With the Congress in perpetual decline in one state after another, the AAP will always have a chance to prey on the cadaver of the grand old party
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is an extraordinary phenomenon in Indian politics. Never before has any party been born without a cadre and without a manifesto listing its programmes and policies. It has also not been known to raise a public movement but still continues to flourish.
By citing ab examples of the Anna Hazare movement, some may say that it’s incorrect that the AAP was not born out of the public movement. Yes, indeed, the party’s leader, Arvind Kejriwal, with several others were the ‘educated middle-class’ face of the movement which sought to erase corruption in public life.
However, Kejriwal’s honeymoon with the programmes and policies of Anna Hazare’s movement did not live for long and within a period of a few years it was all over. The AAP, which fought the Delhi Assembly polls in 2015 was different both anatomically and physiologically from the one which contested the 2013 polls, held soon after the Anna movement.
The party which had its genesis in the anti-corruption movement and its leaders claiming to not seek a share in the power structure, today has incarcerated ministers refusing to quit office despite being denied bail by the trial court. This was something which the much-maligned former chief minister of Bihar, Lalu Prasad Yadav, also did not indulge in when he was arrested in the fodder scam case.
The AAP’s lack of active cadre was evident during the arrest of its Delhi Minister Satyendar Jain by the Enforcement Directorate. The party failed to raise any public protest across the National Capital against the arrest. This is despite the fact that Delhi has been under its rule for almost nine years now.
Nevertheless, despite ambiguous credentials, it’s no mean achievement for a party to have won the Assembly elections with a thumping majority twice in the National Capital and now in the border state of Punjab. If the recent results of the bypolls for the Delhi Assembly seat of Rajinder Nagar is any indication, despite ramshackle governance and fast deteriorating civic infrastructure, the AAP continues to command trust of a larger section of voters than the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
What’s it that’s keeping AAP not just alive but also helping its growth. It’s a unique syndrome, something similar to the survival of the hyenas in the animal world. This particular animal survives on the cadaver of prey killed by another hunting animal. Here the AAP is surviving on the vote share of a fast declining, if not dying, Congress party.
Delhi is the best case in point. In 2003, the Congress won the Assembly polls with 47 per cent votes in its kitty. In 2008, with 40 per cent votes it retained control over the Assembly despite the Bahujan Samaj Party cutting into its vote bank with 15 per cent votes. In 2008, the BJP had 36 per cent votes.
In the 2020 Assembly polls, despite the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP could manage just 38 per cent votes. The AAP on the other hand once again managed to retain the 50-plus score with 53 per cent votes. Congress vote-bank receded further to less than five per cent. The sum and substance of the argument that while the pro-BJP votes have remained constant it’s the anti-BJP votes which have consolidated behind the AAP leaving the Congress on its deathbed.
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Even in Punjab, the rise of the AAP has largely been at the cost of the Congress. This becomes most evident when we see the loss of vote share of the Congress between the 2017 Assembly polls and the 2022 polls. The gain in the AAP’s 19 per cent vote share has a component of loss of 15 per cent in the vote share of the Congress.
That the AAP was unable to make a dent into the core Akali votes was revealed in the Sangrur Lok Sabha bypolls which followed soon after the Assembly polls. The seat was vacated by AAP’s Bhagwant Mann on becoming the chief minister of the state. However, in the Lok Sabha polls, the AAP’s candidate lost largely because the Akali core voters rallied behind the winning candidate, Simranjit Singh Mann.
Another major factor in Sangrur was the missing ‘wave for change’ which had swept the AAP to power in the Assembly a few weeks earlier. The fall in the polling percentage went against the AAP. However, with the Congress in decline and its most credible face in Punjab, Sunil Jakhar, quitting the party, it’s only a matter of time that the AAP would come to consolidate its position on the Congress votes.
The AAP leadership realises that the potential of running this stratagem is easier in the small states. No wonder AAP leader Atishi quickly decided to fish in troubled waters when a crisis broke out in the Congress in Goa. On the question of Congress MLAs defecting to the BJP, she said that during the Assembly polls they had cautioned that a vote for the Congress was a vote for the BJP. She pointed that in the past too most of the Congress MLAs in Goa after the 2017 polls defected to the saffron party.
Though the voters in Goa are yet to give the AAP a toehold, the Congress in perpetual decline could sometime in future open the floodgates for the AAP. With established Congress leaders leaving the party in other states too, either to join the BJP or regional powerhouses like the Trinamool Congress and YSR Congress, the AAP will always have a chance to prey on the cadaver of the grand old party.
The writer is an author and president, Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice. Views expressed are personal.
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