New Delhi: The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s first Rashtriya Jan Pratinidhi Sammelan (national conference) seems to be a show of strength, with the guest list featuring almost 1,500 representatives from 20 states and union territories, including party-ruled Punjab and Delhi.
The conference, led by Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, took place on 18 September at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium, Delhi. According to a press statement issued by the party, as many as 1,446 of its “public representatives” attended the event.
A list of participants prepared by the AAP, which ThePrint has seen, includes the party’s 10 Rajya Sabha MPs and 156 MLAs, from Delhi (62), Punjab (92) and Goa (2), and a large number of councillors, village heads, ward members, nagar palika members, block committee members, zila panchayat members and district development committee members.
Other than Delhi, Punjab and Goa, the party’s public representatives had come from states and union territories ranging from Assam, Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Haryana to southern states such as Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, as per the press release.
Expanding support base
“The AAP has been expanding its support base across states for several years now. But the Punjab victory has given a big push to the ongoing exercise. A large number of public representatives from across political lines have also been joining the AAP because of its pro-development and pro-welfare model of governance which it has exhibited in Delhi and now in Punjab,” said senior AAP leader and Delhi’s Transport Minister Kailash Gahlot.
Other than assembly polls, the party has performed well in civic bodies in several states over the past year and a half.
In February last year, the AAP won 27 wards in the municipal polls in Gujarat’s Surat. Then, in April this year, the party won a municipal ward in Assam’s Guwahati.
In June, the AAP won five out of 133 wards it contested at municipal polls in Haryana. Similarly, in Madhya Pradesh, the party won 15 seats but grabbed the mayoral post in one civic body in municipal polls held in July.
A senior party functionary pointed out that the participant’s list includes names of many such leaders who were elected as a public representative on another party’s ticket or as an independent candidate and later joined the AAP.
The event was also attended by a large number of independent candidates who won zila parishad, gram panchayat and other local polls but were backed by the AAP, said the senior leader.
For instance, in Uttar Pradesh, the AAP claimed, 83 candidates backed by it had won zila panchayat polls in May 2021. Similarly, the party claimed to have won 145 of 300 gram panchayat seats in Maharashtra.
But gram panchayat and zila panchayat elections in both these states are not held using party symbols, a senior election commission officer told ThePrint.
Baseless claims or smart strategy?
Political opponents, however, question the AAP’s claim.
“The AAP’s Delhi model, Punjab model claims are all baseless. They are an undemocratic party run by one individual. So, they have adopted this strategy of creating a lot of air before elections. Their claims of support base are highly exaggerated,” BJP national spokesperson Guru Prakash Paswan told ThePrint.
Congress national spokesperson Shama Mohamed told ThePrint, “If the AAP actually has so much of a support base across states, how did they fail to win elections in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Goa? Forget winning seats, they should be asked about their vote shares in these states. Such misleading numbers on public representatives and claiming a big support base is not going to help them win elections.”
Praveen Rai, a political analyst with the Centre for Study of Developing Societies, a research institute based in Delhi, told ThePrint that the party is “undoubtedly” expanding after the victory in Punjab.
“No matter what its political opponents say, I would look at the recent event as a smart move in terms of show of strength, at a crucial time when the party is heavily invested in Gujarat and Himachal [Pradesh], which can instil confidence among voters,” said Rai.
(Edited by Theres Sudeep)