SMALL PARTY, BIG STRATEGY
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