Why AAP’s presence in Uttarakhand should be a cause of concern for both BJP and Congress

The Aam Aadmi Party may not be in a position to win on its own in the 2022 Assembly polls, but it is likely to play a spoilsport for the two major players — BJP and Congress.

Namita Singh January 18, 2022 16:57:14 IST
Why AAP’s presence in Uttarakhand should be a cause of concern for both BJP and Congress

File photo of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. PTI

A little over two years into serious campaigning in Uttarakhand, and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) seems to have gained some ground in the hill state. The party, however, may still be some distance from being considered a leading force in the state.

Though it may not be in a position to win on its own, it is likely to play a spoilsport for the two major players — BJP and Congress.
As things stand today, the AAP has expanded its organisational bases across the state’s 13 districts. The party’s posters and banners are visible not only in the Tarai belt but also in the hilly areas. The party has already released the list of its 51 candidates for the Assembly polls. Rest 19 names are likely to be announced soon.

Unlike Punjab, the party has declared Colonel (Retd) Ajay Kothiyal as its chief ministerial face for the 2022 Assembly polls. Kothiyal is known in Uttarakhand for his contribution to the reconstruction of the areas around Kedarnath in the 2013 flash floods.

Kothiyal, who has served the Army for 27 years, seems to be a good choice in view of the high presence of retired/serving Army personnel in the state. The party has decided to field him from the Gangotri seat.

He has already started his campaign, “Har Ghar Do Dastak”, in Gangotri. He is trying to touch rural parts of the Gangotri seat by visiting 4-5 villages each day. Kothiyal seemed quite elated with the response of people in his door-to-door campaign. “I am in Saura village of Uttarkashi district and this village has 10-12 boys who are recruited in the armed forces through the help of our Youth Foundation,” he told this reporter on phone from Gangotri. “People are applying vermillion on our forehead and giving Rs 50 or Rs 101 which is very auspicious and a symbol of their love,” he added.

According to him, he is successful in conveying a message to the voters that if Youth Foundation can bring so much change into their life, then one can imagine what change can be ushered in when they are in power.

On how many seats he expected the AAP to win, he said: “I can’t say right now. But if you see the opinion polls, our seat count is on the rise continuously and the coming one month is expected to strengthen our position further.” He added, “We are showcasing our Delhi model of health and education, and people are impressed with it.”

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Also read: Punjab Assembly elections: It’s all about winnability and not just pure loyalty for Congress and AAP in the state

Also read: How Arvind Kejriwal has best chance to emerge on national scene and challenge BJP

Also read: Nationalism to Delhi model: How Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP is eyeing 2022 Uttar Pradesh election

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The AAP’s preparation for the 2022 Assembly shows that the party has come to the state looking for its permanent political stay. In its campaign, the party continues to send out a message that it has the potential to equally challenge both the BJP and the Congress. The party has set up its office, which has the party's war room, in Dehradun’s Araghar area.

“Delhi has a good presence of people who are from Uttarakhand. They have seen our works in Delhi. So, Delhi’s connection with Uttarakhand prompted us to expand our organisational base in this hill state,” said Dinesh Mohaniya, AAP’s in charge of the state. Mohania has been camping in Uttarakhand for the last year.

AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal has so far visited the state six times in the last year. Apart from highlighting the Delhi model of governance, he has targeted youth, retired/serving Army personnel, women, senior citizens and electric consumers.

His one important promise is ex-gratia payment of Rs 1 crore each to families of persons who die in the line of duty at the border or in any operation as “Samman Rashi” (Honour amount) if the AAP forms its government in the state. It is applying its Delhi formula here as concessions on power and electricity bills with tall promises of better education, health and employment.

Keeping in mind the state’s popularity as “Dev Bhoomi”, the AAP has also promised to develop Uttarakhand as the world’s “spiritual capital”.

The AAP has adopted a different method to gain ground on new turf. It is opting for a technical path in comparison to traditional booth-level electoral campaigns. This party has collected data of locals by distributing its cards among the targeted voters — employment guarantee scheme card for the youth; electricity scheme card for 300-unit free electricity; free pilgrimage scheme card for senior citizens; and the announcement of Rs 1,000 to be deposited in the accounts of all women above 18 years every month.

Contacting voters from different segments of the state, enrolling them through guarantee cards, and registering them online have given the AAP a huge database of more than 28 lakh voters in the state. “We possess about 18 lakh unique data,” said an AAP functionary who did not wish to be named.

