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Broom with a view: AAP’s long road ahead

It would do well to hold its victories close, and its failures closer

In Delhi and also in Punjab, the AAP's rise to power was helped by popular and successful agitations that prised open the space for a new player.
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If the final scoreboard on Thursday showcased the BJP’s best-ever performance in Gujarat, and the Congress’s worst showing in the same state, it also marked a milestone for the third contestant in the fray. The Aam Aadmi Party, which has made Gujarat’s bipolar contest a triangular one, is set to become a national party, the 9th in the country, with the votes and seats it gathered in the state. For a party born in the arclights of a movement against corruption in the national capital only 10 years ago, whose obituaries were written at every step, not least because its politics has sometimes seemed more showy and less patient, this is a significant breakthrough. In India’s political system, the odds are stacked against the new player and there is a high threshold for entry and electoral viability. The AAP has put up a determined and spirited fight to form governments in Delhi and Punjab, and to establish a presence in Goa and Gujarat — that’s the good news for Arvind Kejriwal’s party. Having come this far so quickly, however, it now stares at a long haul ahead. That’s the AAP’s formidable challenge.

In Delhi and also in Punjab, the AAP’s rise to power was helped by popular and successful agitations that prised open the space for a new player. The Anna Hazare-led mobilisation against corruption set the stage in Delhi and the over a year-long farmers’ protest against the Centre’s farm laws prepared the ground for its sweep of Punjab. Similar conditions did not obtain in Gujarat, the bastion of Narendra Modi, and yet even here the AAP’s slim pickings of 5 seats and 12.9 per cent vote share have sent out a larger message amid the BJP’s comprehensive win — that the people are willing to listen to the new even if they are not yet willing to trust it. But in the days and months ahead, the AAP could so easily fritter away both its fragile gains in Delhi and Punjab and the tenuous foothold in Gujarat. Its Delhi Model — that it has made its calling card — needs to be built and rebuilt everyday. The AAP will have to constantly recalibrate its mix of subsidies and handouts with longer-term initiatives and investments in health and education. In the process, it will continue to reap the advantage of being the player with the least baggage while at the same time contending with voter disbelief of the relatively untried and untested. So far it has skirted crucial issues and maintained strategic silences — for instance, on the perils of majoritarianism. But going ahead, navigating a way through identities and alliances in a diverse polity dominated by the BJP, which gives its political opponents no quarters, will be increasingly demanding and tough.

On Thursday, even as the AAP made inroads into Gujarat, it drew a blank in Himachal Pradesh, where all 67 of its candidates forfeited their deposits. Even as it celebrates the Gujarat results for giving it a leg-up to national party status, the AAP must not lose sight of the debacle in the hill state next door to one where it is in power. A new party, with much to learn and a long road ahead, would do well to hold its victories close, and its failures closer.

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First published on: 10-12-2022 at 06:10 IST
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