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AAP tapped Kejriwal's man-next-door appeal, says Yogendra Yadav

Polling for the 70-member Delhi assembly elections began today where Congress is engaged in an electoral battle with BJP, while new entrant in the fray Aam Admi Party's possible impact is being watched keenly.

Aam Aadmi Party leader Yogendra Yadav talks to Pavni Mittal on why AAP ran a one-face campaign:

The Aam Aadmi Party has done a lot of things differently. The way you have selected your candidates, the fact that you have one manifesto per candidate, all that is different. What is the kind of primary research that you did to design this and how does a design team win the election?

Look. We are rank outsiders. We are outsiders to the world of politics. We are outsiders to the world of power. We had two options. One was now that we have come to the world politics, we should try and become an insider. Try and look like an insider. The second option was that we are an outsider, we should continue to look like an outsider. We clearly chose the latter. Uh, which is to say, we would feel that we were different, we are different. We want to continue to be different, and to look different.

But any consumer research… In our language, any consumer research that you did that this will strike a chord with the electorate? That they will understand, you know, this is the party we should vote for because of the way it’s structured?

Look, our party did a series of surveys. Me being there, you would expect the party to conduct some public opinion surveys. So we did voting behaviour studies, we did public opinion studies. We tried to see how was Arvind doing, how was our party doing, which sections we had greater appeal in, we sections we had lesser appeal, all that was done.

But, I think in the last instance, we have gone by our gut sense. Our gut sense of what would click. Now we have a disadvantage to begin with. Because we don’t have experience. But the thing is, not having experience also gives you out-of-box ideas. Auto campaign. Autos have been around in Delhi all these years. No one thought that an auto could be the principal vehicle of a political campaign.

So, we’ve tried to turn our limitations in to our strength. Our limitations are, lack of resources, lack of experience, a lack of established big faces. And we’ve tried to turn each of these in to a strength. Lack of resources, is a proof of our honesty. Which is a proof so we go in ways with our advertisement, ‘look, less than fine’. We want that to remain so. Lack of experience leads to these new ideas, which rattle the political establishment. Lack of too many big faces, meant focusing on one credible face. That’s what we’ve tried.

Yogendra Yadav. Ibnlive

Yogendra Yadav. Ibnlive

Let’s talk about the symbol and the kind of slogans that you have used. These two are very important to the subconscious level of the voter as well. How has this been designed to ensure that it goes beyond the electorate which is beyond your core target group? The people who have joined the movement, the people who empathise with the AAP. How does it cut across classes and masses? Slogan and the symbol more importantly--The broom.

When we began which is the Anna movement, the general perception, which wasn’t entirely right, but there was a perception, was that we were entirely middle class movement.

And middle class in Delhi is an euphemism for the upper class. People who speak English, people who watch shows of this kind, they like to call themselves middle-class. In percentile terms, they are all 90 percentile and above. There was a perception that we were strong there. Therefore, what we have done after that is to do an image makeover and align our image to what we really wanted to do. And the choice of the name reflected that. We wanted a name which would click.

Aam Aadmi so...

Yeah. Which would work with an ordinary person. Which would not be a highly sanskritik name. That’s why Aam Aadmi. Some of my friends objected, and I also had unease about, what about Aam Aurat? Uh, because… But the fact is that we discovered in Delhi , lots of women call themselves ‘Hum jaise Aam Aadmi’. So Aam Aadmi has nothing to do with gender.

Aam Aadmi is about the commoner about the name. And the choice of the symbol. Again, we were constrained. We tried to turn a disadvantage in to an advantage. Unlike big parties, we could not offer any symbol to the Election Commission and say, this is our symbol. We had to choose from a very small section of what the Election Commission calls free symbols. And we had strange options to choose from. There was fridge, TV, all kinds of bread, all kinds of strange options to choose from. Then we saw jhadoo. One of the free symbols. And we said, this is it. So we opted for that.

