Note: The original version of this article was published on September 29th, 2021 in “The Daily Guardian”
Since 2017, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has been contesting Assembly elections in at least 14 states outside Delhi but has failed to win even a single seat in 13 states. The only state where the AAP saw some victory was in Punjab in 2017, where it won 20 seats and is currently the main opposition party. However, after its victory in the 2020 Delhi Assembly elections, where it had a phenomenal performance and retained 62 out of the 70 seats, the party has now fuelled its spread across other states. In January 2021, Arvind Kejriwal confirmed that AAP will contest in six state elections in 2022 — Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Goa, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, and Punjab. Elections in Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Uttarakhand, and Punjab are scheduled to take place early next year, and the AAP has been vigorously campaigning in all four states. The party, which has been pedalling its “Delhi Model” of governance, including free provision of water and electricity (up to a fixed number of units) and improved health and education infrastructure, has made very similar promises in the four states. While the freebie promises have captured voter interest in Punjab and Goa, it is yet to be seen whether the model will work in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
Promises to Punjab : ‘Delhi Model’ and Freebies
With the infighting in the ruling Congress alliance and the sudden change of guard in the state, all eyes have been on the AAP in Punjab. The AAP emerged as the second-largest party in the 2017 assembly election, which was its first in Punjab, and won 20 of the 112 seats it contested (the assembly has 117 seats). The party managed to secure a vote share of 23.7% while the winning INC had a vote share of 38.5%.
The biggest kickstart to the 2022 election campaign from the AAP came in March 2021, when Arvind Kejriwal held a Maha Kisan Panchayat in Moga in Punjab and promised that the party would stand shoulder-to-shoulder with farmers protesting against the contentious agriculture laws. The Punjab government has regularly been under pressure regarding the issue of poor electricity supply, especially from farmer groups. Emphasising the gravity of the situation, Kejriwal announced that the party would provide 300 units of free electricity per month per household in Punjab if they came to power in the state. The Congress made a similar promise in 2017 — however, this is yet to be implemented. The AAP has criticized the INC government, stating that the party has not fulfilled any of its promises in the state, including debt waiver for farmers, jobs, providing smartphones, and unemployment allowance. Kejriwal has also highlighted the issue of youth unemployment in the state and has promised that if voted to power, jobs will be given to those who have employment cards issued by the INC government.
AAP’s poll strategy in 2022 is very similar to its 2017 strategy. Experts state that the battle for Punjab is likely to be a two-front contest between the INC and AAP. As per the ABP-CVoter-IANS opinion poll, AAP is likely to emerge as the single largest party in the 2022 polls. However, the survey also reveals that the AAP does not have a credible face from Punjab — someone who can be projected to be chief minister. While 21.6% of the respondents said that Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is their preferred choice to be the next chief minister of the state, only 16.1% consider Bhagwant Mann, AAP’s face in Punjab as the preferred choice for the top job in the state.
First U.P. Election : Will AAP have any impact?
The AAP, which did not contest the 2017 Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, or the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, announced on 31 August 2021, that it will field candidates for all 403 seats in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly in the 2022 election. Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh announced that the AAP’s Tiranga Sankalp Yatra will be taken out in all constituencies of the state and urged party workers to be involved in the preparations for the elections at the booth level in order to fight the imminent polls with full force. The party conducted the ‘Tiranga Yatra’ in Ayodhya this month led by Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia and Sanjay Singh. Similar to promises made in Punjab, Uttarakhand, and Goa, the AAP has also promised to provide 300 units of free electricity to domestic consumers, waive pending “inflated” bills and ensure a 24-hour power supply in Uttar Pradesh. Earlier last week, the party released a list of 100 potential candidates who have been put in charge of 100 Assembly segments. However, the party has yet to announce a Chief Ministerial face or candidate. Given the high stakes of the battle between the incumbent BJP and other influential parties in the state, including the Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP),and the INC-led UPA, to combine, it seems unlikely that the AAP’s freebie promises will attract voters in the state.
