Political history and tradition show that politics in India has sustained a paradigm shift for two reasons. One is the rise of political movements, and the second is the spontaneous electoral gains seen by a few regional parties coupled with leadership promise. In both situations, the regional and national space has exhibited analogous attributes. But in the contemporary political context, one can see a case of political ‘flux’. It can be seen through a spate of events ranging from the call for a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ by the Prime Minister to the performance of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Punjab, and the series of defeats faced by the Congress.
The BJP Is a Formidable Player
Emerging electoral trends and recent state election results show the ‘positive shift’ in India’s contemporary political scenario. The BJP, a nationalist party, has seen tremendous political and electoral accomplishment. In Uttar Pradesh, it has increased its vote share by about 4% percentage points and is the only party to come to power for two consecutive terms in almost three decades. The victories in Uttarakhand, Manipur, and Goa are historical and mark the advent of an era where the party looks infallible and in complete command.
On the contrary, the Congress has been reduced to a ‘lampoon party’ with indecisive leadership, no unity in command and electoral stagnation. It is on the verge of oblivion. The series of defeats have clobbered it, and it is in dire need of reforms and organisational re-imagination.
AAP's Rise as a Steady Organisation
In the present context, the spectacular and spontaneous rise of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) shows the party’s rise as a substantial and steady organisation. The AAP has primarily relied on a constructive political action plan, techniques, and campaigning to make a distinct political space for itself. Its growth trajectory, expansion and acceptance have been interesting.
One can underscore the rise of AAP as that of a party that is gradually occupying the space of the leading opposition force against the ruling BJP, and which is aimed at replacing the Congress.
Looking at the current political scenario, the AAP seems to be emerging as a contender for the main opposition and is filling a vacuum at the national level. Though there are divided opinions on the future of AAP, the performance of the Congress and the Trinamool has given a good political opportunity to the party to expand.
The BJP, on the other hand, has led all campaigns successfully and has been one step ahead in terms of ideological cultivation and membership drives. The BJP is ahead of its time in methods, approach, and reach, but what is interesting is the AAP’s political management along with a ‘heroic’ campaign that has influenced voting behaviour in recent times. However, its viability is still uncertain. We may call AAP a national alternative in India, but the political performance, institutional arrangements, and command on the political space are in the BJP’s favour.
BJP and AAP's Trajectories
The AAP, with a bastion established in Delhi with two consecutive clean sweeps, a sensational win in Punjab, and intense campaigns in both Uttarakhand and Goa, is a bolt from the blue. In ten years, the AAP has witnessed heydays, unexpected electoral outcomes, and its growth in the national political space. The ability of the party to remain in academic and political discourse has been its biggest strength and is one of the main reasons for its growth.
By registering one of its most significant and credible victories in Punjab, the AAP has made the strategic beginning to become the principal opposition to the ruling BJP. It has won as many as 92 out of 117 seats.
It is pertinent to understand the interaction between the BJP and the AAP when the latter is looking to expand in states like Goa, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana, and the former is seated in a comfortable position for the 2024 parliamentary elections.
Why Partnerships are Important
Both the BJP and the AAP have acquired a grip on the ‘political system’. Though different in the degrees of command, there are common underlining features, namely, institutional arrangements, behavioural policy framework, and grassroots connect.
The AAP has capitalised on institutional populism, local policy framework and regional expansion. Nevertheless, it is equally important to understand the difference between the BJP’s ideological attribute and the AAP’s populist approach, which may make the political space volatile in the future.
The still-young AAP has both an opportunity and an impediment in the Congress and the Trinamool. That the BJP can’t be defeated until an umbrella coalition is formed at the national level is a post-electoral truth. These parties have a regional presence, but the national space is still dominated by the BJP. The ideological support and spread of the party in rural areas across all sections, including the Dalits, OBCs, STs and women, show its formidable position.
To become a national alternative, there has to be a partnership in the opposition. Otherwise, the wave of Narendra Modi-led BJP at the Centre will continue. The subdued Congress is losing ground. And though it is too early to write it off, if the leadership does not seek a revival, the ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ narrative would soon become a reality. This will ultimately lead to a political paradox for regional players such as AAP, Trinamool and others, where parties will see gains regionally, but no success at the Centre.
Thus, despite AAP’s prospects, it is too early to call it a national alternative. Time, performance and partnerships will decide the future. The Herculean task for the party to become a principal opposition depends mainly on how far it will be able to provide a relatable and performative political model to the country.
(The writer is a political strategist and founder of the House of Political Empowerment, Research and Innovation Foundation, based in New Delhi. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)