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Gujarat Elections – Is AAP striving hard to replace Congress as the primary National Alternative of the BJP?

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With the recently concluded elections in 5 states, it has been established that Congress has almost given up any hope to emerge as a national alternative to the BJP. With the successive defeats at the center and states and mired by infighting, the prospects of Congress look very grim. Amid such a situation, AAP is gradually emerging or at least portraying itself as a national alternative.

Actually, the recent thumping win in Punjab has given a big shot in the arm to the APP. This has led to speculation in political circles that AAP could potentially occupy the political space vacated by Congress and may emerge as a possible challenger to the BJP in the future.

Now it has been speculated that Arvind Kejriwal could also pose a serious challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi sometime in the future. AAP’s intentions are quite clear: establish itself as a political alternative nationally and replace Congress as a prime opposition party on a pan-India level.

While the Punjab elections show that AAP is trying hard to emerge as a national alternative, its objective to replace Congress as the primary opposition party is easier said than done, and we have no hesitation to say that it’s too early to think of AAP and Kejriwal as an alternative to BJP and Modi, respectively.

Advantages to AAP

Although AAP is a small party, it does have certain advantages at its disposal, which work in its favor. The biggest advantage of AAP is that it is no more a regional party, while all other non-Congress opposition parties signify regionalism in one or the other form. You may give the credit to the advertisements or India Against Corruption movement, but you can’t deny that Kejriwal is a pan-India face, unlike other regional leaders like Akhilesh Yadav, Uddhav Thackeray, or Mamata Banerjee.

Being a Hindi-speaking North Indian, Kejriwal is likely to be more acceptable in the heartland states than Mamata or any other regional leader. In terms of popularity and wider acceptability, Kejriwal and his party also appear potentially a strong alternative to Modi and BJP. The key to AAP’s success is in states where Congress is pitted against the BJP.

After the victory in Punjab, AAP’s strategy appears clear: it will focus on states where Congress is vulnerable and locked in a direct contest with the BJP. States like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, and Karnataka are its next targets.

Challenges for AAP

Kejriwal and AAP have formidable challenges too. While in the short term the BJP may not mind AAP’s growing influence as long as it comes at the cost of Congress, in the long-term AAP will face the challenge of spreading its national presence;it is unlikely that Congress will allow AAP a free walk in the park. AAP won Punjab partly by showcasing the Delhi model of governance.

But, the Delhi model has its limitations, given that Delhi is not a full-fledged state and it is far easier to administer a revenue-surplus city-state. But Punjab, a full-fledged and complex state with broken finances is going to be a big administrative challenge. Punjab will not only be a test case for voters elsewhere for AAP’s ambitions of going national, but Kejriwal will also have to define what kind of an alternative he wants to provide to the nation and what is his vision for the country.

AAP’s next target – Gujarat Elections

The Aam Aadmi Party is planning to emerge as the primary contender to the BJP in Gujarat, where the assembly elections are due in December this year. For decades, Congress and BJP have been the dominating political forces in Gujarat, but AAP has started claiming that it has a good chance to take on the BJP.

Congress does not have the vision or will for Gujarat, while AAP is portraying to offer an alternative on the basis of the Arvind Kejriwal government’s work in Delhi. However, it is important to know that the people of Gujarat have never approved the third alternative in the past, be it the KIMLOP, RJP, or GPP.

In the recent municipal corporation elections in Gandhinagar and Surat and some other municipalities, the Aam Aadmi Party got an unprecedented 18-20 percent of the votes, which indicates that AAP is gradually occupying the space left by the Congress and gaining considerable support in the state.

AAP vs BJP – Ideological Differences & Political Strengths

Given that India is divided into communal lines and the economy is not in great shape over the last five years under BJP, it is not going to be enough for AAP to be just one more Opposition party but has to have a social and economic vision.

More importantly, it has to be an antidote to the BJP’s ideology and assertive Hindutva. At an ideological level, Kejriwal has so far been seen soft-peddling an indirect Hindutva, while politically he is always seen attacking Congress.

A self-confessed Hanuman bhakt, Kejriwal has never countered the BJP’s politics of communalism and polarization. His silence on CAA-NRC agitation and Delhi riots besides his flirtations with Hindu majoritarian politics which has lately shaded into active co-option maybe a well-thought-out part of Kejriwal’s broader push of re-orienting his party’s ideology.

But, in no way it is an alternative to BJP’s polarizing Hindutva. In a recent interview, Kejriwal said he can stand anything but not corruption. Clearly, fighting communalism and the politics of Hindutva doesn’t seem to be a pressing priority for him.

Having positioned himself as a pro-Hindu, without being seen as anti-Muslim, Kejriwal’s ideological shift to the Right and his pusillanimous approach to Hindutva bigotry may hurt AAP in its plans for national expansion. For his national ambition, Kejriwal and his party need to show a determination to stop the BJP’s ideological bulldozer.

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