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What's making AAP click in Punjab? It's not just anger against Badals

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:39 IST

Initial success

  • AAP won four of Punjab\'s 13 Lok Sabha seats in the 2014 general election
  • It managed to do this without an organisational structure or strong local leadership

Effort to sustain

  • Now, with Assembly elections a year away, AAP has emerged as a viable third force in the state
  • There are many reasons for this, apart from disillusionment with SAD and Congress

More in the story

  • What is AAP doing right at the grassroots?
  • What observers say about the party\'s two years in the state

It's been just over three years since the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) came into existence, on 26 November 2012. Since then, apart from forming two governments in Delhi (the second after winning 67 seats out of 70), the one state it has been able to make serious inroads in is Punjab.

In just about a year's time, Punjab goes in for Assembly polls. And on the ground, it does seem that AAP has managed to grow to the point where it's a serious contender to form the government.

The big question here is: what has made AAP click in Punjab? Why are people gravitating towards this fledgling party?

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

Punjab an oligarchy

There has always been space for a third force in Punjab's political landscape, apart from the Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) and the Congress. Many have tried, and failed, to fill that space - be it the Left parties, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the People's Party of Punjab and many breakaway Akali Dals.

Then came the 2014 general election, and AAP, which got no seats at all in its home state of Delhi, won four of Punjab's 13 Lok Sabha seats.

AAP won four Lok Sabha seats out of 13 in Punjab, announcing its arrival as a viable third force

What led to this?

  • Observers say that before the Lok Sabha elections, there was extreme disillusionment with both the SAD and the Congress, for having failed to deliver on their promises.
  • Some say Punjab has been oligarchy for far too long, and most families that hold power are related to each other.
  • People were struggling with unemployment, the drug menace, the agricultural crisis, unemployment, lack of industrial growth and ever-rising corruption, and their protests were falling on deaf ears.

Success of a party of unknowns

Enter Arvind Kejriwal and the AAP. The party's election symbol, the broom, probably gave people hope that they could sweep out the SAD and the Congress.

The party neither had an organisational structure, nor any state leadership. The candidates, with the exception of TV stand-up comic Bhagwant Mann, weren't even very well known. And yet, the people of Punjab entrusted four seats to the party.

Apart from TV stand-up comic Bhagwant Mann, most of AAP's Lok Sabha candidates weren't known faces

"There was a ripple effect at work. A successful gathering at one place would trigger an impact through word of mouth at other places. The campaign picked up in the last three days. Had there been three more days available, the party might have won three more seats," says Prof. Manjeet Singh, who was initially associated with AAP.

He said the mode of distributing tickets on the basis of objectivity, unanimity and transparency worked. "Trusting people has its own capital," he pointed out.

Political commentator Ujagar Singh adds: "The corruption of the Akalis and infighting among the Congressmen has led to AAP's growth. Besides, roping in people like HS Phoolka, who had taken up the fight for getting justice to victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots also struck a chord with the masses.

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

"There is no statewide leadership of the party even today. But the the organisation appears to be in place at local levels, and the party has been quick to respond to issues and organise protests at the local level with great effectiveness."

AAP has been at the forefront when it comes to raising the issues of farmers, particularly the supply of spurious pesticides that led to the failure of the cotton crop and also the peas crop recently. It has also taken up the issues like drug abuse and unemployment at both the political and social level.

"I never thought of myself being a politician. But I decided to join, looking at the anti-corruption stand taken by the party and Kejriwal offering alternative politics. I was already filing PILs for the people of the state," says HS Shergill, a Chandigarh-based lawyer, who spent several years in Britain.

Also read: Find out why Badal's sop story will make Punjab's finances weep

Shergill contested the Parliamentary polls from Anandpur Sahib and got more than three lakh votes, defeating Congress heavyweight Ambika Soni.

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

The grassroots strategy

Having tasted victory in the Lok Sabha polls, AAP wanted to prepare fertile ground for further growth. It rushed in a team of volunteers, who have been working on the ground.

AAP has devised a strategy where the state has been divided into 13 zones, and the target is to penetrate right down to the booth level. There are five to seven volunteers working at every booth, and there is a circle in-charge for every 20 booths.

Through this strategy, the party is aiming to reach every household in the run-up to the assembly polls.

In addition, AAP has been running campaigns over the last one year to expand its reach.

  • First, there was a 'Punjab Jodo' drive that focussed on getting more members. The party claims to now have 24 lakh registered members.
AAP ran a 'Punjab Jodo' drive to get more members. It now claims have 24 lakh registered members
  • The campaign also saw the party organise 32 rallies to raise socio-political issues.
  • This was followed by a yatra targetting the Akali rule under the slogan "Beimaan bhagao, Punjab bachao (Chase away the dishonest to save Punjab)."

  • Currently, the party is running a 'Parivar Jodo' campaign, a door-to-door initiative, in which party representatives are apprising people about its policies and agenda. They paste a sticker outside the homes of those who are ready to join hands with them.
  • AAP has also prepared a mobile phone app, on which data of all families will be added. This can be used ahead of the Assembly polls to reach out to them again.

Observers point out that right from its inception, AAP has managed to catch the fancy of the youth, particularly the semi-literate youth in the rural interiors.

This has caused panic among both the Akali and Congress leaderships, and may continue to do so over the course of the Assembly polls build-up.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

Also read: Forget Green Revolution. Punjab's farmers are now killing themselves

First published: 12 February 2016, 20:42 IST