SMALL PARTY, BIG STRAT­EGY

India Today - - COVER STORY -

Chas­tened by the gen­eral elec­tion, he used his swear­ing-in last year to in­sist he had learned his les­son, warn­ing about “ahankar”, the hubris of think­ing suc­cess in Delhi could be trans­muted into elec­toral gold else­where. A month af­ter that speech, Ke­jri­wal in­sisted again that AAP would not be drawn into fight­ing elec­tions in other states. “I am not Napoleon,” he said, rub­bish­ing those in his own party who felt the en­ergy from the win in Delhi should not be al­lowed to dis­si­pate. A lit­tle over a year later, and AAP, what­ever Ke­jri­wal’s ear­lier mis­giv­ings, has hurled it­self into the elec­toral breach in two states with more ex­pected to fol­low. Ke­jri­wal did not an­swer ques­tions sent by In­dia To­day to his of­fice on the sub­ject of AAP’s na­tional am­bi­tions. He also re­fused to com­ment when ap­proached through var­i­ous party sources, or in Pun­jab where he took no ques­tions from any of the as­sem­bled me­dia. Speak­ing on the phone from Goa, Ashutosh said that the party “wasn’t in­ter­ested in con­test­ing elec­tions just for the sake of con­test­ing elec­tions”. Point­ing out that the party is “just three years old and doesn’t have the re­sources to fight ev­ery elec­tion”, Ashutosh said that a nec­es­sary con­di­tion for AAP to en­ter a state con­test “is a deep de­sire among the peo­ple for an al­ter­na­tive. We don’t want to just ‘do’ pol­i­tics, we want to change pol­i­tics. And for that we need the peo­ple of the state to be ready”. Tal­war, a self-de­scribed “stu­dent of elec­tion me­chan­ics”, said that look­ing be­yond Pun­jab and Goa was “spec­u­la­tive”, that the party needed eight months to a year to “pre­pare for elec­tions at the booth level”, to get enough vol­un­teers to con­duct the party’s in­ten­sive door-to-door grass­roots cam­paign.

For a sense of the num­bers re­quired, Durgesh Pathak, AAP’s grass­roots trou­bleshooter, out­lined the cam­paign in Pun­jab. “Even though we won four Lok Sabha seats in Pun­jab, the only state in which we had any suc­cess,” he said, “or­gan­i­sa­tion­ally, we were in a to­tal mess.” It took him 50 days “trav­el­ling across the state, meet­ing with 9,000 vol­un­teers, to come up with a struc­ture. Now we have 22,000 booths in the state staffed by at least two or three vol­un­teers, and a par­al­lel youth or­gan­i­sa­tion.” Ac­cord­ing to Pathak, as the Pun­jab cam­paign swings into full gear, there will be “more than 100,000 ac­tive vol­un­teers” at ground level. The num­bers for Goa, given the state’s size, are nec­es­sar­ily a frac­tion of those re­quired for Pun­jab. Pankaj Gupta, who quit a high-pow­ered job in soft­ware to join AAP at its in­cep­tion, has be­come part of the party’s or­gan­i­sa­tional spine. He is the na­tional sec­re­tary and a mem­ber of the na­tional ex­ec­u­tive, and has set up camp in Goa. “We are set­ting up 14 to 15 ‘frontal’ or­gan­i­sa­tions,” he said, “each staffed by up to 500 peo­ple tasked with lis­ten­ing to peo­ple talk about their prob­lems with ev­ery­thing from jobs, to the en­vi­ron­ment, to fish­eries, to cul­tural is­sues.” Ac­cord­ing to Gupta, AAP’s ex­tra­or­di­nary abil­ity to mo­bilise peo­ple is at the heart of its suc­cess: “Our vol­un­teers are our money. Where other par­ties spend hun­dreds, even thou­sands of crores, we have peo­ple who be­lieve in our ide­ol­ogy.”

For Tal­war, an af­fa­ble fig­ure, his soft bulk cov­ered by a vo­lu­mi­nous lilac kurta, the Lok Sabha re­sult in Pun­jab, in which AAP “won four of 13 seats and over 30 per cent of the vote, proved that it could not be con­sid­ered a one-state won­der. Peo­ple see Ke­jri­wal as an agent of pos­i­tive change.” Ac­cord­ing to Tal­war, the de­ci­sion to com­pete in Pun­jab was a “very easy one” to take. “Sim­ply

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