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AAP in Kerala: Why Joining Hands With Twenty20 May Not Achieve Much

Merely beating around the bush on developmental issues is not enough to change the course of Kerala politics.

Published
Opinion
4 min read
AAP in Kerala: Why Joining Hands With Twenty20 May Not Achieve Much
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Arvind Kejriwal arrived in Kerala and addressed a public meeting near Thrikkakara, which goes to poll on 31 May. The Assembly seat fell vacant after the death of Congress MLA PT Thomas. Though the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and garment major KITEX group-promoted Twenty20 decided to stay out of the polls, the fact that Kejriwal chose the election time to announce the arrival of another political front – Peoples Welfare Alliance – is significant. And his timing seems to have sent shivers down the spines of both the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF). This is evident from the reactions of the leaders of both political formations.

The CPI(M), which until recently was busy accusing the AAP of being an ‘apolitical’ party without any ideology and playing second fiddle to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is now cautious in its reaction. Party state secretariat member (the highest body of the party in the state) M Swaraj, said the Twenty20-AAP alliance has an ideological affinity with the Left and the CPI(M) has been upholding the welfare of the people as mooted by the AAP and Twenty 20. The party also quickly denounced MLA Sreenijan for his Facebook post against KITEX MD Sabu Jacob, who is the leader of the Twenty20.

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Will Kejriwal's Delhi Model Find Resonance?

Congress leaders, on the other hand, exuded confidence that the new front will support them in the by-poll. Both fronts seem to think that at least in Thrikkakkara, the new alliance, though not in the fray, will have a decisive say in the outcome. In the 2021 election, Twenty20’s Terry Thomas polled 13,897 votes, which was 10 per cent of the total votes polled in Thrikkakkara. This vote is significant considering the fact that PT Thomas of the Congress won the election by a margin of 14,329 votes. So, the reason why both the Congress and the CPI (M) are jittery is obvious. Twenty20, at least for the time being, is a determining factor in an election where even 5,000 votes could determine the outcome.

But beyond Thrikkakkara, what is at stake for the AAP’s politics in the state? Will Arvind Kejriwal’s ‘Delhi’s Model’ find resonance within Kerala’s political electorates?

The AAP had taken the 2014 Lok Sabha election in Kerala seriously and fielded many prominent people as candidates. Senior journalist Anita Pratap was its candidate from the Ernakulam constituency, and writer Sara Joseph contested from Thrsissur.

That was the time when a few activists and intellectuals who were disenchanted with the mainstream Left opted for the fledgling party. Though party candidates bagged over 50,000 votes in some constituencies, the overall performance was less than impressive. In the 2019 Lok Sabha and in the 2021 assembly elections, AAP could not make any political ripples in the bipolar Kerala politics.

AAP Does Not Have a Leader to Rally the Middle Class

The reasons are not just organisational, as some observers might suggest. It is a fact that AAP in Kerala does not have a leader around whom the disgruntled middle class, or ‘apolitical’ people, could gather. The issue is political and ideological. Welfarism and the anti-corruption rhetoric are not enough to woo Kerala’s deeply political electorate. Kerala, which historically has had decent public health and primary educational systems, and an entrenched bi-polar political system, is not an easy place that can be conquered by merely flaunting welfare politics, as is being done by AAP and similar organisations.

At the same time, it can be assumed that some urbanised voters are getting disenchanted by the LDF-UDF politics in the state. The AAP so far has not been able to offer any tangible idea for the developmental issues that the state confronts. Merely beating around the bush on issues like corruption and development, which the AAP has been doing, is not enough to change the course of Kerala politics.

After the initial euphoria created around the AAP during the 2014 Lok Sabha election subsided and many prominent persons left, the party chose former Chief Secretary of Tamil Nadu, PC Cyriac, as its convenor. So far, the reorganisation has failed to capture the imagination of the younger ‘non-political’ middle class in the state. By forging an alliance with Twenty20, the AAP is trying to ride piggyback. It is a fact that the Twenty20, as of now, is a decisive factor in a few constituencies in Ernakulam district.

But though they are administering four local bodies in the district, Twenty20 could not win a single assembly seat in the 2021 election. This may indicate that the party is not fit for bigger battles in the state.

Despite the high-decibel campaign the Twenty20 unleashed in Kunnathunadu and Thrikkakkara constituencies against CPM and Congress candidates – P V Sreenijan and PT Thomas – because of their adamant stand against a corporate-sponsored party, both won with considerable margins. This only underlines the fact that electorates, when it comes to bigger battles, are not carried away by the apolitical eloquence of corporate leaders.

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Will AAP Exacerbate the Crisis Further?

After Twenty20, some civil society political groups have emerged in several parts of the state, like V4Kochi. But despite the hullabaloo they created during the election period, none of these outfits could forge a connection with Kerala voters. The Twenty20, the V4 Kochi, and other similar groups, are ideological bedfellows of AAP. None of these parties, including AAP, could engage seriously with any issues that Kerala faces, be it developmental issues or environmental challenges.

There is almost a political stalemate in Kerala. The point is that neither AAP nor Twenty20, nor their cohorts, have addressed these issues. With their professed utilitarian ideology, they may end up exacerbating the crisis in Kerala politics. The LDF and UDF’s approaches to the developmental issues in Kerala have become almost the same. The pragmatic approach that the mainstream Left is practising now has greatly imperilled its ability to comprehensively address issues confronting Kerala. The neoliberal logic has become the mainstay of both fronts, despite the Left’s contrary rhetoric But these are precisely the issues that ‘non-ideological’ parties like AAP never bother to address.

(NK Bhoopesh is an independent journalist. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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