While AAP Convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has announced the party’s intentions to contest the 2022 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, and there are moves to expand in Goa and Uttarakhand too, Punjab remains a primary focus of the party.
Senior AAP leaders insist that the party’s performance in the 2022 Assembly polls will be crucial for its national ambitions.
In the 2017 state elections, in which the Congress won 77 seats, the AAP won 20 seats, pushing the SAD to the third place with 15 seats. “For a party fighting its first election in the state to emerge as principal opposition was a big result. If the party loses ground in Punjab, where it first expanded beyond Delhi, there will be a big question mark on its sustainability as a national force,” a senior AAP leader said.
Since the easing of the lockdown, with three-term Delhi MLA Jarnail Singh as AAP in-charge in the state, the focus has been to strengthen the organisational base in Punjab, said senior party leaders. One of the ideas behind Singh’s appointment was to shed the “outsider” tag the AAP seemed to carry in the state.
“The first time we fought in 2017, we became the main opposition party in the state. But in 2017, the organisation wasn’t strong. Our assessment showed that the wave for us was very strong, but the organisation couldn’t capitalise. The last mile management wasn’t there. In each vidhan sabha constituency, we have now created four blocks. So around 450 block-level committees. Then, we have circle committees, one circle has five villages, and now in the next few months, we will have a team in all thirteen thousand villages,” an AAP leader said.
“Another reason why we fell short is that in 2017, the AAP government in Delhi had been in power for two years. And between 2015 and 2017, there was a lot of struggle between the state and the Centre. In the last three years, lots of work happened — from electricity to schools to hospitals. People are now talking about this on the ground in Punjab. If you look at the last four years of the Punjab government, the Congress had said we will get rid of the addiction, but that is still quite rampant. There is anti-incumbency and there is the Delhi government’s performance in front of it,” the leader said.
AAP leaders think that while SAD has pulled out of the NDA on the farm laws issue, their close association with the BJP will encumber any political prospects, and the Congress will remain AAP’s principal opposition.
Party leaders admit that while there was some goodwill for the Congress-led government for passing a resolution against the farm laws, there is now a belief on the ground “that this was just a formality”.
“The Congress is trying to spread propaganda about Delhi notifying the ordinances but people know that once the President gave assent, that too was a formality. People also know that the protests happened because AAP denied Delhi police permission to open jails. All help is being extended to the protesters. Even our Delhi Chief Minister visited a protest site,” a leader said.
Yet, there are issues that need tackling, senior leaders admit. One key issue is that like in 2017, AAP lacks a Punjab face of the stature of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh. “We are aware of these issues and are working on them. You will see good names joining the party in Punjab,” the leader said.
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