The last few days have seen the resurgence of a combative Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), as it has upped the ante with respect to the ongoing farmers' agitation against the three contentious agri laws, as well as issues surrounding the municipal corporations of Delhi.
For a party that has been called out for having a lukewarm stance on various political issues in the past, this newfound proactiveness can be seen in the light of two upcoming elections – the Punjab Assembly elections and the municipal elections in Delhi.
Both the elections are due in 2022, and both offer an opportunity to the Arvind Kejriwal-led party to expand its footprint, one that was missed when elections were held the last time around in 2017.
AAP's Punjab Presence
For a party making its debut, winning 20 seats in the 2017 Punjab Assembly election, and emerging as the principal opposition in the state ahead of the Shiromani Akali Dal (Akali), could have been considered an impressive feat.
But the Aam Aadmi Party's performance was considered underwhelming at the time, with many having expected them to win much more than their tally of 20.
With the 2022 elections, AAP would be looking to match up to those expectations, if not exceeding them, and the farmers’ protest offers an opportunity for them to turn the tide.
After all, Kejriwal's party is considered to be a big player in rural/agrarian Punjab, and in the last election, it performed well in areas of agrarian distress. Many of the 20 seats it won then were concentrated in the Malwa region, including the constituencies of Bathinda rural, Barnala, Mansa, Rupnagar, Kharar, Sunam, Raikot, among others.
However, one may also note that since the 2017 Assembly polls, AAP has suffered setbacks in the form of splits. In fact, in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, it managed to win four seats from Punjab. But that was reduced to just one in the 2019 general elections – Bhagwant Mann from Sangrur.
How is the Party Capitalising?
With the farmers' agitation intensifying by the day, Aam Aadmi Party's chief Kejriwal has led from the front in lending support to the movement, which has been spearheaded by farmers from Punjab.
From calling the protesting farmers guests of Delhi, to visiting the Singhu border protest site as a ‘sewadaar’, to alleging a ‘house arrest’ by the BJP, to observing a one-day fast in their support, the Delhi CM and his party have adopted a proactive and unambiguous stand in favour of the agitation.
And in the midst of all this, Kejriwal is also locked in a bitter war of words with his Punjab counterpart Captain Amarinder Singh over the farm laws. In one instance, the Delhi CM slammed Singh for doing "low-level politics," while the latter hit back calling the former a "sneaky little fellow".
In another instance, the Captain accused Kejriwal of "sell(ing) your soul if it serves your purpose," while the AAP leader said the farm laws were Singh's "'gift' to the nation".
Also significant to note here is that Punjab's third important player, the Akali Dal, might find itself in a vulnerable position in the days to come, having walked out of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) after the farm laws were passed in Parliament. And the Aam Aadmi Party can well be expected to capitalise on this, to expand their foothold in Punjab.
What's Happening in Delhi?
A similar kind of proactivity can be seen from AAP for Delhi, where municipal elections are due in 2022. The three municipal corporations of Delhi – north, south and east – have been controlled by the BJP for the last three terms now.
In 2017, the saffron party scored a resounding victory, bagging over 180 seats out of the 270 up for grabs, while AAP came a distant second with just 48 seats.
However, riding on a decisive win in the Delhi Assembly elections earlier this year, Kejriwal’s party would want the winning ways to extend to the civic body polls of 2022 as well.
A fierce back-and-forth centred around the civic bodies is already underway between the two parties.
Last Sunday, AAP leaders Raghav Chadha and Atishi were detained by the Delhi Police, ahead of a protest planned outside the residences of Home Minister Amit Shah and Delhi L-G Anil Baijal.
The protest was against the alleged misappropriation of Rs 2,457 crore MCD funds by the BJP, with AAP demanding a CBI probe into the matter.
The BJP, meanwhile, has said that the Kejriwal-led government owes as much as Rs 13,000 crore to the civic bodies. Also, thrown into the mix of allegations has been an 'AAP conspiracy' to kill mayors and other leaders of the municipal corporations.
Amid protests by the BJP over these civic issues, the Aam Aadmi Party, over the last one week, had also alleged attacks at the residences of both Kejriwal and Deputy CM Manish Sisodia orchestrated by 'BJP goons'.
So, while the two elections of 2017 represented cases of missed opportunities by AAP, the party would be hoping to change that in 2022.
While success in the MCD elections would increase its bargaining power in the national capital, a victory in Punjab could signal the party’s arrival as a regional force to be reckoned with.