Warming up for battle

Ashutosh will not feature in the Aam Aadmi Party’s line-up for the Delhi Assembly elections. But being the head of his party’s state unit, he is willing to play BJP on the front foot.

Putting his anti-corruption party high up on moral pedestal, he claims that they are confident of stopping the BJP from wresting total control over corridors of power in Delhi.

“BJP is scared of AAP in Delhi. The same BJP which got 282 seats in the parliamentary elections (including) 73 seats in Uttar Pradesh, a grand victory in Haryana and a normal victory in Maharashtra.”

“These were the states where BJP was fighting the discredited parties and leaders. In Delhi, nobody says that we are discredited,” he says.

Straight out of the Anna Hazare-led anti-graft movement, the AAP had managed a gatecrash into the Delhi’s political scene by winning as many as 28 seats in the 70-member house last December. And then ran a fleeting government in the city.

In the one year that has passed since, a lot has changed. The Delhi BJP’s campaign will bank on the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity, while the AAP is seeking a second term for Arvind Kejriwal with its “Kejriwal Fir Se” campaign.

Without calling it a Kejri vs Modi contest, the former TV news editor insists that saffron party’s campaign is a bluff.

“That one man is presented as solution for all problems. Narendra Modi will not be the Prime Minister of Delhi, he is the Prime Minister of India. Why are they not putting a chief ministerial candidate for Delhi like they did since 1993 onwards till 2013?” he says.

The BJP has indicated that it will rely on its new election formula – where no state leader is named as future chief minister.

Ashutosh claimed that his party wasn’t shadow-boxing by projecting veteran BJP state unit leader Jagdish Mukhi as the BJP’s best bet for the chief ministerial berth, when the Delhi Assembly was dissolved early this month. 

But when asked who is best suited to be Congress CM candidate, Ashutosh says, “We have seen what happened in Assembly elections and what happened in parliamentary elections. It is not in the picture at all.”

Elaborating on why his party is the ‘real’ alternative, he says, “In 2013, we started from zero. Now we have started from around 33 per cent (general election vote share of AAP in Delhi which went up from 29 per cent in 2013 elections). So there is strong consolidation of our social base. That is why we are sure of our victory.”

The AAP had started frontal organisations targeting students, youth, women, resident welfare associations and autorickshaw drivers in the run-up to the impending Assembly polls.

Two dedicated teams are also employed to make specific appeals to voters in rural and minority pockets of the city.

Its shrinking support base among middle-class voters, however, remains the biggest concern. In the Lok Sabha polls, it yielded at least 14 urban constituencies to the BJP.

Reacting to BJP’s ambitious pitch for ‘Mission-60’, estimating chances of victory in 60 Assembly constituencies, Ashutosh says, “If they were confident of winning 60 seats, they would have immediately gone for elections, which they didn’t. They wanted to form government through the backdoor.”

The BJP had won 60 Assembly segments in the Lok Sabha polls, restricting AAP to 10 seats.

To bridge the gap, the party is relying on the glamour of its outreach campaigns called Delhi Dialogue, which claims to chart out party’s blueprint for a world-class city by engaging with various sections of society and domain experts.

“AAP is interested in making Delhi a world-class city. Not through the conventional means, but through innovative means,” Ashutosh says, claiming that party’s new move is draft its manifesto through consultations with public. “If there is dialogue between experts and the citizens, it enriches the process of policy making.”

But does this signal a shift away from a campaign centred on corruption?
He says that corruption is still the buzz word in their ongoing policy formulation process.
“So what (development) model we are offering? We are offering a model without corruption. We are telling them (BJP) how development should be done.”

“If you go around in Delhi and talk about development, people will ask about the last seven-eight years of BJP-controlled MCD (Municipal Corporation of Delhi) and what the MCD has done. MCD is defined by corruption and everything that is bad for Indian democracy,” he adds.

But to make their appeal simple, the AAP will place its bet on “Kejriwal Fir Se” campaign that will highlight the achievements of former CM’s 49-days term – including relief in water and electricity bills. Kejriwal as CM had quit amid a row over an anti-corruption bill being blocked in the Delhi Assembly. 

“My question is if you got a leader, why not flaunt him,” Ashutosh says.
This also spells out that the party will not put up a star-studded list as the top-rung leaders like Kumar Vishwas, Gopal Rai, Sanjay Singh, Yogendra Yadav and Ashutosh are planning to give the forthcoming elections a miss.

Nodding ‘yes’ to the speculation, the state unit head says that his party can safely rely on “non-entities aam aadmi becoming leaders”.

“Ashutosh contesting election is not important. What is important is that aam aadmi who think he should contest elections should be confident of winning,” he says.

With the party deciding not to field low-performers, based on in-house constituency-level feedback, the speculation is rife that more than half the nominees for AAP ticket will be political rookies.

“It is not a question of numbers. It is the question of performance of each and every candidate who has been given responsibility in each and every Assembly constituency. If he has performed well, he will be given the ticket. If he has not performed, he has to answer,” he says, conceding that the second and third list of candidates will throw up many surprises.

Last week, the party had repeated the line-up for the December 2013 Assembly polls while declaring nominees for 22 seats that included 12 MLAs.

Asked why party volunteers from outside Delhi are missing from action, the party leaders is at first defensive. But then he says, “We are rather asking them not to come because it will be winter. We are asking them to wait.”

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