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In AAP's Gujarat Campaign, Lessons Learnt From Punjab

Representative image (Image: Reuters)

Representative image (Image: Reuters)

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s party AAP is hoping to throw a spanner in the works for both the BJP, which has ruled Gujarat for two decades, and the Congress, which is hoping to finally capitalize on the anti-incumbency wave.

New Delhi: The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) will launch its campaign for the Gujarat Assembly elections on Gandhi Jayanti, just three months ahead of polls.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s party is hoping to throw a spanner in the works for both the BJP, which has ruled the western state for two decades, and the Congress, which is hoping to finally capitalize on the anti-incumbency wave.

Whether AAP is able to shrug off the “spoiler” tag remains to be seen but one thing is certain. Successive election losses in Punjab, Goa and Delhi municipal elections have taught the party some lessons which it is keen to adapt.

Toning down the hype

In Chandigarh’s sector 16 is a bungalow that in late January this year doubled up as the “war room” of the AAP’s Punjab unit. On the first floor balcony was a white board that had a three-digit number written in bold. “107,” it said. When asked what the number signified, an AAP functionary said this was the number of seats in the 117-member Punjab assembly that the party was hoping to get. The result, with AAP winning just 20 seats, was much below the expected number.

AAP’s claims of “pre-poll surveys” giving it a thumping majority are not new. In the 2013 Delhi assembly elections, the AAP claimed it would win 40-50 seats but it ended up with 28. In the 2016 Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) bypolls, it predicted 13 but ended up with just 5. In Goa, where Arvind Kejriwal predicted a “clear majority” with 21 seats, they failed to even open their account. The MCD polls, a prestige battle in their home ground, came as an even bigger shock when they got just 47 seats as opposed to their claims of 218.

This time, however, the party is hoping to avoid such embarrassment. The AAP is a new entrant in a state where the BJP and Congress organizational strength is unmatched. When asked what they expect from the Gujarat polls, AAP leaders just shrug and say, “Kuch bhi ho sakta hai (Anything can happen)”.

Not peaking early

The Punjab AAP campaign was long drawn out and lasted for over a year. Over six months after the results crushed the party’s hopes of coming to power in a full state, sources close to Kejriwal admit they peaked too early. “We fought a spirited campaign in Punjab but we campaigned too early. Captain Amarinder Singh pushed hard only in the last three months and that was the most crucial period of the campaign. People had already heard our side of the story by the time Captain went to them. That is a mistake we are not going to repeat,” said a senior AAP leader.

As a result, they have left it to the last three months before the campaign even begins. “We are a new party in Gujarat and we want our message to remain fresh in the minds of the voter when he or she goes to the polling booth,” the source said.

Using Kejriwal sparingly

After the Punjab elections, the BJP pummeled Kejriwal with the image of him being a non-resident CM of Delhi. The party had to then suffer losses in the MCD elections. But this time, while Kejriwal will be the “face of the campaign”, he may not enter the fray himself until much later.

AAP Delhi state convener Gopal Rai, who is heading the campaign in Gujarat, said, “On October 2, we are launching our campaign with a roadshow. I will be heading that roadshow myself. Other leaders will join the campaign as and when required.”

There is no word yet on when Kejriwal himself will join. One party leader said, “For now, he is going to stay in Delhi and focus on governance.”

Not biting on more than they can chew

In 2014, Kejriwal quit as Chief Minister after 49 days in office. The party then went on to contest the Lok Sabha elections, which proved to be too much for the infant party. AAP emerged victorious in only 4 out of 543 seats. “For a party with limited means,” said a leader, “it was a mistake to contest on so many seats. We are going to be very practical about the Gujarat polls and only contest seats on which we are confident.”

Gopal Rai said, “We will only contest a seat if we have a good candidate for that seat. Another criteria is that we need to have a booth-level in-charge of every booth in a particular assembly segment for us to contest.”

Back to basics

After a win in the Bawana bypoll, AAP cadre are upbeat. Gopal Rai, who also headed the campaign in Bawana, said the party was going to rely on “tried and tested” campaign strategies.

“Our biggest strength,” said Rai, “is our door-to-door campaigning and booth-level management. We are going to employ those means of campaigning. What we lack in finances, we make up in terms of enthusiasm. We have highly committed volunteers who will make sure our message reaches the people.”