The AAP is not lagging behind in its social media campaign as the party has set up its war room having a team of about 15 workers. The party has deployed 74 social media warriors in all 70 Assembly seats. There are 75 people, appointed as in-charge of social media teams, in the 70 constituencies where Dehradun and Haridwar have two people to look after social media campaigns.

Each district has its own social media team. AAP top leaders are doing virtual rallies through Twitter Live, Facebook Live and WhatsApp groups. Almost 70 video vans are still moving inside the hilly areas to show the work of the Kejriwal government in Delhi. Ashutosh Negi, AAP’s state general secretary, said: “Comprehensive database which we received through guarantee cards, helps us in virtual door-to-door campaigns.”

Ashubodh, working in the AAP social media team, says that the party approaches almost 30 lakh people weekly. We do ideation, creation and distribution. Through the help of graphic designing and video editing, we create messages to make people familiar with our schemes and plans. “We expose the realities of the BJP and the Congress as both the parties are the same and have no difference, and it is only AAP that has entered Uttarakhand to bring a change on the ground.”

With the announcement of the election date, the AAP has fastened the process of door-to-door connect. The AAP party has formed five teams of 30 members to start its “Har Ghar Do Dastak” campaign. The top AAP leadership is visiting Uttarakhand and trying to meet the voters personally, listening to their woes. Deputy CM of Delhi Manish Sisodia told people during his Tehri visit:

“Electricity doesn’t get produced at Delhi but people get it free there. But electricity is generated here in Tehri but yet people aren’t getting it free.”

“Navparivartan” (Innovation) and “Navnirman” (Re-structuring) are the AAP buzzwords when it comes to the development of Uttarakhand. Atishi Singh, AAP’s MLA and member of the political affairs committee, said: “AAP doesn’t have Mudra (money) but has the Mudda (issue) of Uttarakhand’s Re-structuring by improving health and education facilities and generating employment.

Like Delhi, we have plans to build a mohalla clinic in each village and a hospital in each area in this state. Answering the question of employment generation, she said, “When we will improve infrastructure, employment opportunities will rise and we will fulfill our promises of providing one lakh jobs in the time span of six months.

Capt (retired) Tejpal Negi, resident of Uttarkashi and registered with AAP’s Bijli Guarantee scheme, says, “We have the largest dam here in Tehri and we were promised that residents of Tehri and Uttarkashi will get the free electricity. But, even now, many villages are deprived of not even electricity, the power cuts are of 6-7 hours every day. If a poor man gets a concession of Rs 500-600 on electricity, it means a lot for him. So, I appreciate this scheme of the Aam Aadmi Party.”

Registered with AAP’s women guarantee scheme, a resident of Kashipur, Udham Singh Nagar, Sunita Saxena says: “It’s a boon for not earning women. Our dependency on male members of the family for financial needs makes us inferior sometimes. This scheme of AAP will help us meet our small needs.”

Gaurav Joshi, an M.Tech student in Dehradun and registered with the Rojgar guarantee scheme, says, “We need basic things first and no other party has addressed the common problems of this state seriously. Migration is a serious problem here and only providing basic amenities can stop this. All the educated youth want employment first compared to other things.”

Mahadev Bhatt, a farmer in Pithoragarh who owns a chunk of land and few goats, says: “I have registered with AAP’s Tirth Yatra scheme because I came to know that the Kejriwal government had arranged a free Ayodhya pilgrimage to 2,000 pilgrims in Delhi. They are the modern-day Shravan Kumar. They are doing the duty of a son.”

The BJP and Congress don’t see the AAP’s entry into the state as a threat to them. Congress general secretary (organisation) Mathura Dutt Joshi said, “AAP can’t understand the problems of Uttarakhand as we do. The party has no base in the state.”

According to BJP spokesperson Suresh Joshi, the AAP’s over-reliance on information technology won’t take the party far. “The way AAP is taking the help of information technology to connect with the voter, we have done it much earlier. Now we are connecting with voters face to face. This telephonic relationship with voters can’t yield their votes,” he said. Joshi also said that since many people from Uttarakhand are in Delhi, they are familiar with the AAP’s falsehood. “So AAP can’t do any harm to us,” he added.

Political analyst SMA Kazmi says, “It is difficult to say that AAP will get seats here but certainly can damage the prospects of candidates from BJP and Congress as well.”

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