After landslide victories in Delhi and Punjab, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) now has its eyes set on the assembly elections in Gujarat and party chief Arvind Kejriwal has chosen his most trusted lieutenant – Raghav Chadha – to see the job through.
On Sunday, 18 September, Chadha was appointed as AAP's election co-incharge in the state, his second time managing a high profile state election. Before this, he along with Sandeep Pathak – a former assistant professor at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Delhi – was tasked with handling the Punjab state elections which the party won with a handsome margin.
Over the last 10 years, very few leaders in AAP have seen a rise as telling as Chadha.
He started as a volunteer in 2013 and soon became a party spokesperson.
In 2015 he was appointed as advisor to Delhi's deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia.
In 2019, he unsuccessfully contested the Lok Sabha elections on an AAP ticket from the South Delhi parliamentary constituency.
In 2020, Chadha was elected as an MLA from the Rajinder Nagar assembly seat in Delhi after which he was appointed as the vice-chairperson of the Delhi Jal Board.
In 2021, he along with Pathak handled the Punjab assembly elections in which the party dethroned the Congress, winning 92 out of 117 assembly seats.
In 2022, he became a Rajya Sabha MP from Punjab, one of the five AAP nominees elected unopposed in the state.
In a way, Chadha's race to the front in a party, deserted by four of its five founding members in less than a decade, gives interesting insights into the AAP becoming one of India's most successful political start-ups in recent history.
The Quint spoke to AAP functionaries at multiple levels – those who've worked closely with Chadha and those who've seen him from afar – to understand what his recent appointment reveals about party's internal functioning.
The 'Politics of Data'
Bharatiya Janata Party's landslide victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the rise of Prashant Kishor – one of India's foremost political strategists – ushered Indian politics into a whole new era. One which lay bare the importance of datasets, voter surveys, hard numbers, and statistics in winning elections.
A well placed source in the AAP told The Quint that Chadha does his homework well and always has facts and data up his sleeve. "After the 2014 assembly elections netaji (Arvind Kejriwal) realised that committing to particular ideology won't win the party any elections but numbers and data will," they said.
Leaders like Chadha serve this purpose well. "If you notice, Raghav ji has never committed himself to particular ideology. His style of politics is different from that Sanjay Singh ji or Durgesh (Pathak) Bhaiya who are more inclined towards a Congress-style secular politics which netaji (Arvind Kejriwal) isn't very comfortable with. He (Raghav Chadha) is one of those who emphasise on AAP being a party which gets things going. A pro-development, pro-welfare party," the source explained.
Centralisation of Power
In the run-up to the 2022 Punjab elections, one of the major pillars of the Congress' case against AAP was the party's centralised approach to governance. Several Congress leaders alleged that if elected to power, the AAP in Punjab will form a sham government with a puppet chief minister working at the behest of party chief Kejriwal.
In an interview to The Quint, former Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi reiterated these claims. "People of Punjab know that by propping Bhagwant Mann as the chief ministerial face of AAP in Punjab, Arvind Kejriwal wants to run a remote government in the state from Delhi," he said.
While Congress' claims might not have resonated with the voters of Punjab, several AAP functionaries agree that there's only one power centre within the party with Kejriwal and Sisodia taking most decisions without much consultation with others.
"The process of appointing people to important positions within the party isn't very long and tedious. Arvind ji takes the call, consults Manish Sisodia ji and it's done," a source told The Quint. "Chadha ji is in the good books right now. Just like how Sanjay Singh ji was before the 2017 Punjab elections. It doesn't take much for people to rise, and not much to fall either," they added.
Another well-placed source who works closely with Kejriwal compared the rise and fall of leaders in the AAP to a video game.
"We often joke that in Aam Aadmi Party, if you succeed, Arvind Kejriwal increases your difficulty level. That's what is happening with both Raghav Chadha and Sandeep Pathak. They did brilliantly in Punjab. And that's why Raghav Chadha and Sandeep Pathak have been given key responsibilities for the upcoming elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh," they said.
Rise of a 'Young, Media-Savvy Socialite'
One of the many reasons behind Chadha's rise within the AAP is his enviable resume. Outside his performance in elections, he is an efficient and intelligent spokesperson, appears on television debates, appeals to the working middle and upper english-speaking middle class, and bonds well with leaders from other parties.
"He (Raghav Chadha) is not a threat to netaji because he is not a mass leader. He is an eloquent speaker and does well on television debates but he doesn't appeal to people on the ground. He doesn't challenge Arvind ji, he compliments him," a party worker said.
Most people The Quint spoke to for this report, described Chadha as a media-savvy politician who does his homework well. Many also believed that his age works has worked in his favour.
An AAP functionary from Punjab, for instance, said that Chadha "did a lot of homework on how things functioned in the run up to the 2022 assembly elections".
"In his initial visits, he spent a lot of time socialising, speaking to a wide variety of people. He tried to get a hang of how politics operated in Punjab, the cultural and political nuances of the state," they added.
Chadha within the party is also seen as AAP's answer to the likes of BJP's Tejasvi Surya or Congress' Jignesh Mevani and Kanhaiya Kumar – a young leader with a relatable background. His credentials as a Chartered Accountant with a degree from the London School of Economics add to his clout.
The Gujarat Challenge
Chadha's appointment as the Gujarat election incharge of the AAP serves multiple purposes. First, it conveys to the party cadre that the people who perform well are fittingly rewarded; and second it assures them that the team behind the huge victory in Punjab elections is now handling Gujarat.
His appointment will also help avoid any discord between AAP's main leaders in Gujarat – Gopal Italia and Isudan Gadhvi. With Chadha being a prominent face of the campaign, it would become easier to balance between different state leaders. Given Chadha's heft in the party and success in Punjab, no one is likely to resent his involvement.