal where his party is taking on the entire machinery of the BJP. The Punjab election was largely against the Congress Party, but from now on, if the Aam Aadmi Party hopes to expand, the fight will be against the Bharatiya Janata Party. Taking on the BJP is not easy, and the AAP leaders accept that in private.
Party beyond Delhi and Arvind Kejriwal
The Aam Aadmi Party will be participating in one of the first elections of its kind in the Gujarat assembly election. It’s a sure bet that the AAP will pick up a few seats in the state legislature, but they will never be able to take it all. There is a chance, according to reports on the ground, that AAP will join the ranks of the opposition parties in Gujarat. The AAP did poorly the last time it became the opposition party in Punjab.
The Aam Aadmi Party will also need to lessen its reliance on the Delhi leadership. The party has discovered that it is impossible to micromanage a state from Delhi. The Punjab government has already suffered as a result of Arvind Kejriwal’s centralization strategy. However, if the party switches to the opposition, such a centralized strategy will be completely ineffective.
A senior Gujarat Aam Aadmi Party functionary who did not want to be identified said, “The Aam Aadmi Party has built a strong foundation of support among ordinary citizens in Gujarat over the past few years. However, in many states, we have seen that when a party does not hold an election, its electorate abandons it. Keeping the group together is the first and most crucial step. In an effort to divide us, the BJP will resort to any means necessary.”
When asked how the party intends to survive beyond the shadow of the Delhi leadership, the leader did not present any such plan. He said, “Right now, we can’t even think about running the party without Arvind Ji and Manish Ji’s help. But in the past, we built the party unit on our own. For example, Isudan Gadhvi ji’s work for the people of Gujarat during the COVID-19 pandemic was a last-minute idea.”
The Aam Aadmi Party faces the greatest difficulty in forming an effective organisation. There is a faction within the Aam Aadmi Party that thinks their lack of success in the MCD election will show that they do not have a solid base of support in Delhi. Since the Aam Aadmi Party’s inception, Delhi residents have favored Arvind Kejriwal in state assembly elections but the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in parliamentary and municipal corporation district elections. Similarly, the outcome of the elections in Gujarat will have a bearing on the Aam Aadmi Party’s ability to form an effective organization in the future. To this day, party leaders remain undecided as to whether it is more important to strengthen the party from the ground up or to prepare for upcoming elections.
A senior AAP functionary said, “The MCD elections will reveal more about our organisational strength in Delhi than the Gujarat elections. If we win the MCD elections this time, we will realize that the party in the nation’s capital now has a large, committed voter base. In terms of Gujarat, the recent elections in Goa demonstrated that if a political party (read Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress) enters the state a few months before the election, it performs poorly; this is why we did not do this. However, this election in Gujarat will reveal whether we need to first develop a large grassroots organisation in one state at a time before venturing into large elections such as the Assembly Election.”
A section of the Aam Aadmi Party’s leadership, according to sources within the party, thinks that Arvind Kejriwal should take things one step at a time and only run for a small number of seats before starting such a loud campaign.
Clarity in politics
For the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party, determining their political stance is the most contentious issue at the moment, necessitating considerable deliberation. The Aam Aadmi Party’s political stance on several issues is seen as questionable by a growing number of people across the political spectrum.
For instance, consider the issue of corruption. Over the years, the party has completely abandoned its anti-corruption stance. There are now several prominent leaders, such as Cabinet Minister Satyendar Jain, facing serious charges of corruption, but Arvind Kejriwal has continued to defend him. Many people, according to the party’s sources, believe that the party will need to reconsider its stance on corruption.
Second, ahead of the Gujarat assembly elections, the party has demonstrated that Arvind Kejriwal is becoming an increasingly populist leader. A month ago, for instance, he proposed that the Indian government include the images of Lakshmi and Ganesha on its currency. Many individuals believe that this position is nothing but populist.
Under the condition of anonymity, a senior AAP leader stated, “I do not believe every political party must have a grand old political ideology. The Aam Aadmi Party is one of India’s newest political parties, and our ideology is not archaic. Consider the BJP; they have also altered their political stances based on state and electoral needs. Our philosophy is to improve schools and hospitals.”
Mindset to work together
If the Aam Aadmi Party wins seats in the Gujarat Assembly Election, Arvind Kejriwal’s party will be designated as a national party. This election will also determine the future of the Aam Aadmi Party in opposition politics in India. The majority of opposition political parties in India originate from caste or regional origins or from factions within the Congress party. Arvind Kejriwal is not either.
The state of opposition politics in India is precarious due to the existence of numerous internal contradictions. Arvind Kejriwal is one of these non-BJP, non-Congress leaders who have changed their political stances over time, thereby distancing themselves from the so-called united opposition. The AAP did not attend any opposition party meetings before the recent presidential and vice presidential elections, but it supported opposition candidates.
The party sources confirmed that after the Aam Aadmi Party becomes the national party, a substantial percentage of its leaders believe that both Arvind Kejriwal and opposition political leaders will have to change their political stance. Arvind Kejriwal, according to party sources, believes that opposition politicians do not discuss with him. For example, the opposition leader never consults with him before deciding the opposition’s stance in parliament. A senior leader stated, “After the Congress Party, the Aam Aadmi Party is currently in control of two crucial states. We have a presence in Goa, and we anticipate success in Gujarat. If opposition politicians believe they can take Arvind Kejriwal for granted, they should realise that we will no longer pander to the public.”
Delhi Model with or without MCD
Another significant consequence of these two elections will be that Arvind Kejriwal will be required to create a model of governance for Delhi, with or without municipal corporations. According to sources within the Aam Aadmi Party, there is also a belief that the party should redevelop its ideas regarding the educational, health, and other sectors concerning Delhi.
According to the sources, there are some members of the AAP who believe that, amidst the party’s expansion, Delhi is being somewhat neglected.
A senior leader who wished to remain anonymous stated, “If we win the MCD elections, then the Aam Aadmi Party will have an excellent opportunity to work and further develop a sustainable model for Delhi. The Delhi model of governance is still very popular, and we are expanding to other states based on this model, but it requires revision. If we win the MCD elections, we will present a model for Delhi’s beautification, and we will eliminate Delhi’s landfills and implement innovative garbage collection techniques.”
Sayantan Ghosh is a columnist and doctoral research scholar in media and politics.