Politically, 2022 was the most significant and successful year for Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party. The party not only won the important state election in Punjab but also received national party status this year — within 10 years of coming into being.
By removing the 15-year rule of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Aam Aadmi Party assumed power for the first time in Delhi municipal corporations this year. While the accomplishments of the AAP are noteworthy, there are also a number of red flags for Kejriwal.
The accomplishment of becoming a national party within 10 years notwithstanding, Kejriwal will need a comprehensive, all-inclusive, distinctive, and genuine expansion strategy.
It was the recently held Gujarat election that made AAP a national party, but the poll verdict was not on expected lines. The party registered 13 per cent votes in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state.
The core issue for AAP right now is the lack of originality, which used to be its strength once upon a time. The absence of a strong and pronounced ideology is no more a blessing but an obstacle.
Punjab Victory And Brand Arvind Kejriwal
The Punjab assembly election victory was Arvind Kejriwal’s first outside of Delhi where the AAP formed the government. It won approximately 92 seats in the 117-member Punjab assembly, followed by the Congress with 18 seats and Shiromani Akali Dal with three.
This enabled the Aam Aadmi Party to launch its state-wide mega-expansion programme. The Kejriwal brand appeared. During the same election season, the party also won two assembly seats in Goa. Kejriwal appeared to think he would establish himself as the national alternative of the BJP. But that is a distant dream.
Arvind Kejriwal is no Narendra Modi. Even Modi could not make BJP win Himachal Pradesh despite urging the masses not to see any candidate but him. The brand Kejriwal is limited to Delhi, and at the most to Punjab.
AAP will have to do away with this idea that it can get a vote in the name of Kejriwal. This is why expansion will mean the decentralisation of power. Just like the Congress is accused of often, AAP also appears to be embracing coterie politics.
Kejriwal appoints his key aides to run the elections in states so he can micromanage the campaign. For example, Raghav Chadha and Sandeep Pathak, known to be close to Kejriwal, were appointed the party in-charges of Punjab and Gujarat, respectively, before the elections.
Absence Of Genuine Voice
The expansion strategy of the AAP should also incorporate an ideological stance. The battleground of Indian politics has become considerably more polarised than in the past, making ideology a crucial factor in contemporary India.
Kejriwal has repeated his Hindutva-centred politics over and over due to his desire for national expansion. During the Punjab campaigns, he did not play the Hindu card extensively, but he made it clear during the Gujarat campaign that AAP will follow the BJP rulebook.
There is little doubt among the general public that Kejriwal is following Hindutva in the footsteps of the BJP. What Arvind Kejriwal is proposing is Hindutva packaged with freebies. Voters are now adversely affected by the party’s lack of philosophy and voice.
In Delhi municipal corporation and Gujarat elections, the Aam Aadmi Party failed to win any voters from the BJP, but their vote share has increased. It was clearly seen in the Delhi municipal polls that Muslim voters rejected AAP due to his persistent silence on the issues concerning the community in the city.
Choice Of Rival
During this past year, it also became apparent that the AAP’s expansion is largely dependent on disrupting the voter bases of Congress and other regional parties. Numerous examples include the SAD, the Bharatiya Tribal Party (in Gujarat), the Goa Forward Party, and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (in Goa).
Kejriwal has also set targets for the states that the party will target next, such as Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh. All of these states are either governed by the Congress or offer the party a strong chance of victory.
To expand the AAP, Kejriwal will also have to decide on his rival. Through the Bharat Jodo Yatra, the Congress is now trying to present a counter-narrative to the BJP. In 2024, there will be two opposing ideas, and the people will have to choose between the two. Except for the Shiv Sena, other non-BJP and non-Congress political parties want to emphasise their secular nature.
However, Kejriwal will struggle to fit in here. Similarly, if the AAP continues to destroy the existence of the Congress and other regional parties in an effort to expand, the opposition will be unwilling to accommodate him. The expansion of the AAP will harm the prospects of the opposition parties, and thus Kejriwal must now choose a side.
Overuse of Freebies, Populism And No State-Centric Plan
From Punjab to Goa and then Gujarat, the AAP’s fundamental strength is the Delhi model of governance. However, the overuse of this model may be the real issue. The party has neither improved this model nor developed any other model that is sustainable. The AAP’s campaign continues to be based on the Delhi model — that of freebies.
During the elections in Punjab, Goa, and Gujarat, the party made only populist promises of financial aid to women, in addition to freebies. Despite winning Punjab, the AAP has not yet implemented this particular plan.
This is why the AAP will now need state-centric policies. Kejriwal is mostly stuck to the freebies based on the Delhi governance model and now Punjab. There are several issues with the distribution of freebies. Kejriwal has now got the opportunity to rule the municipal corporations of Delhi as well, so he can work on developing the Delhi model of governance.
It is time for the AAP to focus on policies that have a deeper economic and social impact. Every state has different needs, just the distribution of freebies as fit for all policies has not worked for the AAP beyond Delhi and Punjab. It is therefore time for the AAP to pause, ponder, and rethink its expansion strategy.
Hype Vs Reality: Organisation Building
The AAP’s victories indicate that the party is attempting to form state-level organisations, but this is not entirely accurate. The AAP suffered crushing electoral defeats in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. In both Gujarat and Goa, hype and reality were distinct. Here, the issue is that the AAP is constantly following the same pattern of taking rebels from BJP and Congress.
If Kejriwal wants to focus on more expansion in other states, the party will have to work on the grassroots. The recent Himachal Pradesh victory of Congress has again pointed out the importance of a strong state organisation.
After the Gujarat assembly election victory, news came that some of the MLAs are in touch with the BJP and want to jump ship. This shows AAP forgot to strengthen its organisation as it went out expanding the party. For example, in both Goa and Gujarat, the CM candidates lost the elections. Gujarat AAP chief Gopal Italia also lost the election.
Not only did the year 2022 establish AAP as a national political party, but it also established Kejriwal as a national leader. The accomplishments of the party are undeniable, but Kejriwal’s journey has raised a number of questions regarding the future of Indian politics. Kejriwal has not presented any novel ideas and has instead merely followed the BJP’s playbook, softly.
If 2024 actually turns out to be a battle between two ideologies, a pertinent question will be — where will Kejriwal stand?