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Yogendra Yadav's Swaraj Abhiyan goes political, to debut in Punjab by-poll

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:27 IST
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The switch

  • After falling out with AAP, the likes of Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan and Anand Kumar founded Swaraj Abhiyan
  • This was a socio-political organisation, but has now turned into a full-fledged political party

The debut

  • Swaraj Abhiyan is making its debut in the Khadoor Sahib assembly by-poll in Punjab on 13 February
  • It is backing independent candidate Bhai Baldeep, a confidant of Yadav

More in the story

  • Will Swaraj Abhiyan make a dent in AAP\'s seemingly bright future in Punjab?
  • How is it different from AAP in its political approach

Swaraj Abhiyan is finally making its much-anticipated switch from being a socio-political organisation to a full-fledged political party.

Swaraj Abhiyan, founded by ex-AAP leaders Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan and Anand Kumar, among others, has decided to test the political waters in a by-poll for the Khadoor Sahib constituency in Punjab, which is to be held on 13 February.

It has decided to support independent candidate Bhai Baldeep who, like the Swaraj Abhiyan founders, is a former Aam Aadmi Party leader. Baldeep, in fact, is said to be a close confidant of Yadav.

The party will back Bhai Baldeep, an independent candidate in the Khadoor Sahib assembly by-poll

Regional or national force?

Swaraj Abhiyan was started on 14 April 2015, following a meeting of Yadav and Bhushan's supporters in Gurgaon, soon after the duo was expelled from the AAP. The organisation claimed to work towards transforming ideology into reality and achieve swaraj (self-governance) in all spheres, including political, economical, social and cultural.

Also read: Punjab is prosperous. Yet the youth want to flee to the West illegally

Now that things have taken a political turn, the first question that arises is whether the leaders are positioning it as a regional or national force.

"We definitely want to start off simultaneously in all the states. We have done a lot of work in Punjab at the grass-root level, where our preparedness is very high," says Swaraj Abhiyan's Punjab convenor, Manjeet Singh.

Swaraj Abhiyan's Punjab convenor Manjeet Singh says party won't be personality-centric like AAP

"It's not only about winning seats or getting a substantial percentage of votes. It is about raising the issues of the people. Empowering them is the real criteria. There is a misunderstanding when people talk about us turning from a socio-political organisation to a political party. Yogendra Yadav and other leaders have been saying from day one that it will eventually be a political party. Our membership drive is on, and very soon, we will have a proper structure in place."

Aping AAP?

The second question is how different will Swaraj Abhiyan would be from AAP. Manjeet says the party will be 'purpose-centric', not 'personality-centric', like AAP.

"It is not a question of us eating into the space captured by AAP, or supplementing some other force. We will try to fulfill the public's desires. AAP came to power talking about decentralising power, talking about giving powers to gram sabhas and mohalla sabhas. Are they talking about it anymore? You do get to hear about Mission 2017, but not these. It is a question of devolving power to the people, and we still hold on to that," he says.

Also read: Punjab has space for a third force. Why did Manpreet Badal fail to fill it?

According to Manjeet, many people are asking to be associated with the Swaraj Abhiyan at the political level. "Whenever we have gone to the people and raised their issues, they have asked us what we were doing on the political level. It is the will of the people that we floated the party. There is one full year to go before Punjab goes to the polls, and we will contest on people-centric issues," he says.

Political observers feel that structural problems within AAP and the bureaucratisation of the party have resulted in the birth of the Swaraj Abhiyan as a political outfit.

Also read: Kejriwal's mega Maghi show leaves Congress, Akalis a worried lot

Political commentator Dr Surjit Singh, an academician from Patiala, compares it with the initial days of the Congress. "It is like those with Left leanings getting out of the Congress after people from all walks of life had joined it initially. In the same way, those who wanted space for dissent, decentralisation and democratisation moved out of AAP, which has continued to grapple with such elements in its fold," he says.

Referring to the electoral success tasted by AAP in the last parliamentary polls, where the party was able to win four seats in the state, he says: "It was not the success of AAP as a party, but people's dissent and disenchantment with the two traditional parties, the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). It was a vote against state suppression. There were fears that the people of the state would once again take to the path of violence. AAP's victory was a transformation of that potential violence into political will."

Also read: Win-win: why Manpreet Badal may join the Congress for #Punjab2017

Interestingly, two of AAP's MPs, Dr Dharam Vira Gandhi and Harinder Singh Khalsa remain suspended from the party for indulging in anti-party activities. They cannot cross over to Swaraj Abhiyan, despite allegedly being Yadav loyalists, till they are expelled by AAP.

Senior AAP leader Sanjay Singh had recently said that both were welcome in the party, provided they abided by the party's discipline.

Non-entity in Punjab?

Observers do not see much in the formation of the Swaraj Abhiyan, when it comes to impacting next year's assembly polls. They feel both Yadav and Bhushan are relative non-entities in Punjab.

To corroborate this, observers point to similar experiments by leaders Gurcharan Singh Tohra in 1999 and Manpreet Badal in 2011.

Also read: Maghi Mela: the road to the 2017 Punjab polls begins here

Tohra had floated Sarv Hind Shiromani Akali Dal after he fell out with Parkash Singh Badal. Though SAD lost the 2002 polls, Tohra's outfit proved to be a political disaster.

Similarly Manpreet's People's Party of Punjab (PPP) failed to win any seat in the 2012 assembly polls and the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

Swaraj Abhiyan could potentially do some damage to AAP, which has emerged as a strong third option in Punjab. But given the state's electoral history, the damage will not have many consequences.

"There will be some eating into the AAP base, which may eventually benefit SAD," says Surjit.

Also read: Sweep Stakes: AAP emerges as a serious contender in Punjab assembly polls

First published: 21 January 2016, 12:07 IST
 
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