Lucknow: Throughout January this year, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) ran a membership drive across Uttar Pradesh as part of its nationwide movement to enroll 1 crore members. In Lucknow itself, roadside stalls were put up across the city which attracted hundreds of people daily. And when the drive ended on January 27, the party’s membership had crossed the staggering figure of 47 lakh in UP.
A newspaper report of those days described the scene at the AAP office in Lucknow resembling a railway inquiry counter: Scores of people waiting for their turn to get the attention of the man at the counter.
Among those who joined the party were students, professionals such as doctors, chartered accountants, engineers, teachers, retired officers and housewives. All of them had a hope that here was a party that promised to be a true alternative to the established political parties. There was a time in January when more than 5000 people were joining the party every day.
But just about two months down the line, there is a sense of disappointment, in many cases bordering on anger, at the way the party is going. “I and my classmates from the university used to feel so proud on being a member of such a grand movement, wearing the AAP caps and raising our voice against corruption. But recent developments have been very disappointing,” says Shalini Pandey, who joined the party several months ago.
In fact the number of those who had joined the anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare was much more even though there was no formal membership count. But ever since Arvind Kejriwal decided to float AAP and contest Delhi Assembly elections, the response had slowed down. Now, after the incidents involving former Delhi minister Somnath Bharti, Kejriwal’s dharna and comments against Republic Day parade and the incident at BJP office in Delhi, the voices against AAP’s direction have become vocal.
“We are political novices and certain things have indeed gone wrong,” admits Anmol, the Lucknow district convenor of AAP. An ex-IITian who runs a coaching centre in Lucknow, Anmol is candid enough to say that what happened in Delhi and Lucknow was “unwarranted” and there is a “multitude of factors”, some of them disappointing, that have contributed to a change in opinion about the party.
After the January drive, the figure of AAP members in Lucknow stood at 1.4 lakh, and even though the membership drive is running online, the pace has slowed, says Anmol. Members of many organisations, such as UP Industries Welfare Association (UPIWA) and UP Adarsh Vyapar Mandal, had also joined AAP. In fact, students of IIT-Kanpur played a major role in making Kejriwal’s recent rally in Kanpur a big success.
The party’s state office located in a commercial complex in Hazratganj locality of Lucknow presents a simple picture. There was a lot of activity at the party office on Wednesday (March 6) when AAP workers had tried to stage a demonstration at the state BJP office near the Vidhan Bhawan, but on Thursday, it wore a quiet look. “We did not plan any demonstration today, whatever happened yesterday exposed the true face of the BJP. We need not say anything more,” says Badri Narayan, the media in-charge of the party.
But the reaction of other AAP members to incidents in Delhi and Lucknow is varied. “I did not expect AAP to respond in this manner to the BJP’s provocation. It puts us on par with other parties. I expected AAP to react differently,” says Anurag, who joined the party in January.
Another factor that is worrying many AAP members are reports that Adarsh Shastri, the grandson of late Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, might be brought in as AAP candidate from Lucknow. “Yes, there are reports in this regard but nothing is certain yet. The decision is likely in the next few days,” says Anmol. But many AAP members, including students and retired bureaucrats, are disappointed at an “outsider” being foisted on Lucknow. “We mean no disrespect to Shastriji, but it would have been better if someone from Lucknow had been fielded. How will it be different from the Congress where a member of a political family is being promoted?” asks Anurag. The names of film-maker Sudhir Mishra and a retired engineer turned consumer activist Shailendra Dubey had earlier been making the rounds.
“The intelligentsia is not very happy at the way the AAP is going. The party appears to have scant regard for the Constitution and the law of the land. There are procedures for everything in our democracy. You cannot ignore and override the system that has been running the government in India,” says Prof SK Dwivedi, former head of the department of political science in Lucknow University. The party had other means at its disposal to push for its Lokpal Bill, “the way it exited the Delhi government showed that it was looking for a way out, and AAP sympathisers have seen through this strategy,” he says.
He also lists Kejriwal’s dharna and Bharti’s antics as incidents that have disillusioned many AAP supporters. “But other political parties are also to be blamed for this. If they had shown seriousness to combat and control corruption, the AAP phenomenon wouldn’t have happened. It would have been better if AAP had started from the local level and then moved on to state and national parties. Their hurry to become a power centre also makes their intentions suspect,” he adds.
An AAP member who had been highly enthusiastic when he joined the party reveals that the party is contesting the Lok Sabha election just to make itself known all over. “It knows it does not stand much chance of winning many seats. But the party will use its visibility in the next round of assembly election in whichever state they are due. More importantly, they will contest the local bodies elections in many states, including UP, and plan to capture the maximum number of local bodies at that time,” he said on condition of anonymity.
If this indeed is party policy, it makes sense: rather than beginning from local bodies, then moving to state assembly and then Parliament, it plans to move downwards and become a major player at city and town level in the next four-five years. “But will the party have any goodwill left till then if it continues to behave in the manner it is doing? A serious rethink is required within AAP also,” says Prof Dwivedi.
Kejriwal’s apology at the Delhi incident accompanied by an attack on the BJP is an indication that the “rethink”, indeed, is a double-edged weapon in the AAP’s armoury. Even if AAP does not win any substantial number of seats, the campaign style of Kumar Vishwas in Amethi, the high-profile candidate in Lucknow, and Kejriwal against Narendra Modi – if he contests from UP – are sure to retain popular interest in the party.
Updated Date: Mar 07, 2014 12:30:55 IST