After succeeding in metropolitan Delhi, the party’s challenge is to reach out to rural voters whose concerns, aspirations and means of communication are very different

When Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Yogendra Yadav was conducting workers’ meetings in Haryana’s districts sometime ago, he was asked how the established political parties in the State are viewing the AAP’s entry. “Oh, they are dismissive of us and think that our party has a reach only in urban areas. In a way this complacency suits us and we can continue to expand our presence undisturbed,” Mr. Yadav said. After Sunday’s overwhelming show of strength in Rohtak’s HUDA ground, the AAP does not have this luxury anymore.

The party has arrived with a bang and political talk in the State now revolves around estimations of how many people came for the AAP rally. In a State where the turnout at political rallies is seen as a measure of a party’s popularity and a crowd of 10,000 people can be exaggerated to one lakh or more by enthusiastic party people, even the AAP’s worst detractors, namely the Congress and the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), concede that Arvind Kejriwal’s maiden political rally outside Delhi drew 15,000 to 20,000 people.

A different approach

But the significance of the AAP’s mega show is not so much in the numbers, but that they came on their own, spending their own money on fuel, transport and food, as the cash-strapped party made it clear that unlike other parties, it has no money to buy crowds. The other difference was the composition of the crowd. The professional “rally types” gave it a miss and instead, teachers, students, young professionals, some farmers, and the poor turned up.

The fact that the top leadership of the party — Mr. Kejriwal and Mr. Yadav — hail from Haryana is one reason for the draw of this new entrant, as also its declared intent that after Delhi, it aims to capture power here. ‘Dilli hui hamaari hai, ab Haryana ki baari hai’ (Delhi’s become ours, now it’s Haryana’s turn), is the most popular slogan.

The party has a two-fold approach for Haryana, where its leaders are devoting the maximum time. The idea is to put up a good show in the Lok Sabha election and build up momentum for the eventual goal — the Assembly election due later in October. Mr. Yadav is personally overseeing the campaign in Haryana and is also contesting the Gurgaon Lok Sabha seat. Recalling the old favourite ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’ of the seventies is therefore a carefully thought-out move because farmers and retired soldiers comprise a significant chunk of the Haryanvi vote bank.

The privilege of enunciating the party’s promises for Haryana was also given to Mr Yadav. Video graphing of interviews for government jobs, investigating land scams of the last twenty years and giving a voice to women in whether liquor vends in their village should be permitted or not are Haryana-specific issues that touched a chord with the people.

Natural choice

Haryana as the AAP’s next target is a natural choice. Even before the AAP came into being, Mr. Kejriwal had campaigned against the BJP and the Congress in the 2011 by-election for the Hisar Lok Sabha constituency. He hails from Siwani in Bhiwani district and grew up in Hisar. During the Anna Jan Lokpal andolan too, a large chunk of those who had gathered at the Ramlila Maidan were supporters from Haryana. Most of them have turned into AAP workers. The eight lakh members (more than in any other State) that the party enrolled in the last month or so is due to this workforce. A handful of IAS and IPS officers have also joined in the last few days and in the same manner in which they gathered for the Delhi elections, expatriate Indians have begun taking leave from their overseas jobs to work for the party in Haryana.

The State also offers a fertile ground for a new entrant due to the political vacuum that has been created here lately. Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s Congress government, after ten straight years in power, is facing an anti- incumbency wave on account of rampant corruption, misgovernance and land scams.

The opposition INLD is now hobbling with its top leadership Om Prakash Chautala and his son Ajay Chautala in jail for a jobs scam. The BJP which has tied up with the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC) of former Chief Minister Bhajan Lal’s son Kuldeep Bishnoi does not have a base in rural, Jat-dominated areas. Ideally it would have liked to ally with the INLD, which commands a substantial Jat following, in addition to the HJC, but the corruption taint prevents it from doing so.

Bumpy road ahead

But making inroads into the Jat vote bank that comprises almost 25 per cent of the population is not easy. The AAP has made it clear that it is against caste-based politics. So Naveen Jaihind, the party’s candidate from Rohtak who has been chosen to take on Mr. Hooda’s son Deepender Singh Hooda clarifies that he has taken on Jaihind as his surname “so that no one knows my real caste.” The sentiment could find resonance in urban areas and among the youth, but in Haryana’s Jat heartland, few are impressed. Mr, Kejriwal and Mr. Yadav are not Jats and conventional reasoning dictates that the face of a party that wants to make it big in Haryana should be a Jat.

However Dalits with a 21 per cent composition come a close second to the land-owning Jats and the AAP is reaching out to them. Mr. Hooda’s pro-Jat policies and a series of atrocities against Dalits in recent years have alienated this section from the Congress. This is just one of the several floating groups in Haryana which is looking for a place to drop anchor. As a Congress legislator wryly admitted: “The AAP is pulling in those people who are outside the hardcore vote banks of established parties. And this floating vote [group] can go up to [a] substantial 40 per cent.”

After succeeding in metropolitan Delhi with the help of tech-savvy youngsters and the internet, the acknowledged challenge for the AAP is to reach out to rural voters whose concerns, aspirations and means of communication are very different. If the attendance and sentiment at the Rohtak ‘hunkar rally’ (war cry) is any indication, the AAP seems to be overcoming this handicap quite well.

chander.dogra@thehindu.co.in

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