AAP supremo and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal to address rally on 12 January in Sindkhed Raja, birthplace of Shivaji’s mother Jijabai.
Mumbai: Down in the dumps in Maharashtra after its rout in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is looking to revive itself in the western state ahead of the 2019 polls, starting with a rally of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
The party has also decided to play the politically popular ‘Chhatrapati Shivaji’ card and plans to strengthen its crumbling organisational structure in the state.
Hope for revival
From projecting itself as a credible alternative to mainstream politics with transparency to crumbling under the same brand of politics it once vowed to fight, AAP’s presence in Maharashtra has steadily plummeted. Infighting, bickering, unilateral decisions by the central leadership that didn’t go down well with leaders in the state, and a rout in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, where it managed to get just 2.2 per cent of the vote share, decimated the party in the state.
Strong faces such as Anjali Damania, Mayank Gandhi and Maruti Bhapkur quit, while the party’s state committee was dissolved.
But over the last six months, AAP has been appointing observers in every assembly constituency to mobilise support.
Finding common ground with Shivaji
Kejriwal will address a rally at Sindkhed Raja in Maharashtra’s Buldhana district on 12 January, the birth anniversary of Jijabai, Maratha warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji’s mother. Every year, lakhs of people from across Maharashtra visit Sindkhed Raja, Jijabai’s birthplace, on 11 and 12 January.
The Buldhana police initially denied permission for the rally citing crowd management concerns, but gave its approval Tuesday.
Preeti Sharma Menon, national executive member of AAP, said: “There is a lot of synergy between AAP and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. He fought for swarajya, a rule of the people, and we are doing the same. His mavalas (army of local peasants) are our aam aadmis (common people).
“He fought against large battalions of the Sultanates and the Mughals, while we are doing the same with the Congress and the BJP. There was a lot of focus on education. Jijamata stood for women empowerment. That is the ideology that we associate with, and is the need of the hour.”
The road ahead
Menon admitted there was a vacuum in the party in Maharashtra due to the lack of an organisational structure after the state committee was dissolved, but added: “The 12 January rally will help announce the re-launch of AAP in Maharashtra.”
The party will also induct Brigadier Sudhir Sawant, an Army veteran and a former parliamentarian, and member of the state legislative council from the Congress. He was also associated with the Bahujan Samaj Party, and currently works with groups furthering the cause of Marathas, Dalits, farmers, teachers, and army veterans.
“In the next few months, there will be more such inductions. AAP will also form its committees at the state and district levels,” Menon said.
Devendra Wankhede, an AAP observer for the Kamthi assembly constituency in the Vidarbha region, said: “So far, the party has picked observers for about 230 assembly constituencies (out of 288).
“We are constantly meeting leaders of various groups, garnering support at the village and taluka levels. Except for about 15-20 constituencies, work is going on in full swing everywhere else.”
Party sources also said the observers have been given a task to compile a list of all past independent candidates or those from smaller parties who secured about 10,000-odd votes in their constituencies, to see if AAP can enlist them as members and potential nominees.
However, some leaders are not convinced with the party’s efforts.
An AAP leader, who held a senior rank in the state leadership before the committee was disbanded, said on the condition of anonymity: “Unless there is a well-oiled organisational structure to the party in the state, we are not going to be able to get much support. I personally followed up with the central leadership a number of times on the formation of a state executive committee, but didn’t get much response over the past two years.
“Now, the party is making the same mistake it made in Goa, and to a certain extent in Punjab, by focusing on the state only when elections are round the corner.”
Political commentator Deepak Pawar said people from both the Maratha and Dalit communities go to Sindkhed Raja on Jijabai’s birth anniversary in large numbers, and Kejriwal may try to tap disillusioned youth who neither want to align with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) nor the Congress. But the party has extremely limited political influence in Maharashtra.
“Organisational paralysis is the biggest hurdle for AAP in Maharashtra,” Pawar said. “In the process of opposing the near one-man leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it was expected that Kejriwal would present a more democratic style of governance and party functioning. But that did not happen.”