Swaraj Test for AAP

 In coming MCD polls, it would be interesting to see how Yogendra Yadav’s Swaraj India performs in the strong bastion of the Arvind Kejriwal led Aam Aadmi Party

By Anil Anand

In terms of common electoral parlance nothing much was known of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) when it entered the poll arena to contest 2013 Delhi Assembly elections. The outcome was a fractured mandate but the new kid on the political block did make its presence felt emerging as the second largest party. Though it formed the government with Congress’s outside support, it could last for only 49 days.

Many political pundits and public at large had at that point of time written off the AAP as a political entity only to be shell-shocked when it swept across Delhi to win 67 seats in the 70 member House. Both the BJP winning three seats and Congress (zero) getting decimated by a political non-entity.

There is no doubt that AAP national convener and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has usurped everything that the party originally stood for particularly in terms of democratic and transparent approach to run the organization with decision making percolating down to the grass-roots levels. This led to a serious difference of opinion among the comrades-in-arms who had jointly launched anti-corruption crusade under Gandhian Anna Hazare, and a subsequent split.

If AAP was the new political entity in Assembly elections that offered hope in terms of new models of governance and development, Swaraj India is the new political outfit born out of clash of ideas among AAP founders. Floated by likes of psephologists-turned politician Yogendra Yadav, legal activist Prashant Bhushan and academic Prof Anand Kumar, it is gearing up to take on the AAP in the ensuing Delhi municipal elections.

Question arises whether Swaraj India could do to AAP what it did to BJP and Congress in the Assembly elections? Some may say yes on the premise that Yadav and company are fully versed with what Kejriwal and AAP stand for in terms of weaknesses and strengths. But is that sufficient for a newly born political party to embarrass its parent organisation if not plot its defeat?

A comparison of what AAP stands two years after it came to power and what Swaraj India offers only tilts the balance towards the former. This comparison is in pure practical terms. In two years of his existence Kejriwal is a thorough bred politician in a dictatorial mode who has converted AAP into a monolithic structure in the true spirit of Congress and BJP where only the top leader matters. He is a politician in power who is heading a government which gives him some advantage.

The Swaraj India leadership has already announced 55 candidates with an intention to contest all the 272 municipal wards in Delhi. It would be interesting to see if Yadav-Bhushan combine be able to do that or not.

There is one certainty and that is Swaraj India is in the fray to afflict some damage on Kejriwal and not to win elections and rule three municipal corporations of Delhi. So, the interest of people would be centred-around this limited fight. If Swaraj India manages to make some dent, Yadav would certainly think of some futuristic plans else he would have to confine himself to launching anti-corruption and electoral reform crusades.

Swaraj India has already hit the deck with launching a campaign to bring out “true picture” of Delhi’s basic municipal facilities. And in turn expose both AAP government and the BJP run municipal corporations. Incidentally through release of first list of candidates Yadav has cleared his intentions to field candidates in all the three civic bodies. Obviously, the idea is to counter and expose AAP everywhere.

Definitely chief minister Kejriwal is not what he stood for, in terms of value system and what he was when he joined the Anna’s India Against Corruption and subsequently when floated AAP. Idealism apart, which he has foregone to a great extent, he has certainly acquired charismatic political personality which is an asset and daunting challenge for Swaraj India strategists to fight back.

Yogendra Yadav is an academic par excellence and a man of ideas. Prashant Bhushan is a legal eagle and a crusader for human rights and fight against corruption. But both lack charisma to match Kejriwal’s challenge and there is none other in their party of that stature. So the fight between AAP and Swaraj India has begun on an unequal footing.

 It is quite a dichotomous situation that Delhi is the AAP governed stronghold with a brute majority in the Assembly and a well-oiled organizational set up and it is here that Yadav and Bhushan also carry some weight and potential to harm the Kejriwal. The Swaraj India’s fight would be to make their presence felt via civic polls while AAP would go all out to win all the three municipalities to strengthen hold in Delhi.

Aam Aadmi Party (read Kejriwal) has betrayed the common man is the refrain of Yadav and Bhushan. Yadav in turn promises to offer a model of “alternative politics” based on value system and far removed from “cult politics”. The last reference obviously is to the cult status that Kejriwal has built for himself.  Hence, Swaraj India will cut into the votes of AAP. In turn this will only help the Congress or the BJP in a four-cornered contest.

Yadav is trying to make it a contest of ideas which he and Kejriwal had jointly cherished but the latter abandoned for quick political dividends. Certainly, Yadav would have been a more formidable contestant had the fight been based on ideas and ideals. Yadav’s idea based fight against Kejriwal’s hardcore political model is definitely a case of uneven match.

Swaraj India can by no means be described as a copy of AAP. The former might not have the ware-withal for electorally fighting AAP, but it has the potential to experiment with new ideas some unheard and others seemingly utopian but need to be tested on ground. For example Swaraj India has voluntarily decided to come under the ambit of Right To Information Act while all other political parties including AAP are dithering on this count.

Swaraj India is also different in some other respects from other parties. For example any Delhi citizen can try for its mandate without first becoming a primary member. Prospective candidates would have to undergo three tier screening, selection and integrity process. For this purpose a six-member independent integrity committee has been constituted to ensure transparent selection process of candidates.

Well versed in the art of launching movements and coining catchy slogans, Swaraj India is already at it. Its agenda or manifesto for civic elections rests on a catch-slogan ‘Saaf Dil, Saaf Dilli’. This slogan denotes commitment to both integrity and clean administration.

Will only the ideological ideas be enough for Swaraj India to make its mark in municipal elections and dent AAP or will it require something more? This would be known in the coming weeks when Swaraj India unfolds its election strategy armed with a new election symbol which is yet to be allotted to it.

What really would match or outdo broom will only be known then?