We decided that in the limited options that we have, we decided to opt for it. And thankfully, no one else decided to claim it. But thankfully, that is there, which connects you to people right below. And I must say that one of our biggest campaigns, which people don’t sufficiently remember and notice was our electricity campaign. Which is what expanded us to all the classes. So those are things we tried to build, and position our image, as it were.

You know, like I discussed with you, from what I see, you’ve really given mass media – television and print, a miss. Because its very expensive. From what I understand, you have door-to-door campaigns, and you have your social media campaigns. I want to understand, what roles do they play individually, and in terms of you know, who do they reach, and in terms of raising funds, etc? Also, where do they convert the people?

Again, in terms of our strength and our weakness. Our weakness was, we simply don’t have the kind of money to splurge on media campaigns. We do not have the resources to run the last 14 days only. You need huge money to do that. Our strength was that we started early, we could take decisions earlier than others. We could decide our candidates four months in advance. And we had volunteers.

This has been our real strength. Lots and lots of people who have given up their jobs, given up their career, who have suspended their family lives, and who are out there, like mad, to work for the nation. This was our strength. So we had to design our campaign largely focusing on our strength. What do we do then? Auto campaign was one of the first ideas. We needed a… We needed a campaign which would be accessible to everyone in Delhi . Yet, we could not afford many of these big things. That’s when the auto campaign idea came, and its been a winner, it’s been a very big success.

Door to door campaign made use of our volunteer strength. We could go to volunteers homes. We also had used this other thing, which has disappeared now… We had put up a banner in front of every volunteer of our party. Saying ‘I Am An Aam Aadmi Party Supporter’ which would go to every single galli. After the Election Commission ordered and we had to withdraw that. But that was also a big winner. We have used tactics of this kind which uses our strength and also it positions us as a party that’s different. Which doesn’t do the kind of things that parties with big money do.

And social media?

Social media has been very important to us because of its reach, because of very few resources needed to do what you want to do. Third, lots of volunteers all over the world can run it. Half of our social media campaigns are run by colleagues who are sitting in California , or somewhere, who want to do something for the country, but do not want, do not have the time to come to Delhi to do it. So we could use all these strengths to be able to do that.

And what about people who are not… Like I mentioned, the core TG, you tried to reach out to the Aam Aadmi and value the symbol, and all of that. But in a city like Delhi , which has the highest per-capita income, and has 49% people living in slums, how do you manage to reach both the ends with one campaign? Or did you have to design your campaign for each different section of society?

Fortunately for us, corruption is an issue that cuts across classes. Corruption is an illness which affects people in different ways. But all of them recognize the illness with the same name. So, a very powerful, well to do businessman thinks he is a victim of corruption. And a rickshaw puller also feels he is a victim of corruption. So corruption is an issue that cuts across classes. For us to carry that issue was actually the real strength.

Brand Arvind Kejriwal. Now he is your most recognized face. You ask people on the road… They say ‘Kejriwal ka office yahaan pe hai.’ But you know that in assembly elections, the individual merit of the candidate is very important, because you know, there are many more seats form the same city, and people like to know their candidates. And you know that better than I do. Is this a calculated risk, and are you scared that this may backfire, that he is your only face? Known face?

This is the situation that we start with. Either we invent 17 known faces within a few weeks, which we can’t. Or we make use of the one credible face that we have. And increasingly, in modern elections and modern democracies, are about votes being able to have an eye to eye contact with the Chief Executive. And this is what people wanted. And this is where we thought Arvind’s strength would play out. With people, he has that charisma of ordinariness. He looks like a neighbour next door. But a neighbour who has displayed exemplary qualities, extraordinary courage. And we played on that. That was our mascot. And we have tried to use it to the best of our ability. Because in the last instance, people really do not care that much about who the MLA would be. They care for it, it matters…

Isn’t it more that they care about the MP?

