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5 Reasons Why AAP Can’t Afford A Gujarat-Like Campaign In Karnataka

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Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of Delhi, led the Aam Aadmi Party to a historic victory in the 2022 Punjab assembly elections, at which point the party unveiled its national expansion strategy. Now the Election Commission of India has recognised the AAP as a national party after its grand show in Gujarat, Goa, Punjab, and Delhi. In this national expansion plan, Karnataka was one of the most crucial states for Arvind Kejriwal because the party believed a good showing there would open the door to other southern states. However, in comparison to the high-voltage campaign in Gujarat a few months ago, Kejriwal’s Karnataka election campaign has been majorly low-key.

There are numerous reasons why the AAP cannot afford to contest the Karnataka elections in the same manner as they did in Gujarat. First, the party is in a precarious position following the arrest of senior leader and former Delhi deputy CM Manish Sisodia by the CBI and ED. The campaign is now entirely dependent on Kejriwal. Meanwhile, the CBI summoned Kejriwal himself on Sunday. It did not come as a shocker as far as the excise policy case is concerned, but it is indeed a setback for the AAP.

Looking ahead to the upcoming 2024 general elections, Kejriwal now hopes to play a pivotal role in the opposition. Numerous regional political parties, such as the Nationalist Congress Party and the Trinamool Congress, have lost their national party status. Kejriwal is well aware that he has a good chance of playing a significant role in the opposition, which is why it would not be prudent for him to challenge the Congress in the upcoming state elections. If AAP wishes to advance, it must compete with the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) in Karnataka. Generally, in state elections, including Delhi, the AAP has never taken away the BJP’s vote share but the opposition’s.

Arvind Kejriwal’s Questioning by the CBI And Other AAP Crises

The AAP can maintain a brave face despite the summons to Kejriwal, but it is not good news for the party at all. The future of the questioning is unknown, but at this time, such interrogations will not allow him to travel to Karnataka and campaign. If the entire leadership of Delhi stays put in the national capital, then there is no way the AAP can elevate its campaign. It is also pertinent to note that if Kejriwal is arrested at all in this case, it would be the most severe setback for the party, and his continued leadership of the party would be under threat. Similarly, after the summons by the CBI, the BJP got the best ammunition to corner AAP because they have been claiming he is the kingpin. All these political disputes are directly affecting the Karnataka campaign of the party. The situation was not such during the Gujarat campaign days.

Sisodia’s arrest is one of the fundamental issues for the AAP. This arrest has been a major setback for the party, as the party was founded on the principle of combating corruption. Sisodia’s alleged involvement with Delhi’s now-abandoned excise policy has provided the BJP with an excellent opportunity to corner the AAP on the issue of corruption. Kejriwal, according to AAP insiders, believes that state elections like those in Karnataka will not allow the party to send a message to the people that the electorate or the people of India do not approve of the AAP’s corruption allegations. 

Similarly, the AAP’s key strategy has been for Sisodia, along with senior leaders such as Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh, Sandeep Pathak, and others, to visit the states in advance of any election that the party wishes to contest. After assessing the situation on the ground, Sisodia would report to Kejriwal, and the AAP national convener would then appoint an election incharge and co-incharge in that state to oversee the day-to-day campaign. Raghav Chadha, a member of the Rajya Sabha, and Sandeep Pathak, the organisation’s in-charge, were responsible for this in both Punjab and Gujarat. However, Kejriwal did not adopt this strategy in Karnataka. This indicates the recent crisis involving Sisodia’s arrest has severely harmed the party.

Political Reluctance

AAP insiders have confirmed that Kejriwal will not announce any chief ministerial candidate for the party in Karnataka. This is a very different approach, as AAP announced the real candidate for CM in Goa, Gujarat, and Punjab. A section of AAP insiders believes that there is a lack of understanding of the ground situation in Karnataka. In the state, the party is heavily dependent on its state convenor, Prithvi Reddy. In Goa, Gujarat, and Punjab, the party took a clear stand on caste and religious lines. For example, it chose Amit Palekar for the CM post in Goa, who comes from the Bhandari community that constitutes a major section of the electorate. Similarly, AAP chose Isudan Gadhvi as its CM in Gujarat, who comes from the Other Backward Class, which formed the major electorate of the state.

