The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is hopeful of improving its performance in Maharashtra. Brigadier (retd) Sudhir Sawant, who was appointed the party’s convener in the state last year, talks about the party’s prospects in Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, in an interview with The Indian Express.
The AAP had earlier announced that it will contest Lok Sabha election only in Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and Goa? What triggered a change in the decision of not contesting elections in Maharashtra?
There was no such thing that the party will not contest elections in Maharashtra. There was only a decision that the party will fight all seats in five states. For other states, the party had decided to take a decision based on the merit of the proposal from those states. On February 3, we sent a proposal to the AAP committee in Delhi to contest in Lok Sabha, Assembly and all local elections, to which party gave its approval.
How many seats is the AAP looking to contest?
That will be clear once the alliance is in place and seat distribution is conducted. We have about 10 seats in Vidarbha and nearly 11 organisations together. On Saturday, we had our first rally in Nagpur. Based on that, we are asking people why they should contest. On February 14, we have a similar rally in Amravati and on February 15, we have a meeting in Mumbai where we will have some clarity (on seat sharing). After this, we can decide how many to contest and who our candidates will be. Following this, we will get the nod from our Delhi headquarters and make announcements. Earlier, we decided to contest all Mumbai seats but now one of our alliance parties told us that they want to fight on some of the seats in Mumbai. Discussion is on and once it is over, we will announce it. The Nagpur rally was to launch our alliance. There are 11 parties with us and ours is emerging as the third alliance that is non-BJP and non-Congress.
What will be the party’s strategy for the polls as little time is left for preparations and campaigning ? Also, in 2014, the party did not even manage to win a single seat in Maharashtra. What will the party do to improve its performance?
In 2014, the party was new and it was not as organised. It was just a movement, but even then we did well. At nine seats, we got more than 50,000 votes and managed around two lakh votes in Chandrapur. Considering the “Modi wave” that was a good performance for a new party. We are preparing for this election over the past year. The organisation has been built in all districts and other parties have also been there for years. So, the combination will definitely be a strong one.
What effect will prominent party leaders quitting in the last few years have on the party’s election campaign?
See, when a new party is formed, there is an evolving culture that is not conducive for some. So, people leave and new people join. Mayank Gandhi and Anjali Damania had left the party before I joined. Many people like vice-chancellor Arun Sawant, who has a powerful base in Bhiwandi, have joined. My whole team from my own party, earlier known as Shivrajya Party, has also merged with the AAP. So that strength has been incremental and with political experience. We have emerged as a force in Maharashtra, especially in rural areas and not only in Mumbai.
In recent elections in the northern states, the AAP fared poorly by getting fewer votes than NOTA (None of the above). Why do you think people will change their mind and choose the AAP?
Maharashtra is already strong compared to other states. The idea of contesting polls in these states were to propagate the Delhi model of development and a political party must fight. In those states, there was no leadership. But, here we have experienced people. I was an MP and have considerable experience and I was also in the All India Congress Committee as a secretary. People who have joined with me have political experience and they have fought elections. We have young and experienced leadership in the party. But yes, we still require more such people in leadership roles. They will join now. In the last one year, we have built the organisation and prepared ourselves for the elections.
What will be the party’s agenda for the elections?
We will focus on what we have done in Delhi and all of that will be done here too. We have implemented Swaminathan Report in Delhi and will implement the same report in Maharashtra. In Mumbai, and other cities, housing is the main issue. The builder should be removed and every family should get houses measuring 500 sq ft. The tenants who pay rent for years should get ownership after 25 years. Only government agencies such as Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA), Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) and Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) should take up housing projects and slum redevelopment. If the builder is removed, you will eliminate corruption. You can give housing to all and then Delhi’s education and healthcare pattern will be implemented by discouraging private schools and private hospitals by giving free healthcare and making government schools highly efficient.
Recently, a number of times, the party said it will damage the BJP by contesting election. Does the AAP want to win the election or does it only want to play the role of a spoiler?
See, the AAP is the only party that can damage the BJP. By contesting, we will damage the BJP and Congress too. If you see the Delhi Model, the AAP reduced BJP votes drastically and also Congress votes. Our aim is to win elections as well as defeat the BJP. For the campaign, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and his ministers will come to the state. Also, the faces of the alliance parties who have a strong base can be part of the campaign.