Certainly, they do… In MP, elections, personalities matter more in the case of the MP. But when you are about talking change in governance, when you are talking about a change in Delhi , and is personified. For us, in this election, it helps, to concentrate on this question. And to pay a shade less attention to our candidates. Not because they are dubious. But because most of them are less known, we cannot make them better known in a few weeks.

Now talking about the pictorial representation of your campaign on the streets of Delhi . We see, you know, a younger looking Sheila Dixit, a younger touched up Narendra Modi. And you have a smiling face of Dr Harshvardhan. But when I see Arvind’s face next to that, it’s still very heartfelt, its very honest, but its very untidy, sweaty. Are you scared that… Is this strategic? This kind of pictorial representation?

At an early stage of the campaign, an advertising agency came to us. Sorry, I shouldn’t name because what I’m going to say isn’t complimentary. They came, they advised us that Arvind should look more proper, he should look more like a responsible chief minister. That our campaign should be jazzed up like this. Our slogans should be more friendly, more proper, etc etc. We heard… And they came up with a lot of ideas in the typical corporate style. We decided that we would have nothing to do with it. We are rank outsiders, and the only chance that we have is that if we continue to look like rank outsiders. If our posters stand out, for its less than made up styles. If our campaign stands out for its lack of professionalism, that this is not done… See, politics is too much professionalized. People don’t like it. People like sincere, straight people to look in to them. So we wanted to stand out for our less than made up images. And we insisted, not withstanding all the professional advice that we got, free of cost. We said, no. Thank you very much. We shall not be professionally… We do not want to be manicured. We want to look the way we are. We want to continue to carry the image that we have. We want to have jhadoo as our symbol. We were advised against that by our professional consultants. And we said no, that’s the way we are, that’s the way we want to appear.

Budget. Now you have raised money. And I think 20 crore was the mark that you’ve set for yourself. I’m not sure if you’ve reached that, but that is much lesser than what your competitor has. How are you maximizing, like we say in business, your return on investment? How are you making every rupee work and get the bang for your buck?

This is something unusual. We set 20 crore rupee target for ourselves. Everyone said that you are fools. ‘You would get 20 crores white money? And you want to stop at 20 crores?’ We got 20 crores white money. We accounted for every penny of it. And put it up on the website. And the day we touched 20 crores, which was 16th of November, we said, ‘Thank you very much, we don’t need any more, we’ll make do with it.’ Now, the point is that you know, what the Election Commission allows you to do, is something where you can actually spend 20 crores. You can’t spend much more than that. Unless you go for these big hoardings, television advertisements and so on. The kind of things that we needed to do, we can do in 20 crores. Of course, which meant no television advertisements, which meant, FM. Which meant tiny strips on the television, no visuals. Uh, but people associate that with us. And we wanted to let people know that they are dealing with a party that doesn’t have too much money. And that was our message. If we said that on TV screens, and did lots of visuals to say that we are poor, no one would believe us. But if they look at our posters, they know that the party doesn’t possibly have too much money.

Aren’t you battling three armies? Congress, BJP and Congress & BJP combined? Because for them it’s also about not allowing this kind of politics… You come in because the way you’ve targeted both the parties? How do you on ground, translate the kind of support you have got to votes, and battling these three? Because its very powerful forces. Not just monetarily, but you know, they’ve been around. They have the kind of experience. You told me, you know, that has been your biggest disadvantage, one of your biggest disadvantages.

We are battling the political establishment of this country. Congress and BJP happened to be their faces in Delhi. When we go outside Delhi , we’ll meet other faces. And yes, political establishment of this country is very powerful. In terms of its levels or power, in terms of its money, in terms of muscle power, everything. And yes, we are trying to battle all of this simultaneously. In all of this, our biggest challenge right now is to persuade our own voters to come and vote for us. That’s what we are trying to do. To create a buzz for people to be visible, for people to see who we are. And to remain visible to the people to the last day is our challenge. And for us, visibility comes not from television, but visibility will come from caps, visibility will come from people walking on the streets. So we are designing our own campaigns for the last moment.