The Aam Aadmi Party’s failure to win even one seat in the Himachal Pradesh Assembly election seems to defy logic taking into account its recent performances in Delhi and Gujarat. Many of its candidates polled fewer votes than even NOTA (none of the above). The AAP had even roped in a former BJP MP to contest one of the seats; he came fourth. In Haryana, too, the party has struggled to make its presence felt as caste calculations have defied its development agenda.
In Himachal, the AAP started campaigning early on, much before the Congress or the BJP. The ground was prepared by Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain, the party’s election-in-charge. According to observers, his arrest in a 2017 money laundering case put paid to the party’s chances as it went on the defensive, trying to salvage its reputation.
Jain is an important leader and among AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal’s close confidantes. Defending him became imperative as the issue was not only about Himachal anymore. The MCD election was in the pipeline, as was the Assembly election in Gujarat, where the AAP was projecting itself as an alternative.
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Kejriwal had made grand announcements about forming the government in Gujarat, declared the Chief Ministerial candidate (who incidentally lost), and claimed on a television programme that the Congress would not get more than five seats. He had made similar claims about Uttarakhand and Goa too.
In Himachal Pradesh, the AAP was confident of winning some of the 67 seats it was contesting. Heady with the success in Punjab, Kejriwal began touring the State early on and Satyendar Jain was his lynchpin in the State.
A source said that Jain had made considerable headway in setting the mood. He held big rallies in Solan and Kangra. He also opened an office in Paonta Sahib in Sirmaur district.
Also, the AAP had no qualms about poaching members from other parties. However, it could not lure many from either the Congress or the BJP. Once he was arrested in June, the AAP’s campaign virtually collapsed and the bandwagon moved to Gujarat. This helped the Congress in Himachal.
Also, the AAP’s electoral promises had little impact as Himachal’s development indices were far better than those of neighbouring States. The AAP had also not led any movements in the State when the BJP was in power. With Jain behind bars, everything came apart, sources said.
The Haryana picture
AAP’s political stint in Haryana is puzzling. The party has not been able to mark its debut, despite Haryana’s contiguity with the national capital in political, geographical, and, to an extent, cultural terms. With the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) in a state of apparent disarray, growing anti-incumbency against the BJP, and a fractional Congress, the ground appears ripe for a party like the AAP to step in. But its non-existent electoral presence in Haryana, which where Kejriwal actually hails from, is not easily explained.
Perhaps caste configurations in Haryana do not allow the AAP the space. The Congress led by Bhupinder Singh Hooda and the INLD led by Om Prakash Chautala claim to represent the Jats, while the BJP claims to represent the non-Jats, whose support the AAP competes for.
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Yet, the AAP’s showing in Hisar, Kejriwal’s home district, has been dismal, even in local body elections. “No one takes him seriously,” an observer said. Since 2014, it has not been able to make an impact in Assembly or Lok Sabha elections.
One of the consolation victories has been the chairman’s post in one municipal committee, where the AAP secured 10 per cent of the vote. During the Kurukshetra district local body elections, it won five of 133 wards and the president’s post in one ward. In panchayat elections held in November 2022, it won 15 zilla parishad seats in areas close to the Punjab border.