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Thursday, April 22, 2021

Deshbhakti the keyword as AAP renews national expansion bid

While one of AAP’s calling cards is its work in health and education in Delhi, party strategists say they cannot “make the same mistakes the opposition, and the Congress have made”.

Written by Dipankar Ghose | New Delhi |
Updated: March 16, 2021 8:14:52 am
An AAP rally in Punjab. (Express Archive)

In the Rs 69,000-crore budget announced by the AAP government in Delhi, “Deshbhakti” was the buzzword.

There is a Deshbhakti curriculum and a plan to dot the capital with the tricolor and organise programmes in the run up to 75 years of Independence. Subsequently, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal announced that the government was working towards 10 principles “inspired by the concept of Ram Rajya”.

These moves are the key for the AAP’s latest attempt at expansion into national politics. Senior party leaders have told The Indian Express that AAP is looking to expand into five states — Goa, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, all going to the polls in 2022.

“You cannot hope to do national politics without a presence in Uttar Pradesh, and while there is no sense in forming a government, even if we get 10 to 15 seats, that will establish a presence. In the other states, organisational work is happening and we are getting traction, especially with the opposition crumbling. With the right messaging, there is a chance to do well and enter the national conversation,” a senior leader said.

While one of AAP’s calling cards is its work in health and education in Delhi, party strategists say they cannot “make the same mistakes the opposition, and the Congress have made”.

“There is space for an opposition because of the decline of the Congress. One reason is because of their lack of work on the ground in terms of the organisation, but also that they have found themselves trapped in how the BJP has framed them as non nationalistic and anti Hindu… you cannot win elections if you are seen like this,” a senior strategist said.


Structural issues remain a hurdle

The AAP continues to face structural issues that stand in its way of being a national alternative, the biggest being that it is built around the image of Kejriwal. The lack of a local face in Punjab, for instance, has long been identified as a reason why AAP could not convert its momentum in the 2017 elections into an electoral victory. The party will also have to find answers to local politics, caste dynamics and resources.

It is against this backdrop that AAP’s push on Deshbhakti is important, with the tricolor a motif in each of their campaigns.

“Look at what the BJP and RSS is doing with the Ram Mandir donation drive. The AAP is also going to start a campaign for Sunder-kand ka Path,” a senior leader said.

The “ten principles” Kejriwal announced as inspired by the concept of Ram Rajya are not new — free electricity, health and education and women’s security, among others. What is new is the presentation, complete with a Twitter video with a photograph of Lord Ram.

Asked if this meant pushing one religious identity at the cost of the other, especially in the context of the violence Delhi saw in 2020, the leader said there is a “difference between being religious and communal”. “Every-body knows law and order is not in Delhi government’s hands. But we distributed compensation to everyone, and are still looking out for the victims,” the leader said.

Sources said Kejriwal holds regular meetings on the organisational growth in each state they are targeting. Leaders such as Sanjay Singh, Raghav Chadha, Atishi Marlena and Durgesh Pathak, among others, have been given responsibilities, with Kejriwal also traveling to these states and holding rallies.

“Wherever the Delhi Chief Minister goes, at most times, he gives interviews to regional news channels so that AAP enters the conversation,” a senior leader said.

The party has also changed its approach on entering new states and is looking at local polls as a key first step. “Earlier, there was this tendency to dive headfirst into big elections at the state and the Centre. Now, there is the clear realisation that to do well, you need an organisational strength across the state,” leaders said.

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