How the Aam Aadmi Party is preparing to fight the long fight

By PRAVEEN DONTHI | 9 September 2014

When the new Bharatiya Janata Party government at the centre had completed 49 days in office, the Aam Aadmi Party released a poster that read: “People of Delhi—whose 49 days did you like? Aam Aadmi Party’s government or the BJP’s government?” Yesterday, the party released a video allegedly showing BJP leader Sher Singh Dagar offering AAP MLA Dinesh Mohania Rs 4 crore to help the BJP form the government in Delhi.

In May, the AAP had lost deposits in nearly all the 432 seats it contested, and won just four seats in Punjab. Afterwards, every bit of bickering within the party, big or small, was reported as evidence of implosion, and obituaries began to appear regularly in the media. But with the “49 days” campaign, and the sting operation, the party showed that it hadn’t lost any of its self-belief and fighting spirit, which has seen it face off against the behemoths of the Indian political arena from the moment of its inception.

At a meeting of MP candidates in the first week of July, Arvind Kejriwal spoke bluntly. “Your party doesn’t exist, you are a one-man party in your locality,” he said. Urging them to create a pool of 2000 volunteers in each assembly constituency, he told them that the only way to move forward was by hard, patient work “Now there is a lot of goodwill for Modi,” he said. “After a while, people will criticise him. You don’t have to do anything now. Quietly keep building your organisation.” “Andolan” (movements) and “sanghatan” (organisation) were vital to the party’s future, he said.

The two times I visited the party office—a pale yellow two-storied building on Hanuman Road in central Delhi—in as many months, morale seemed high. The matchbox rooms were occupied by party workers, mostly young, immersed in work and in animated discussions—a poster on one wall implored people not to sit idle. There was easy and cheerful camaraderie between workers and leaders, and a sense of election-time urgency in the air. The injuries of the summer’s general election results seemed like a distant memory.

After the Lok Sabha elections, the party held a series of meetings between volunteers and senior leaders, and then launched Mission Vistaar, helmed by  Prithvi Reddy in Karnataka, with the aim to build the organisation from the grassroots level and consolidate the support it had already earned. A committee headed by Prashant Bhushan was also appointed to prepare the party’s policy statement, which had been held up while it focused on its national election manifesto. A grievance redressal mechanism was also put in place.

“The first learning was that we were over-dependent on the Delhi wave,” Yogendra Yadav, the senior leader who lost the election from Gurgaon, told me in July. “When the wave receded, we didn’t have very much to fall back upon. Related to that, unlike in Delhi, we didn’t have movements and agitations in Haryana to build on. That meant our message remained verbal, it didn’t reach people. Third is, we didn’t have an organisation to speak of. Unless you have booth-level organisation, you can’t begin to do serious politics.”

Gaurav Tiwari, who handled the Lok Sabha campaign for Gurgaon explained to me the contrast between the party’s experience with the Delhi assembly elections and the general elections. For the former, he said, “we started our door-to-door campaign with four people and in five months, we had 500 volunteers. We made sure that every house was covered four times.” But ahead of the general elections, he explained, “I went to Gurgaon on 15 February and the election was on 10 April. Just 55 days to communicate your message where we didn’t have the support of a movement. In Delhi it was a movement for change, but in Gurgaon it was an out and out political election.”

Party workers believe the results in Punjab were positive because the BJP shares power with the Shiromani Akali Dal in the state, dispersing the benefits of its national wave. “Because of the mess created by the ruling coalition, youth and NRIs have supported the AAP in a big way,” Kalwant Singh, an AAP volunteer in Punjab told me. “NRIs called and told their families to vote for AAP. The youth went from village to village spending their own money for campaigning.”

Satyendra Jain, the party’s former health minister in Delhi, conceded that they had been stretched for resources. “People even asked me if we were contesting in Delhi at all because we couldn’t campaign properly,” he said. “And in other places, an MP candidate couldn’t even spend Rs 2 lakh. We were weak in rural areas. Only urban voters knew about the party.”

