On Thursday afternoon, as the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was leading in 91 of 117 seats in Punjab, from a stage atop the party headquarters in Delhi, AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal described his party’s performance as a “revolution” that would “spread throughout the country”. At the core of his speech was his appeal to the ‘aam aadmi’ (common man) to realise his powers and join the party to build a “new India”.
“I want to tell everyone in the country, you should all realise your power, stand up, it is time to bring revolution in the country. We have wasted 75 years, now there is no time to waste. Everyone should join the AAP. AAP is not the name of a party, it is the name of a revolution. AAP is a name for fulfilling Bhagat Singh’s dreams,” Mr. Kejriwal said.
The AAP chief had come to the party headquarters straight from Hanuman temple in Connaught Place where he, along with his deputy Manish Sisodia and cabinet colleague Satyendar Jain, had offered prayers with his party gaining a huge lead in Punjab.
This is not the first time that the AAP is trying to go national. It has tried and failed repeatedly in realising this ambition in the past. However, both party leaders and observers feel that this moment is different given AAP’s “huge victory” in Punjab.
The AAP was born of the ‘India Against Corruption’ movement in 2012. In 2014, it contested over 400 seats in the general election,with Mr. Kejriwal taking on BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in Varanasi. But the party could win only four seats — all of them in Punjab. Following this, there was a brief lull in its “national plans”.
In 2015, the AAP swept the Delhi Assembly election by winning 67 out of 70 seats. There was a renewed hope in the party. But within weeks, top leaders Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Yadav were expelled from the AAP and this “ugly split” destroyed it, said political analyst Neerja Chowdhury. “This prevented them from growing outside Delhi,” she added.
Since then, the AAP has contested Assembly elections in several States, but outside the Capital it could open its account only in Punjab, in 2017 Assembly election, where it won 20 seats and became the main Opposition.
The party’s hopes were renewed when it won the Delhi Assembly election again in 2020, bagging 62 out of the 70 seats. The party started a campaign under which people across the country could join it. But this drive was marred by the pandemic that hit the country around the same time.
Ms. Chowdhury described the party’s current performance in Punjab as Mr. Kejriwal’s “2015 moment”.
“There is something called the Congress space and the AAP is poised to capture that space. Not overnight, but in the long run, Kejriwal can do it. He has taken the first step in that direction today. He is also positioned as a pro-Hindu, but not anti-Muslim, and delivery-based politician,” she said.
“Today also, when Kejriwal spoke, he was again pitching for the subaltern classes, the aspirational revolution. He said that the man who defeated Channi [Punjab CM Charanjit Singh Channi] was someone who works at a mobile repair shop. This is exactly the note Modi struck in 2014 — that I’m a chai seller and this is the India of the future, where anyone can occupy high positions,” she added.
Praveen Rai, a political analyst who works with the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, said, “Where ever regional parties are strong, like in Tamil Nadu, it will be difficult for the AAP to carve out a space for itself. Its best chance is to try to replace the Congress in States where they [the Congress] are either in power or in the Opposition.” He added that if the AAP were able to “reform Punjab”, it would give the party “more boost” in other States. Mr. Rai said that among other States, the party will have its best chance in Gujarat, where it has “a fair chance” of at least becoming the chief Opposition.
Both experts said that people will see the AAP differently after this huge win, but Mr. Kejriwal will have to deliver in Punjab. They also said that the win will give the AAP more bargaining power and a seat at the table in a possible Opposition coalition ahead of the 2024 general elections.
The AAP’s chief spokesperson Saurabh Bhardwaj told The Hindu that the party will expand the “Kejriwal model” of governance to other States and contest Assembly elections in Haryana, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka.
“The AAP has become the fourth party after the BJP, the Congress and the Left to form the government in a second State in 70 years. Other parties such as the BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) or the TMC (Trinamool Congress) could not do it. No one else could do it,” Mr. Bhardwaj said.
But neither he nor senior party leader Satyendar Jain commented on whether the party will contest a large number of seats in the 2024 general election, like it did in 2014.
When asked what the party plans to do next, Durgesh Pathak, in-charge of the AAP’s ‘national organisation building team’, said, “In the next couple of days, we will sit down and plan how to go about in other States. We will definitely push hard and increase the party’s membership in different States. Various campaigns will be done to reach out to different segments, such as women, youth and traders.”
Mr. Bhardwaj added, “Our first and foremost priority now would be to deliver on the huge promises we made in Punjab. We had asked the people of Punjab for one chance and we need to deliver on our promises. Just like the ‘Delhi model of governance’, we will create a ‘Punjab model’ too.”