BJP’s poll performance in four States was impressive but Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) victory in Punjab was exceptional. This AAP victory reminds us of the saying — “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
Many may remember in 2013, the two National Parties — BJP and Congress — first ignored AAP. The BJP President back then, Nitin Gadkari, laughed them off as a ‘chillar party.’ The present Congress General Secretary, Priyanka Gandhi’s husband, Robert Vadra, mocked them as ‘Mango People’ (aam aadmi). Soon all politicians dared them to fight an election. Then they did. And Mangoes won.
In 2013, Aam Aadmi Party gave Congress and BJP a good Mango shake and woke them up in Delhi. In 2022, all parties got an Extra Large Mango shake in Punjab. Aam Aadmi Party got three times more seats than all of the other parties put together! An ‘aam-amazing’ feat!
AAP is slowly becoming the viable alternative in the small States. Voters in smaller States feel AAP can usher in real change. Change that makes a positive difference to their daily lives. Punjab has seen what AAP has done for its neighbour Delhi. And it wants the same.
Like other political parties, AAP also entices voters with freebies, but it’s not with products like cooker, mixer or sari but with services. In Delhi, up to 200 units of electricity and water up to 20,000 litres are free. There is free Wi-Fi and free buses for women. But most importantly, AAP made Government Schools as good as Private Schools. And when you make life better for the children, you have their parents’ vote.
AAP also delivers services as a private corporation does. To do that, it keeps its staff up to date and well-trained as private companies do. Unlike other States, teachers in Delhi get the same facilities during training as civil servants do!
Unlike other States where the Cabinet Ministers go on junkets, in Delhi, Government School Principals are sent abroad for training. Over 300 Principals were sent to Cambridge University for training. And 26 percent of the Delhi Government’s budget is for education — the highest in the country. Also, they have successfully adopted Mohalla Clinics.
This kind of service is what Punjab wants. So they’ve voted AAP. Or…was AAP’s victory fluke? A lucky strike when all other parties were in ‘self-destruct’ mode?
Indeed the BJP’s implementation of the farm laws, mishandling of the subsequent protests, the Congress Party’s infighting and the corruption of Shiromani Akali Dal, all created a void of credible, stable and honest governance, a gap which AAP easily fit into, but… Punjab was going to vote for AAP one day or another.
Many may remember AAP always had an eye on Punjab. And Punjab has continuously been teasing AAP. Within a year of forming the Government in Delhi in 2013, the AAP contested in Punjab and won four seats. They didn’t do well on the next outing, but they managed to become the principal Opposition in the State.
In 2017 again, they had a good chance, but the lack of clarity about the Chief Ministerial face and reports of allegations of its affinity with Khalistani elements ruined their chances. But by 2022, AAP had refocused on “service” as they did in Delhi and won.
Also, AAP used a similar strategy as BJP, which deploys a “tri-issue” strategy that pleases most voters: First — Religion for the right-leaning – Hindutva; Second — Nationalism for the “ultra- patriotic” – Atmanirbhar and Third — Development for all – Sabka Vikas.
AAP is adopting a similar script, albeit with a difference. BJP is like a big-budget blockbuster production of this tri-issue storyline, which is hugely successful. AAP is a small budget indie movie with a mellow tri-issue storyline that is critically acclaimed and quite successful.
Why this comparison? Well, BJP’s use of religion is more aggressive and vitriolic. In contrast, AAP soft-sells it, like Kejriwal’s visit to Ayodhya, then Gurudwara and then attending Eid event in Delhi’s Saket. Like BJP shows its “nationalism with air-strikes and scrapping of Article 370,” AAP has modest Tiranga Yatras in Noida and Lucknow. Then, of course, the BJP has the Gujarat development model, while AAP has the Delhi model.
But there is one difference: AAP leadership, while being “caste conscious,” is more secular than BJP. While BJP has large development projects and schemes, AAP provides essential services very effectively and efficiently — be it electricity or education.
But can they replicate it in larger States? Not for a few years. AAP must concentrate on small States because it’s still nascent with limited financial prowess and party cadre. So it needs to win and manage a few smaller States before taking on monster-sized States like UP, Maharashtra or Karnataka.
For me, AAP victory is vindication because I was mocked in 2014 when I wrote that AAP must be credited for changing the tone of politics, rejuvenating public participation in Indian politics and re-infusing a sense of idealism and hope into Indian politics that had vanished.
I also added, “to stay alive and relevant, they first have to learn to govern the small States… and then they can very well become the perfect alternative to Congress.” And they are so today.
In 10 years, this small party today rules our capital and the critical border State of Punjab. It has also opened its account in Goa by winning three seats and will try the same in Himachal Pradesh soon.
As AAP celebrates its success, one can’t help but recall Kejriwal’s prophetic reply to arrogant, elitist Congress Party’s damad Robert Vadra’s mango man tweet in 2012. He had said, “One day mango men will prove to be the nemesis of the powerful.”
And today, 10 years later, a Mobile Shop owner Labh Singh of AAP defeated the Congress Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi in Bhadaur Assembly Constituency. AAP has wiped out the powerful Badal family and reduced the BJP to 2 seats. The Mango people are here to stay.
Even if AAP’s victory is a fluke this time, if AAP can deliver on the campaign slogan ‘Ik Mauka AAP Nu’ (Give AAP one chance), we may see another term for AAP in Punjab like in Delhi. And then Goa too may give them a chance and then Himachal too may follow. It seems, the march of the Mango people has begun, one small State at a time.
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