Scaling up

Print edition : January 24, 2014

AAP leaders Prashant Bhushan and Mayank Gandhi at a press conference in Mumbai on January 1. Photo: VIVEK BENDRE

After its heady success in the Delhi Assembly election, the AAP is eyeing Maharashtra and Haryana, prioritising agrarian issues and putting together a broad coalition of people’s movements.

THE success of the one-year-old Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the Assembly elections in Delhi is historically important for four reasons. One, the first mass-scale expression of wrath by urban voters against the crony capitalism of the current neoliberal economic regime, it disproves the assumption that people in cities have largely benefited from the inflow of private capital. Secondly, it marks the successful transformation of an anti-graft movement into an electorally relevant political party. Thirdly, the AAP owed its success to temporary volunteers without any political experience, driven by a strong sense of morals. Fourthly, the AAP’s success indicates that a strong alternative political force working against universal issues like corruption and growing inequities not only is viable but may direct Indian politics in future.

The AAP’s plans to enter national politics, therefore, is closely monitored by political observers and parties. And understandably so, as AAP leaders have gone on record stating that the party is planning to contest a large number of seats in the upcoming parliamentary elections. The AAP already has full-fledged functioning units in 309 districts of India and it plans to expand its operations in the remaining districts by the end of 2014.

It is clear in hindsight that the party’s strategy to concentrate on Delhi has paid rich dividends. The idea behind such a strategy was to start with a bang so that it gets national attention. “For us, Delhi was a deliberate choice. We decided not to contest in Himachal Pradesh or in Gujarat, and we skipped Karnataka. We have units in all the four States that went to the polls recently (not in Mizoram), but we chose Delhi. We had a better footprint here, it is geographically compact, and more media dense. And there is better visibility for the Delhi message in the country,” Yogendra Yadav, national executive member of the AAP, told The Indian Express in December.

Since this simple strategy has paid off, it is eyeing bigger gains in the rest of the country. The AAP has intensified its membership drive. Its first move is to look for good volunteers in every constituency. “The AAP is enlisting at least one lakh volunteer members every day,” Dilip Pandey, an AAP member told Frontline. Pandey said that while membership had come mostly from urban regions, the party had started to focus on rural areas. He agreed that the party’s penetration in rural areas was lesser than in urban areas, where he believed it had gained tremendous traction. He also claimed that several members of the AAP had quit lucrative jobs to join the party’s political cause.

Pandey said: “Like in the Delhi elections, we are relying completely on donations from supporters to contest the parliamentary elections. All our donations will be published on our website. We want to become a role model for transparency.” The party has received unprecedented support in the last few weeks. Until the elections, it was collecting around Rs.7 lakh a day, but after the success in Delhi, donations have gone up by leaps and bounds. On January 1, 2014, it collected Rs.38 lakh. Intelligent use of online campaigns and house-to-house networking have made the AAP a truly crowdsourced political party.

The party has a simple agenda: wherever it contests, it will launch an intensive campaign on issues like corruption, inflation and poor governance. Since the party claims to be guided by people and not by leaders, it has put up application forms on its website for people who want to contest the parliamentary elections on the AAP ticket. The forms require interested people to fill their backgrounds in social work, their family incomes, their support base, criminal charges against them if any, and the nature of these charges. “The applications will be screened by a committee which will then decide the final list of candidates. The primary consideration to finalise a candidate will be his or her record of public service, ability to campaign, and political appeal,” Prashant Bhushan, national executive member of the AAP, told Frontline.

Sources in the party told Frontline that the AAP was focussing on three regions for the parliamentary elections: Haryana, Maharashtra and constituencies in the National Capital Region (NCR). “Party leaders have been conducting jan sabhas [people’s committee meetings] in these regions. More than 100 meetings have already taken place. We have received unimaginable support,” a national executive member of the party said.

He also said that the party was concentrating more on Haryana and Maharashtra as elections to the Assemblies there were due in October. “For the parliamentary polls, however, we will focus on eight seats in the NCR apart from the seven seats in Delhi. Of course, we will give our best fight in Haryana and Maharashtra for the parliamentary polls but we do not have much time left. We really need to do a lot of organisational work in the next two months,” he said.

As the party plans to expand, it is clear that it has to offer a holistic vision regarding the problems facing society. “We have formed 30 working committees comprising experts to frame our agenda on policy issues. These experts are not necessarily party members but persons who have expertise in the subjects and have good ground experience. This complements our vision of swaraj, where people dictate a party’s views,” said Prashant Bhushan.

The 30 working committees will come out with a comprehensive report on the issues the party needs to discuss and address. The committee reports, Bhushan said, would be out by the last week of January, following which they would be discussed by the national executive of the party before being finalised. Of the 30 committees, the most important ones are on swaraj, police reforms, electoral reforms, judicial reforms, economy and ecology, land acquisition and rehabilitation, foreign policy, peace in the north-east region, education, health, gender justice, Dalit issues, naxalism, urban slums, regeneration of villages, and labour.

Hitting the right notes

The party, clearly, has hit the right notes. It has already started to mobilise farmers in Haryana and Maharashtra. “We will address the issues of farmers and the agrarian crisis will be on the top of our agenda in the days to come,” said the national executive member. That the party’s target States are Haryana and Maharashtra, both agriculture-driven regions, justifies the remark. The agrarian crisis and the issues of agricultural workers seem to be on top of the party’s priorities.

In another first, it has adopted methods that new socialist movements have been practising across the world. The AAP’s leaders are constantly engaging with the leaders of social movements across the country. In an effort to bring them to join mainstream politics, the AAP’s leaders are providing them with a vision that they are comfortable with. They are doing this because they believe that the AAP’s politics is inherently coalitional and that it will require the support of different subaltern voices. Yogendra Yadav, in an interview to The Indian Express, explains this effort: “I travelled all over the country to speak to people’s movements. For me, these movements are important not only for the numbers they might bring but because they bring experience, leadership, skills, sense of direction—an ethical filter. A movement that grows so rapidly—as our party has grown—runs the risk of losing direction. Much of the positive energy that has come in the last three decades or so has been from outside the political establishment. It has been released by people’s movements, including classic radical movements like farmers’ movements, women’s movements and green movements, those involving struggles for jal, jangal and zameen, and new movements like the one for the Right to Information Act (RTI).”

Undoubtedly, the AAP has a comprehensive plan, now that it has entered mainstream politics. Given the vast outreach it has achieved in only a year of its existence, it has the potential to challenge the political establishment. From being an anti-politician movement that was often criticised for being driven by upper-middle-class issues, the AAP has emerged as a powerful force that challenges the corrupt political system. However, it remains to be seen whether it can grow into a real alternative.