AAP leaders Yogendra Yadav, Manish Sisodia and others addressing a press conference in New Delhi on 15 February. PTI
he Aam Aadmi Party aims to reduce the tally of the BJP to the 150-175 level at which the saffron party will be unable to lead a stable government in the next Lok Sabha. Strategists believe that a tally in excess of 200 will enable Narendra Modi to take charge, while a tally between 175 and 200 ought to ensure that another leader takes the helm, even if the BJP leads the government. The assumption is that any such alternative leader will create disillusionment in a Modi-fied rank and file, as well as within the electorate, leading to a snap poll by 2016 or early 2017, in which the AAP expects to garner the 200 seats needed to lead the next government as well as shape the agenda of governance during its term. Given that the Congress is at its nadir, the AAP is aiming to concentrate on around a hundred constituencies where the BJP is either wobbly pre-poll or made so because of the choice of discredited candidates, a list that includes 48 sitting MPs of the party.
Although its leader Arvind Kejriwal describes himself as an anarchist, the party is much more organised than its rivals. Rahul Gandhi, because of the thinness in numbers of his team, is nowhere near establishing control of a party that is still overwhelmingly populated in its middle and higher ranks by leftovers from the Indira and Sonia Gandhi periods, few of whom have made the adjustment to the 21st century style of politics embraced by both the AAP as well as the "Modi-fied" sections of the BJP. Fortunately for Kejriwal, the hold of Vajpayee-era politicians within that party is still very strong, so much so that almost all the sitting MPs are slated for re-nomination, while in most of the other seats, the usual claimants are likely to be accommodated, despite their repeated failure to get elected in past elections. While there have been reports of a Modi Dream Team, comprising names such as Subramanian Swamy, General V.K. Singh, Anil Kakodkar, Kiran Bedi, Rajeev Chandrashekhar and A.K. Doval, among others, as of now the centre of gravity is still with the senior ministers of the NDA period. Even in metropolitan constituencies such as those in Mumbai and Delhi, the BJP top brass (barring perhaps the Prime Ministerial nominee) is unwilling to follow the AAP and Rahul Gandhi in giving a try to those who have built up stellar reputations outside politics.
While Sharmila Tagore and a Nandan Nilekani are the names most in the news, Team Rahul has reportedly identified about 30 individuals, some of whom are to be given tickets. The AAP, being a new party, has done much better. Names such as H.S. Phoolka and Joginder Singh are doing the rounds for Punjab, while Medha Patkar and Mayank Gandhi are to be fielded from Mumbai. BJP leader Nitin Gadkari can expect a ceaseless barrage of revelations about his finances from Anjali Damania in Nagpur, as can several others in the saffron party, including Anant Kumar in Bangalore and Rajnath Singh in Ghaziabad. While the BJP is reported to be mulling the choice of a person of indeterminate sex as its candidate in Amethi, AAP's Kumar Vishwas is seen by neutral analysts as having the potential to defeat Rahul Gandhi in Amethi, although Sonia Gandhi seems unassailable in Rae Bareli. In Delhi, West Delhi and Chandni Chowk are seen as certain AAP seats, while in VIP constituencies such as Farrukhabad, the party aims to put up a stiff fight against Congress heavyweights (in this case, Salman Khurshid), to dispel doubts over its anti-Congress stance.
Thanks to its success in keeping the BJP from power in Delhi, the AAP has seen a tide of minority support swelling in its direction, with Kejriwal reportedly in favour of reservation of jobs for minorities even in the private sector. A slew of suggested sops are to be unveiled so as to tempt voters into backing the new party, where the expectation is that about 20 seats can be won, with ten as the floor. Kejriwal himself has gone public that just five seats should enable the AAP to be an effective force in the next Lok Sabha, with decibel volume compensating for low numbers. The aim of AAP appears to be the same as that of Team Rahul, to see this election as the semi-final, with victory in the snap polls seen as certain were a fractured mandate to come about in the 2014 polls. The AAP is spreading the message that the Congress and the BJP differ only in packaging, but are the same in chemistry, and that both are in thrall to powerful economic interests. Interestingly, by its full-throated attack on the Ambanis, especially Mukesh, the AAP appears to be gaining traction within that section of Corporate India that has long chafed at the dominance of Dhirubhai Ambani's two sons in the fields of governance and commerce.
Led by the formidable troika of Prasant Bhushan, Arvind Kejriwal and Yogendra Yadav, the intention of the AAP is to ensure a fractured mandate, such that governance will become difficult if not impossible, thereby paving the way for a mid-term poll. By then, they hope to sell their message of change across the country, thereby giving them in 2016 or early 2017 the number of seats (200-plus) that the BJP needs in the coming poll in order to ensure that its nominee, Narendra Modi, take charge of the country.