In 2018, when the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) contested its first Assembly election in Rajasthan, the party fielded candidates on 142 out of 200 seats and managed to win only 0.4 percent votes. This was six years after the party was founded and three years of it running a government in Delhi.
Five years on, as Arvind Kejriwal and co. prepare for yet another election in the state, the party cadre feel they are "older, wiser, and better placed" to give the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a run for their money.
The question, however, remains — is Rajasthan, which has traditionally been a two party state, ripe for the entry of a third front? An analysis of political developments in the election year and conversations with AAP workers on ground throw interesting insights.
The Tried and Tested 'Delhi Model'
Prashant Jaiswal, the state joint secretary of the party, told The Quint that much like other states, in Rajasthan too, AAP will bank heavily on the 'Delhi model' of development with focus on jobs, infrastructure, healthcare, and pensions. "People of Rajasthan vote out the incumbents every election. The Congress and the BJP took turns to form government over several decades. Yet, they haven't been able to create jobs for the youth. There is definitely space for the AAP to work on issues which matter," Jaiswal said.
He added that the party is building itself from the scratch, "National General Secretary of the organisation, Sandeep Pathak ji is personally overseeing the election in Rajasthan. We've set up the youth wing, the women's wing, and several other wings across the state. We're also conducting massive membership drives to have more and more people join us."
On 5 April, an image of Arvind Kejriwal and Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann meeting the national convenor of the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) Hanuman Beniwal went viral on the internet. The picture was from the birthday party of Beniwal's daughter.
After the photo went viral, it was speculated that the AAP is eyeing a pre-poll alliance with Beniwal's party. Lok Sabha MP from Nagaur, Beniwal is an important Jat leader and enjoys a sizeable influence in western Rajasthan. An alliance with RLP could help AAP solidify its position among the Jat and the Muslim voters in the state.
"The AAP is a pro-development party. We are ready to forge an alliance with anybody who wishes to work for the development of the people," Jaiswal said when asked about the meeting.
While Jaiswal refused to give a clear picture of what the meeting was aimed at, a source close to the party leadership in Delhi told The Quint that unlike Punjab or Gujarat, alliances with minor players in Rajasthan can help solidify the party's position in the state. "Electoral caste equations in Rajasthan are more complicated than those in Punjab or Gujarat. Focusing only on jobs, housing, infrastructure, or healthcare might not be enough. We will have to factor in caste dynamics," the source said.
In addition to focusing on the Jat and the Muslim vote in the state, AAP MLA in Gujarat Chaitar Vasava raised anew the demand for a separate state of `Bhil Pradesh' for the tribal populations in Gujarat and the three neighbouring states, including Rajasthan.
'Bhil Pradesh' in theory is a separate state carved out of 39 districts spread over four states — 16 in Gujarat, 10 in Rajasthan, seven in Madhya Pradesh, and six in Maharashtra.
Listed as a Scheduled Tribe (ST), the Bhil population is four lakh strong in Rajasthan. In the 2018 Assembly elections, the Congress won 33.81 percent votes in the eight seats dominated by the Bhils, followed by the BJP with 32.91 percent votes. What was interesting, however, was the entry of Gujarat-based Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP), which won 12.49 percent votes.
By raising a fresh pitch for 'Bhil Pradesh', the AAP might be eyeing a sizeable chunk of these votes.
It is pertinent to note that the Jats, Muslims, and the Adivasis form the core of Congress vote in the state. The AAP’s entry, hence, is more likely to dent the Congress vote share more than that of the BJP.
With assembly elections scheduled in less than a year, both main contenders — Congress and BJP — are struggling with infighting in their state units.
While the friction between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot camps in Congress has been out in the open for a while, in the BJP former Chief Minister Vasundhara is facing competition from Union Jal Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and former state BJP president Satish Poonia.
The AAP — which is trying to emerge as a third front in the state — feels it will benefit from this infighting within the two parties.
While launching the party's poll campaign in the state in March, Kejriwal at a Tiranga Yatra in Jaipur said, "Both BJP and Congress are fighting with their own people for power. They're not fighting for the people of the state. They're fighting for the CM chair. I have heard that Vasundhara Raje and Ashok Gehlot have an understanding. Whenever any of them faces the threat of losing power, the other jumps to their defence. The BJP and Congress are not separate parties in Rajasthan, they are one."