Tuesday’s attack on the Aam Aadmi Party headquarters, attributed to a fringe Hindu right-wing group, is the clearest sign yet that the AAP is being viewed as a political phenomenon to watch out for in the upcoming general election. Indeed, it seems no more than an excuse that the vandalism was in response to AAP member Prashant Bhushan’s comments on Kashmir. Mr. Bhushan had clarified well before the attack that his advocacy of a “referendum” was restricted to the deployment of internal security in the Valley. In any case, it is unlikely that the AAP office would be vandalised for a personal opinion long held by one of its members. That the positive buzz around the Arvind Kejriwal–led debutant party has left the mainstream parties feeling out of their depths is apparent. Since entering the Delhi electoral fray with its promise of systemic overhaul and transformative politics, the AAP has moved at a frenetic pace, forming a government in the National Capital Territory and beginning to act on its various pledges.
Undeniably, the appeal of the AAP phenomenon is expanding beyond the borders of Delhi, capturing the imagination of a wider audience across the country. The evidence is there in the rush of eminent people signing up to join the party, suggesting a freshness of political appeal that is clearly disconcerting to the mainstream parties. Encouraged by this, the AAP has unfurled an ambitious plan to contest over 300 Lok Sabha seats and announced its intention to take on Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi in their constituencies. The AAP’s arrival has queered the pitch for both the Congress and the BJP, but perhaps more for the latter in view of its hopes to be the main gainer of whatever existing anti-incumbency sentiment. The BJP which has Mr. Modi as its prime ministerial candidate certainly has the edge, having made a near clean sweep of the recent Assembly elections. The BJP has been pitching Mr. Modi as a dynamic and efficient leader who can infuse fresh energy into the economy, perceived to be caught in a policy paralysis thanks to the UPA. Today that imagery is challenged by the arrival of Mr. Kejriwal and the AAP. The AAP has caused an upset in the dynamics of the national political arena by its shrewd utilisation of the strong public sentiment of disenchantment with the mainstream parties. In the Delhi elections, the AAP reduced the Congress to third place and stopped the BJP’s march to power. As a game-changer, the AAP has the potential to play spoiler to the chances of the major political forces in the general elections a few months away. What is clear though is that the spunky new party will not be cowed down by threats and violence.