AAP Vs BJP In Goa
In the last elections in Goa in 2017, the AAP made an ambitious debut campaign and pitched 39 candidates. However, the party failed to secure a single seat and was able to secure 6.3% of the vote share. Even AAP’s chief ministerial candidate, Elvis Gomes, a former bureaucrat, trailed at fourth place in his constituency in Cuncolim. However, things are looking up for the AAP in Goa in 2022 as experts predict the party will make big gains in the state and replace the INC as the principal opposition party. The BJP, which formed the government in 2017 with the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MAG), Goa Forward Party (GFP), and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) is expected to retain power in the state. The ABP-CVoter survey has predicted 22–26 out of the 40 seats for the BJP, followed by 4–8 seats for the AAP.
The AAP startedits election campaign in Goa with Arvind Kejriwal announcing that 300 units of free electricity per month would be given to each family in Goa, if the AAP comes to power and consumption of electricity above 300 units would be charged at 50%. The party has promised the farmers of the state that free electricity would be provided for agricultural purposes if AAP forms government in the coastal areas. Kejriwal stressed the fact that these are not promises made only for the election, but actual plans that will be implemented. The AAP also announced its seven employment guarantee promises in September 2021. These include the provision of an unemployment allowance for some sectors, reservation of jobs in the private sector for Goans, formation of a skill-building university, and allowance for those in industries such as tourism which have been gravely affected by the pandemic. The AAP’s preparations for the 2022 assembly elections received a boost in Pernem, Saligao, and Porvorim constituencies, with a few BJP and Congress workers joining the party in June 2021. It is interesting to note that last month, Goa Chief Minister Pramond Sawant also announced a ‘Save Water to Get Free Water’ scheme whereby households in the state will not be charged for consumption up to 16,000 litres. AAP responded to the announcement by stating it was a “true victory” for the party that its opponents were “copying” its policies.
Freebie Model unlikely to work in Uttarakhand?
The AAP last contested the hill state last in 2014, during the Lok Sabha elections, fielding candidates in all five constituencies, but failing to win any seats. Following this, the party didn’t contest the 2017 Assembly polls in Uttarakhand, where the BJP won in a landslide victory. However, the party has already swung into action for the 2022 polls but is not following the traditional booth-level electoral campaigns or addressing rallies to attract voters.
The party has hired nearly 200 vehicles carrying photographs of Arvind Kejriwal which have been doing the rounds in the hills while canopy booths have been set up to detail what the party has to offer in state elections. As of August 2021, 70 vehicles fitted with LED screens were sent off to every Uttarakhand constituency streaming videos of the Kejriwal government’s performance in Delhi. The party has been attacking the incumbent BJP government for poor health services and rising unemployment in the state. They announced that if elected to power, AAP will ensure employment in every household of the state (Har Ghar Rozgar) and provide a Rs 5,000 monthly stipend to unemployed youth. In July 2020, on a state visit to Uttarakhand, Kejriwal promised that up to 300 units of free electricity per month would be given to every family in Uttarakhand and free electricity would be given to the farmers of the state. However, apart from its freebie promises and Delhi model of governance, the party has also promised that it would scrap the Char Dham Devasthanam Board (CDDB). The CDDB, which was constituted in 2019 by the then Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat-led government, is strongly criticised by the priest community of the state. The party has also promised to make Uttarakhand the spiritual capital for Hindus across the world. However, as per a Team C-Voter and ABP News opinion poll conducted in September 2021, the BJP is likely to retain power in the state, winning about 44–48 seats, followed by the INC, which is likely to win 19–23 seats, while the AAP is likely to win 0–4 seats in the hill state.
Kejriwal-led AAP’s freebie ploy and “Delhi Model” of governance has helped the party establish a strong foothold in Delhi. Since the party entered the electoral competition in the Delhi Assembly Elections in 2013, it has become a dominant presence in the capital. In fact, during the 2020 elections in the city, riding on a wave of appreciation for its health and education facilities, as well as provision of free water, electricity, and bus transport for women, the party was able to secure 62 out of 70 seats in the capital. For the 2022 polls, the party’s campaign strategy continues to be the same across states — it is yet to be seen whether this formula will work anywhere else.
Shreya Maskara /New Delhi
Contributing reports by Damini Mehta, Junior Research Associate at Polstrat and Animesh Gadre, Damayanti Niyogi, Kashish Babbar, Interns at Polstrat.
From Polstrat, a non-partisan political consultancy which aims to shift the narrative of political discourse in the country from a problem-centric to a solutions-oriented approach.