In Gujarat, AAP seeks to assemble Punjab and Delhi models to shake BJP bastion

AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal knows too well that it won't be easy to make inroads into Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state and hence taking calculated moves to take up the challenge

Siddharth Raina and Amrit Pandey October 04, 2022 16:18:18 IST
In Gujarat, AAP seeks to assemble Punjab and Delhi models to shake BJP bastion

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal

With Arvind Kejriwal making concerted attempts to gain footholds in Gujarat, Narendra Modi’s home turf, the rivalry between the BJP and the AAP is intensifying: first with corruption accusations against the AAP senior leaders and then over the upcoming Gujarat polls. In its aspiration towards creating a national footprint, AAP has put a concentrated focus on Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Moreover, AAP looks eager to take BJP heads on and ensure that Congress looks like a distant third force in the state.

With Congress missing out on the opportunity in Gujarat, AAP is looking to catch it with everything it has got: its strategy and its Delhi model. While Rahul Gandhi is working on Congress’ mass-connect programme of Bharat Jodo Yatra, Arvind Kejriwal is taking every possible move to consolidate his party in the Gujarat assembly polls including his own frequent visits.

A strong performance in Gujarat will give them enough cushion to start portraying themselves as the only national alternative to stop the mammoth BJP, something that AAP has already started. The rise of AAP not only lets it penetrate the space taken by Congress, giving the anti-BJP voters an option (Punjab an example); its welfarist model has the potential to make a dent in the BJP voter base as well (Delhi an example).

Kejriwal and AAP: in the making of Significant

Kejriwal, who started as an insignificant Man, has risen from a political activist to a full-time politician and yet has shown that his political ideology is what his war cry as an activist was.

With a portrayed and proven non-ideological welfarist model, AAP is the only party (apart from Congress, BJP and Left) with majority governments in two states – Delhi and Punjab, both of which it has swept. This is something with the tendency to alter the fault lines in the Indian political landscape in recent coming times.

BJP’s consolidation among the new working middle class looks to be penetrated only through the welfare policy which AAP under Kejriwal is doing well. Apart from a situation of constantly fluctuating economy and AAP’s close proximity to identity politics of class/becoming the political expression of the class through which it has been capturing the popular imagination, it has started to reshape the politics through a variety of other factors that add to its strengthening:

Branding and communication

AAP has mastered the art of marketing techniques that has helped them to grow rapidly: understanding the customer needs and having a relatable brand ambassador party has ticked all the boxes.

Party has been continuously observing and analysing the voter sentiments through social media platforms and other means and has been modifying its campaign. Hence running a very cost-effective campaign against other political parties.

AAP and digital platforms had risen in India at almost the same time and the Kejriwal’s party quickly realised its importance in Indian politics. The Delhi-based party enjoys all the media attention for obvious reasons, and it has mastered the art of setting the narrative in its favour. AAP not only focuses on the major billboards, but its focal points are micro branding through cheaper and more effective ways like auto vehicle branding, stickers, traditional pamphlets and many others.

The party also enjoys the advantage of being a Delhi-based political party at the epicentre of media houses which also gives them space. AAPs skills of managing media through timely & strategic feeds adds on to it.

Similarity to BJP

AAPs effort in positioning themselves in the eyes of the people as the national alternative gradually looks affirmative since modus operandi in the electioneering of AAP and BJP have some emerging overlaps.

Its adaptability factor, well researched and need-based campaigns (as per location and time availability) give it the right balance, example town halls in the wake of rallies being banned due to the Covid-19 pandemic & live interviews broadcasts live through social platforms and television.

Acknowledgement that the big picture may not change immediately and willing to wait for it with continuous and rigorous efforts(e.g. of Punjab, Gujarat and other states with good base – electoral and cadre) as famously said bay Kanshiram – Fight the first election to lose and fight second to defeat.

AAP converted the perception of Mansih Sisodia being charged of corruption into a ‘Masiha for education system in Delhi’. Here the party has been able to successfully highlight that Sisodia is being penalised for revamping the education system and making it accessible for everyone underlining that BJP is anti-poor. So far, this type of counter messaging has been the forte of the BJP e.g., BJPs ‘Mai bhi Chowkidar campaign in counter of Congress’ Chowkidar Chor Hai jibe.

AAP and its leaders have constantly ensured the perception of being more austere and connected with the ground and promoting that the party is composed of people less elite and self-made. Something that BJP has been able to project successfully.

Also, it has ensured the effective use of symbolism from the time of its inception. AAP’s aesthetic introductions, their topi which even the BJP used but changing the colour to saffron and Samajwadi Party to red.

Strong leadership and suitability for Hindi heartland

Hindi heartland plays an important role in the rise of leadership. Be it Indira Gandhi, VP Singh, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, or Narendra Modi they all have enjoyed massive support in the region. In politics, barriers are very high. Emerging among the barriers of no family legacy, only few leaders have emerged, and coming from the background of IITian, IRS, voluntary services in slums, RTI activism, Magsaysay Award winner and proven record in governance, Arvind Kejriwal has all what it takes to be a pan India leader.

In narrative, Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and Kejriwal have shown they can be strong opposition leaders even if they don’t have the numbers currently. But Kejriwal has an advantage of being more connected with the Hindi speaking population. In the past Pranab Mukherjee, a Congress stalwart, had stated that he felt the necessity of Hindi speaking skills for becoming the prime minister as it was the language of the masses. Something Kejriwal fits in better if he goes further.

With strong command in cadre and party, Kejriwal has time and again proven himself as the only face of the party.

Strategic stand and issue handling

Kejriwal and AAP has been very astute in taking a stand or speaking out on issues. It smartly took its stand on sensitive issues like nationalism. The party took a stand on abolition of Article 370 while supporting statehood for Jammu and Kashmir, compensation to families of martyrs etc.

Kejriwal has shown that he has been quick in realising what really works for him and the party. From a time when he used to target Modi almost 365 days, he has reached a time where he talks about Modi only on his birthday.

With this, AAPs has been successful in creating a new Loyal group of voter base despite remaining neutral to traditional ideology.

Conclusion

Though AAP with its aptitude for modern-day electioneering, fast strategizing and action-taking machinery looks promising, the fact that INC is the sleeping elephant in the room that cannot be ignored.

INC is a recognised national party with a constant vote Share of 20 per cent even at its lowest performances in 2014 and 2019 enabling it for alliance and even being the focal point of the alliances.

Though the Congress has government only in two states, it has strong leadership, significant vote share and cadre base at grassroots in many states, unlike AAP.

Moreover, whether AAP will survive the increasing line of fire by BJP, which is just in its inception/has just started is another question. Moreover, the outcome of Gujarat and Himachal assembly elections will tell us what lies ahead for these parties. Clearly, the next few months will be showing the trajectory of Indian politics in years to come.

Siddharth Raina is a Delhi-based independent researcher having worked in political campaigns in the state of Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and Bihar. Amrit Pandey is a political researcher and former student of election campaign and democracy from the University of London, Views are personal.

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