For past three weeks, every morning and then around 10pm, Delhi chief minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal sets aside other work at hand to get into a conference call with a trusted team of colleagues in Lucknow, including Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Singh and member of Delhi assembly Dilip Pandey. The agenda of discussion is Uttar Pradesh and the party’s work in the run-up to the assembly elections in 2022.
This conference call is not an easy one. Kejriwal seeks the minutest of details and feedback on the groundwork being done, membership drive and new political strategies for the state that virtually dominates national politics with its large size, highest population and deep, defining political fault lines of caste and religion.
Kejriwal’s enhanced interest in Uttar Pradesh speaks of a larger political story. The fact that the party with a very small support base in UP is seeing its leaders especially Sanjay Singh and Dilip Pandey regularly camping in the state and going at full throttle in launching a strong political attack against the BJP and the Yogi Adityanath government is proof of AAP’s strong desire to find a foothold in Uttar Pradesh and test its mettle in the assembly elections a year and a half way.
VICTORY IN DELHI FUELS LUCKNOW DESIRES
In February this year, as AAP retained the power in the Delhi Vidhan Sabha, with a second consecutive win in the assembly elections, the party top brass’s dream of a national expansion was reignited. However, plans were put on hold following the Delhi riots and then the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
A senior party functionary, who did not wish to be named, said, “We had plans to launch an extensive outreach campaign in at least UP, Uttarakhand, Bihar and West Bengal. But the Covid-19 crisis derailed the plans. Since now there’s hardly time left for Bengal and Bihar, the party has decided to put maximum focus on UP and Uttarakhand, where there is still time for the assembly polls.”
THE CHALLENGE AND THE OFFENSIVE
But it’s easier said than done. The road to finding any significant foothold in the state with 403 assembly seats and 80 Lok sabha seats is a mammoth task and AAP is fully aware of it. Getting people’s attention and doing the needed electoral groundwork are the critical tasks at hand.
It is MP Sanjay Singh, a native of Sultanpur in Uttar Pradesh and a party veteran, who has been entrusted with the responsibility of AAP’s foray in the state. His devotion to UP politics, zeal to take up the issues of law and order and corruption against the Yogi government are drawing attention.
Spiced up with the typical AAP style of confrontation, witty social media posts and well-designed new campaign strategies, Sanjay Singh to an extent has been able to create a new political and media space over the past one month. He has also faced the government’s wrath and has been slapped with multiple FIRs and even detained on a few occasions.
Talking to News18, Singh said, “AAP workers are not afraid of police action. We are a party that has emerged out of struggle and we are not afraid of going to jail.” Challenging the Yogi government, the AAP MP further said, “I am here in Lucknow, and will continue to raise my voice against corruption and the ‘jungle raj’ in UP and if chief minister Yogi Adityanath has courage, he should get me arrested.”
POOR ORGANISATION — A CHALLENGE AT HAND
Despite a certain degree of media attention and persisting intervention by top leaders, a challenge at hand is the lack of proper organisation. Though AAP leaders claim they have an organisational structure in most of the districts, it’s basically at a skeletal level.
It has a deep void of strong leaders and a robust organisation, has not been tried and tested to any serious extent in political battles of the past, especially the 2017 assembly polls and then the 2019 general elections.
The harsh reality is that barring the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, AAP has never taken any serious plunge in the state’s complicated electoral battle. Since those early years of euphoria around the party, a lot has happened. Many veterans of that time have either moved on to other political ventures or else chosen to sit back at home. And all through these years, the state had never become a serious priority for the central leadership, it being primarily caught up in the battle for Delhi.
Party leaders have no qualms in accepting it. AAP’s state spokesperson Vaibhav Maheshwari, a leader who has been a part of Team Kejriwal since the days of the ‘India Against Corruption’ movement, said, “The past is behind us. We are getting in touch with our workers and old leaders across cities and villages of UP. The party has decided to intervene and establish a pro-people politics in the state where all others have only cheated the common man on issues of caste and religion.”
WHAT IT MEANS FOR OTHERS — BJP, CONGRESS, SP AND BSP
It is still too early to predict what the ‘AAP factor’ means in the state. Will it ultimately be a factor or just a footnote in the state’s politics? The answers are buried in the future. However the ‘Goliaths’ of the state politics, the ruling BJP and the major opposition parties SP, BSP and Congress, are already observing the new entrant, the ‘David’ of the state politics, with some interest.
A senior BJP leader dismissed AAP as any serious competition. However, he said, “The party will be happy if AAP makes some dent in the non-BJP votes.” Clearly, the BJP at this stage doesn’t see AAP as a threat to its electoral arithmetic.
The Congress on the other hand is seeing the AAP experiment as a move in collusion with the Samajwadi Party. A senior party leader said, “AAP can be looking towards some sort of understanding with Akhilesh Yadav, may be a last-minute arrangement on a few seats and thus it might dent the BJP in some areas.”
The SP and BSP at the moment are non-speculative about the ‘AAP factor’. AAP, though, is unfazed by this claimed dismissal by rival parties.
Maheshwari said, “Let BJP, Congress and others be in denial. We are here for serious business and with a clear-defined strategy. We have created ripples that will soon turn into a tsunami of change and pro-people politics.”