The effects of these setbacks are apparent in some moves the party has made. In August, Kejriwal declared that the party wouldn’t be contesting Haryana and Maharashtra assembly elections, sorely disappointing volunteers from those states. Instead, he said, they would focus on winning Delhi. Some volunteers from Haryana protested outside the party office. In other parts of the country, volunteers deserted after the Lok Sabha results. Yadav chose to see the bright side of this. “At the point of our peak, it was very difficult to distinguish between those who had come to just get tickets and those who were our long term allies,” he said. “But today it is not hard to see who are our long term allies. All kinds of people had managed to push their way into the party.” Both he and Anand Kumar, a founder member of the party and national executive member, told me that four people suspected to be RSS infiltrators had been expelled.

Kumar pointed out that the party was seeing some tension between its original members, who had been with the party since it was the India Against Corruption movement, a second group that joined during the Delhi assembly elections and a third that joined during the Lok Sabha elections. “The gap is not too big but the attitudinal difference is huge,” he said. “The first set of people think the rest are in search of power and opportunity. It might be partly true, but to consider the likes of Medha Patkar, Rajmohan Gandhi, Udayakumar and Lingraj Pradhan as power seekers will be a huge mistake.” Overcoming this problem, he added, would require “training in elementary processes of party building, democratisation and above all in political history of modern India and challenges of the party system.”

The party has also realised how critical it is to have booth-level organisers, though to some people, this grates against its idealistic image. “Many people have a problem with the word ‘booth’ here, that we are referring to elections, but it is important” Kejriwal said at the MP meeting. Putting people in charge of each booth in each village would ensure that the party had “four to five people per village,” Kejriwal said, which is “not a bad thing at all.” The most significant benefit of such a structure would be the party’s ability to control its image, he pointed out. “If we have organisation in place,” he said, “the media can’t do anything.” (Indeed, most leaders I spoke to told me that they felt the party had failed in dealing with the media. Now, according to Anand Kumar, they were looking to engage more, be more tolerant, look beyond the electronic media and focus more on print and regional media.)

This more firmly rooted organisational structure, envisaged as the solution to many problems, has been put in place in Delhi. Seventy assembly segments have been divided into 14 districts, each under the charge of one party worker. Each district-in-charge will oversee five assembly segments. The district heads, divided into two teams, in turn will be supervised by Dilip K Pandey and Durgesh Pathak, who will report to Ashutosh, the new convenor of the Delhi unit.

The party has been organising public meetings, as well as Google hangouts with various party leaders every Saturday. Its 27 MLAs in Delhi have also been carrying out work in consultation with the public, using the annual fund of Rs 4 crore at their disposal. “Most of them are about maintenance,” said Satyendra Kumar Jain, the MLA of Shakur Basti constituency. “I have given 705 tasks and 350 have been completed so far. There are 123 booths, and we are hoping the funds are evenly distributed.” In their view, despite the party’s poor performance in the Lok Sabha elections, it is still on strong footing with the public. “It is a matter of consolidation—the core voter base has increased from 29 to 35 percent from assembly polls to Lok Sabha,” Nagender Sharma, who was adviser to Kejriwal when he was the chief minister, told me.

According to senior party leader and spokesperson Ashutosh, the party’s analysis of its position has revealed that “it is clear the poor and minorities are with us. It is up to the party’s ability how much we can poach from other sections.” Despite the BJP’s moves to take hold of power in Delhi, he said, “the BJP doesn’t have a good CM candidate and we are placed comfortably in Delhi.”

Yadav insisted the AAP’s agenda is not just limited to winning elections in Delhi. “You do not quite have an opposition in the country,” he said. “Congress at national level neither has the numbers, nor the vision or the guts to be opposition. We do not have the numbers either. But if we have the vision and guts, we can occupy that space.” The AAP’s strategy for the next five years, he explained, is “to occupy that space and become principal opposition in the country. Not inside the house, but oppositional politics is not confined to what happens inside the house. It’s on the street.”

Praveen Donthi is a Staff Writer at The Caravan. He is trained as a researcher in modern Indian history and became a journalist by accident. He has previously worked for Tehelka, Hindustan Times and Deccan Herald.



