- NL Sena
Punjab and Goa have been serious setbacks, but AAP is convinced its progressive policies are the only alternative to Narendra Modi’s BJP.
Full disclosure: Akshay Marathe is National Joint Secretary of the Aam Aadmi Party. He was in-charge of Digital Media communications for the party’s Goa election campaign. He currently works with the Delhi Government on education policy.
Aam Aadmi Party’s crushing defeat in the Punjab and Goa Assembly elections has undoubtedly been a setback to the dream of establishing honest, people-centric governance across India. But despite the drubbing at the polls, I see a silver lining along the dark clouds that sunk us in this election.
It’s not easy being an AAP volunteer. In fact, it can be quite a challenge, as many of us had found out the hard way after May 2014, when AAP won just 4 out of 400 odd constituencies it contested in the Lok Sabha election. ‘Bhagoda Kejriwal’ had fallen flat on his face, they had said. Political conversations had become uncomfortable to the extent that the only alternative was to get defensive and combative. Friends and family smitten by Modi ji and his vikas model would guffaw at the fall from grace of ‘our’ Arvind Kejriwal. “Kejriwal should not have challenged Modi in Varanasi,” they told us. “That was his undoing. He is finished now, he is history.”
But as history will remind all those who look up the AAP’s rise, Kejriwal rose from the ashes and won 67 out of 70 seats in the Delhi Assembly election of 2015. AAP volunteers across the country have seen the most heartbreaking and humiliating of defeats in 2014 and have celebrated a landslide majority victory in 2015. As is the way of life, the defeat of 2014 has prepared a lot of us for pretty much any electoral debacle.
For a party that was launched in November, 2012, where does the Aam Aadmi Party stand in Indian politics as this round of elections comes to a close? The AAP is running a government in the state of Delhi. It is the principal Opposition party in Punjab. And it has made a mark in Goa with 6.2 per cent of the vote share. Arguably, the AAP is one of the largest regional parties of India after the likes of All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Janata Dal (United) and the Trinamool Congress (which is technically a national party now). What is crucial to note, however, is that unlike any of the other large regional outfits, the idea of AAP has a unique pan-India appeal. The party has the hunger and the organisational prowess to expand quickly beyond its strongholds of Delhi and Punjab. Most importantly, AAP has the stomach for a long fight.
AAP’s real achievement does not really lie in these numbers. The accomplishment that is truly impressive and perhaps needs more attention is that in a span of four years, Kejriwal and team have built a strong cadre-based party that is gradually finding its ideological bearing. What separates AAP from run-of-the-mill “secular” parties is its ability to make secularism the bedrock of its ideology, without allowing it to be the only selling point to voters.
Going by the last three elections it has contested, the party pitches to the electorate a set of policy interventions that are fiercely progressive. The AAP offers an alternative economic narrative, which does not necessarily play on insecurities and fears of minorities. This is precisely what AAP did in Punjab and Goa. The Congress played the same games it plays with Muslims in other parts of the country, with Hindus in Punjab. So, while AAP offered concrete solutions to the agrarian crisis, the drug problem and unemployment, the so-called “secular” Congress went about fear mongering about AAP’s imagined links to Sikh extremists.
The AAP does not seek votes merely because it is “not the BJP”, unlike the Congress. It solicits support on the basis of a governance model that is in stark contrast to Narendra Modi’s style of cosmetic, dramatic schemery. It promises affordable, quality education. It guarantees access to healthcare regardless of one’s ability to pay. It makes lifeline water free of cost, and supplies inexpensive electricity. The electricity is cheap on both Holi and Ramzan. And the accessible healthcare attempts to reduce the need for shamshaans and kabristans both.
Although the AAP has continuously shunned labels since its inception, it is safe to say that the party leadership’s core beliefs are grounded in progressive governance models aimed at economic social empowerment. As a result, the cadre has begun to espouse these ideals in our politics. A friend and colleague of mine in the party had a bitter experience with a relative who would explain this phenomenon. This close family member (and vocal BJP supporter) from Uttar Pradesh visited my colleague’s Delhi home last week, to undergo treatment in a Delhi government hospital. My colleague asked him what would happen in the then upcoming UP election, to which the relative had replied “Iss baar janta in Musalmaano ke khilaaf vote dalegi, aap dekh lena! (This time, the public will vote against these Muslims, mark my words).” My friend asked him, “Are you out of your mind? Here you are in Delhi, to undergo treatment at a hospital because your state does not have adequate medical services, but you are going to vote along religious lines?”
The volunteers of AAP have become flag-bearers of progressive values and ideals. When they bring up mandir, we talk about schools. When they propose Anti-Romeo squads, we ask for better hospitals. We have become obsessed with these ideas, because that is all that we have.
The loss in elections only makes us unhappy to the extent that an opportunity to deliver these ideals to Punjab has been lost. The struggle continues. संघर्ष जारी रहेगा।