With Delhi in its pocket and having made history with the Punjab Assembly election win, the Aam Aadmi Party has started making moves in Haryana, a state sandwiched in between and a natural corollary to the two, as well as the home state of its convenor and leader Arvind Kejriwal.
The party, which got barely 60,000 votes contesting 46 of the 90 Assembly seats in the 2019 Vidhan Sabha elections, claims to have already created a base at the ground level in Haryana. In the past few days, several high-profile names have crossed sides. “We have opened offices in all the 22 districts and Assembly constituencies. Very soon, a membership drive shall be launched,” says AAP Haryana in-charge and Rajya Sabha MP Sushil Gupta, adding that the party already has an estimated 10 lakh members in the state and will contest the coming municipal and panchayat polls in Haryana on the party symbol. “AAP will emerge as a political alternative to the BJP and Congress,” Gupta says.
AAP sees an opportunity in Haryana as a large part of the state falls under the National Capital Region, while a major chunk of its population speaks Punjabi. AAP has also created a space for itself in Haryana on the strength of the year-long farmer agitation on Delhi borders that it backed. The anger against the farm laws was the strongest in Haryana, with BJP and JJP leaders barred from even entering their constituencies; in recent days, the Sanyukta Kisan Morcha has announced a fresh protest.
The BJP is also facing blowback of incumbency after two terms in power. In 2019, even though its vote share rose from 33.2% in 2014 to 36.49%, it won seven seats lesser, with all its ministers losing except Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar and Health Minister Anil Vij. The BJP had to depend on the support of the Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) to form the government.
The Congress, once toe to toe with the BJP in the state, has been losing ground.
With AAP resurgent, some known names have started doing the rounds as those likely to join the party – such as self-styled corruption crusader and IAS officer Ashok Khemka and former Union minister and BJP dissident Chaudhary Birender Singh. Several AAP leaders from Delhi have sent out hints that Khemka would get a significant role in the party.
The leaders who joined AAP recently from across parties include former Haryana BJP executive member and MLA Umesh Aggarwal, former INLD leader and minister Balbir Singh Saini, former Congress leader and minister Bijender Singh Kadian, former Samalkha MLA (Independent) Ravindra Kumar, Jagat Singh of the Congress, Ashok Mittal of the BSP, Amandeep Singh Waraich and Brahm Singh Gurjar of the BJP.
AAP sources said at least 25-30 more front line leaders from across parties may join it in the coming months.
“A large number of people from Haryana work in Delhi and have seen the development by AAP… Earlier, there was a lack of confidence among party workers. But, the stupendous win in Punjab has given a boost to them. If a person running a mobile repair shop can defeat sitting CM Charanjit Singh Channi and a dhabawala can defeat the Mayor in Chandigarh, anybody can do it,” Gupta said.
The BJP and Congress have played down AAP emerging as a major challenger in Haryana. At a recent press conference, CM Khattar stressed that the Congress was the BJP’s main challenger. “Water and pollution issues will rise even more as AAP will be our neighbour in Delhi and Punjab. There is a conflict between Punjab and Haryana for water issues and between Delhi and Haryana for water supply. We will see how they (AAP) rule. Even today, the BJP and Congress are the only two political parties present in most regions… the Congress’s presence is still more than AAP.”
Addressing party workers at his ‘Vipaksh aapke samaksh (The Opposition before you)’ programme in Kurukshetra Sunday, former chief minister and senior Congress leader Bhupinder Hooda said, “Somebody will say that AAP has formed a government in Punjab. That is AAP party, it’s not aapki (your) government. Sarkar to aapki hi banegi, aur banayega kaun? Hum banayenge aapki sarkar (A government will be formed by you, who else? And we will form it).”