9 thoughts on “How the Aam Aadmi Party is preparing to fight the long fight”

aaphas bcome prisoner of grassrootless leaders and unless they jettison them ,no hope for a credible opposition–they are only a nuisance value as arvind himself doesnot know what he wants from a system-he halucinates more often and real aam admi has learnt him well–only poor and minority don’t make a meal for 1.2 billion–arvind will do better without the likes of journos,ashutosh and yogendra–chewing words and shut-up arrogance only good for tv times–we understand the skin beneath khadi and jeans–get real.Few editorial coverage donot make both ends meet for a party ,hungry of media space–keep obliging these drama-people.

aap’s philosophy is to go with all…………..and about media space, well one needs to have communication channel……….be it tv, internet, print or direct. since it can’t have paid news, only option is to make noise………….ofcourse, with substance to last it long.

If AAP’s government will come in DELHI, revolution will take place.
Everyone must support them.
I think there is no more publicity about them because they are not paying for it & media will support them only when they will have news, like a news which will be liked by more audiences.

Corruption is single evil eating Indians. Every leader needs to be corrupt to at least fund his daily meal. It is a very wrong assumption that leaders need to work without an self interest; leaders also have stomach and families whom they have to support for daily meals. Thus all leaders need to be corrupt to win in this competitive political world.
Unfortunately Indians are made to believe that leaders are supposed to be gods and work without any self-interest.

RSS supplies leaders who can work without any self-interest to BJP. This is one reason BJP has got leaders who do not claim their position to any family inheritance. AAP also needs to create a base for its workers. With present structure AAP does not have a source for workers and leaders.

We are corrupt. Corruption is deeply entrenched and it has become institutionalised. Corruption has become endemic to the system and it has to be fought has become a constant refrain. Then what is the current turmoil about and where is the catch? The problem is very simple: It does not affect everybody the same way. It is creating an asymmetrical society. On the one hand we have the beneficiaries of the corrupt system, the big business houses, the politicians, the bureaucrats and their cronies led by the government. On the other, we have the general mass of people (euphemistically called the cattle class), who are victims of the corrupt system, and one takes sides depending on which side of the fence you are. Corruption is much more than bribe culture and has a much wider connotation in the present context to mean the grotesque system of unholy ‘nexus’, which has acquired the dubious distinction of being termed as crony capitalism. The core issue centres round sharing of the resources of the nation: the land, the mines, the forests and now the virtual world, i.e. the 2G- Spectrum. Over the years, the beneficiaries of the system have consolidated their position and continue to corner resources to which they think they are entitled to because of their proximity to the powers that be, and they are getting wealthier at the expense of the rest of the society. It is a zero-sum game. It is a systemic problem and can be solved only by a systemic change. So we must get the perspective right.

Rechristening.Mohandas Guevera Kejriwal.A new name. Embedded into those famous names are the hopes,aspirations and anxieties of a desperate India.

India is angry. Not just Delhi.

Need a few good men .Honest and sincere.They shall win anywhere.
work and be available in your constituency.Build an organisation.
· Muslims voted as a unit.Together.They see hope only when there is the necessary groundwork.
· Israel wins in the Middle East.Weak enemies.Modi loses when he finds a strong one.Like a Kejriwal.
· Kejriwal swept on the foundations of a hard core constituency :the hopeless like the poor, the lower castes and the migrants and daily wage labourers.The better off middle classes rejected Modi soon after,
· Bengal and Bihar will see a recovery of faithand self belief.BJP would end up loser.
· Recalibration and retreat Of BJP in UP.
· BJP soft on minorities.Control on the RSS agenda.
· Increased interference of USA in Indian politics.Not necessarily pro-Modi.Will help build and opposition.
· AAP spreading in UP, Haryana and Bihar initially.
· AAP supporting the rise of Anna once again.Annato be mentor and patron of AAP.
· Anna will try to upstage the movement by becoming a neo-JP Narayan.
Media is playing catch-up.Running behind the common for once from their air conditioned cocoons.Their intellectual atrophy visible while covering cattle-class agendas.
Psephology is good only to indicate broad trends.Not a science like astrology.
Modi still an outsider to delhi
Tsunami’s are not seen or heard.They come silently like a storm.
India still not ready for bi-polar politics.Regional parties shall thrive or grow or be reborn.shall work as an opposition in the federal set up.
· New Guevera’s all around.

An Afterthought:
Is the anger being hijacked ?What is this ‘compassionate capitalism’ of AAP?Another good Congress Party?

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