The caste equation and politics in Karnataka are very strong, such as the Vokkaliga caste and its electoral importance in the state, but the AAP is distancing itself from any discussion regarding caste.

Lack Of Leadership

Another significant problem for the AAP in terms of Karnataka elections is its lack of leadership. Firstly, the party, after the arrest of Sisodia, is now completely dependent on Kejriwal, and there is no other person who can campaign at that level. Unfortunately, Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann is yet to become an important political face of the AAP, and that is why if Kejriwal does not campaign for the party, there is a lesser chance for the AAP to gain any electoral momentum. In Gujarat, Kejriwal led the entire campaign. Besides mega rallies, roadshows and street corners, day-to-day interactions through town halls were held. But AAP leaders believe that no such mega or high-voltage campaign will take place in Karnataka. On the other hand, the party also does not have good leaders in the state. Many key leaders, activists, and civil society representatives join the party before the elections in Punjab, Gujarat, and Goa, assisting AAP in building a movement. However, in Karnataka, where the civil society is very active along with political and cultural activism, the party has not yet been able to create a discourse within the sections. Former IPS officer Bhaskar Rao joined the AAP, which gave the party momentum and also hope, but he switched over to the BJP a few days later. This lack of leadership will harm the party electorally.

Lack Of Narrative

The first significant state where the BJP used its defection strategy to overthrow the JDS- Congress alliance’s government was Karnataka. Today, the situation of the BJP is also not good in the state. After the party removed the senior most state BJP leader and sitting CM BS Yeddyurappa and replaced him with Basavaraj Bommai, it impacted both the politics and governance of the party. Today, there is massive infighting within the Karnataka BJP, and also due to a lack of experience in governance, the Bommai government could not keep up with expectations, and there is discontent among the people against the BJP. Meanwhile, despite having several issues, like infighting between former CM Siddaramaiah and state Congress  president DK Shivakumar, the grand old party has successfully established a narrative against the BJP. Meanwhile, the JDS also has a strong, committed voter base.

At this point, the AAP has not been able to establish a clear narrative for Karnataka. The party is entirely dependent on its Delhi model of governance, which includes free education, healthcare, electricity, water, and others. The freebie-dependent politics of the AAP have worked well in Punjab and Gujarat. But here, there is not much push for these narratives. Without an extensive campaign on a clear political narrative that can make a difference and present an alternative, AAP will not be able to make inroads in the state.

Eye On Bigger Opposition Role 

After becoming a national party, Kejriwal is now aiming to play a crucial role in the opposition. His rise as a politician and that of the AAP has been remarkable in its own way. Recently, he met Bihar CM Nitish Kumar and agreed that he was on board in terms of opposition unity. After the disqualification of Rahul Gandhi as an MP following his conviction by a Surat court in a defamation case, Kejriwal slammed the BJP and extended solidarity to the Congress leader, which is a very rare gesture on part of the AAP chief. Kejriwal understands that if he wants to be part of the opposition and play a key role against the BJP in the 2024 general elections, taking the Congress one-on-one right now is not a good idea. From Goa to Gujarat and Delhi to Punjab, the growth of AAP happened riding on the Congress vote bank. If the party holds a mega campaign in Karnataka and gains any electoral advantage, it will be at the cost of the Congress.

The AAP is contesting all the seats in Karnataka, but the party is not in a position to hold a campaign the way it did in Gujarat. This is an important lesson for Kejriwal to realise that the AAP cannot decide to fight elections in every state just the way it did earlier. State-specific agendas, cultivating good leaders, creating an acceptable narrative, developing grassroots organisation, and balancing with the national agenda of the party are necessary. This will also be a crucial election to see how Kejriwal deals with the Congress in the state during the final phases of campaigning.

The author is a columnist and doctoral research scholar in media and politics.

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