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After decimating traditional parties to emerge as Punjab’s new No.1, AAP now eyes national role

With Punjab in the bag, the Aam Aadmi Party — which has been in power in Delhi since 2015 — is now the only non-Congress, non-BJP party to helm the government in more than one state.

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New Delhi: The outcome of the Punjab assembly elections is likely to have significant bearing on national politics, with the people of the state voting for an alternative to traditional parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress. 

With Punjab in the bag, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which has been in power in Delhi since 2015is now the only non-Congress, non-BJP party to helm the government in more than one state.

As of Thursday evening, the AAP had secured 65 seats and was leading in 27 more in the 117-member Punjab assembly, with a vote share of 42 per cent, according to the Election Commission of India (ECI) website.

Its performance in the Uttarakhand, Goa and Uttar Pradesh polls were nothing to write home about, with the party securing only one seat in Goa till Thursday evening, according to ECI data. 

However, its performance in Punjab is expected to place it above all other regional parties that are mostly confined to one state.

In his victory speech at the party head office in Delhi, AAP chief and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said: “The AAP is not a party any more, it is a revolution. The revolution started in Delhi and it will now spread across the country.”

He touched upon multiple national issues, ranging from “poor healthcare” and “unemployment” to youth “forced” to migrate to countries such as Ukraine  which is currently in the midst of a Russian invasion for higher studies.

Ever since Kejriwal founded the party in 2012, the AAP has been projecting itself as the alternative political force in the country. With BJP becoming the dominant party in India and Congress on a continuous downslide, it has been aspiring to fill the vacuum in the country’s opposition space. 

The AAP emerged as the most dominant force in Delhi but didn’t have much success outside. However, it emerged as a major force in Punjab winning four of 13 seats and 24 per cent votes in its maiden Lok Sabha election in 2014, and becoming the principal opposition party in the 2017 assembly elections with 20 seats, though its vote share declined to around 15 per cent, according to Election Commission (EC) records

The AAP was on a slide soon after, due to infighting and departure of important leaders. Its performance witnessed a steep fall in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, in which the party won only one seat in the state, and its vote share dropped to 7.4 per cent, according to EC data.

Thursday’s results come as a big boost to the AAP’s national aspirations. While the party is likely to accelerate efforts to expand its footprints in other states starting from Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh that will go to polls later this year Kejriwal is expected to wield his newly found political heft to seek a bigger role for himself in the incipient non-Congress, non-BJP front.

Also Read: Win or lose, AAP’s Punjab show will redefine India’s politics

‘AAP has got a big push, but there are challenges’

“With the Punjab outcome, Kejriwal’s national ambitions have got a big push and he will now emerge as the fulcrum of opposition parties challenging the BJP in 2024.” Praveen Rai, political analyst at the Centre for Study of Developing Societies, told ThePrint.

“But then there are challenges,” added Tanvir Aeijaz, an associate professor at the University of Delhi. 

“With Punjab being a proper state unlike the case of Delhi, Kejriwal will confront new governance areas such as rural infrastructure, food security, national security, agriculture etc., where he does not have much experience yet. If he has to emerge as the leader of an opposition front, he has to show some performance in these areas in the next one year,” Aeijaz said.

“Also, being stubborn against associating with united opposition efforts may not work in his favour. Kejriwal has to do better political maneuvering for forging alliances carefully calculating shared interest and political dividends,” he added.

‘Kejriwal won’t associate with opposition front led by others’

A senior AAP leader, who did not wish to be named, told ThePrint that Kejriwal, for now, is going to maintain distance from the united opposition front that is taking shape, with efforts apparently being led by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her Telangana counterpart K. Chandrashekar Rao. 

Notably, the two leaders are yet to approach Kejriwal for his support, largely because they have been waiting for the assembly poll outcome, said political leaders in the opposition camp.

“Arvind Kejriwal will not refrain from courtesy meetings with these leaders. But at this stage, he is not going to associate himself with any opposition front led by others. As far as the question of him leading an opposition front is concerned, that is under assessment,” said the senior AAP leader, adding that the party sees Gujarat as its next big assignment in terms of state polls.

“We started with Delhi and came up with a successful governance model, bringing exemplary improvement in the sectors of education, healthcare, public transport etc. The feedback in Punjab has encouraged us to take our governance model across the country in the days to come,” senior AAP leader and Delhi’s transport minister Kailash Gahlot told ThePrint.

Delhi’s Environment Minister Gopal Rai, who is also the AAP’s Delhi convener, said AAP “does not believe in investing too much on building up a united opposition bloc without a clear vision”.

“India has witnessed several instances of Opposition unity in the past and even governments were formed but that hardly led to any solutions to problems such as hunger, poverty, inequality, unemployment, etc,” he told ThePrint.

Asked if Kejriwal will now be branded as the face of the Opposition, Rai said: “Masses will choose the best contender for taking on the BJP in the 2024 general elections. On our part, we can only invest in developing a solid governance model and taking it to people across states. Definitely, Arvind Kejriwal has strong chances.”

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)

Also Read: All parties in Punjab talk ‘aam aadmi’, but field crorepatis — 93% for SAD, 91% Congress, 69% AAP


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