<b>Fifth Columnist :</b> Advantage Kejriwal
Politics could change drastically if the AAP does well in Punjab and Goa elections
In an assembly election season, when speculation and the ongoing family drama in UP has dominated the political discourse and the headlines, some goings on in smaller Punjab, may well hold the key to the larger national picture.
In a state, which traditionally elects either the Congress or the Akali-BJP combine and which like all small states have a two-party system, there is someone out to spoil this cosy little arrangement – the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
In the absence of AAP, it could have been very safe to assume that the Congress would have been voted in comprehensively, not the least because the Akali Dal-BJP combine has been in power for two terms and are battling a deadly anti-incumbency.
By any neutral yardstick, Arvind Kejriwal is drawing, by far, the largest crowds in the state, way ahead of the Badals and even the Congress, which has the Maharaja of Patiala Amarinder Singh at its helm.
The canny Kejriwal has been concentrating on Punjab for some time now – even at the expense of ignoring Delhi, where he is the chief minister. He has been quick to spot the opportunity in Punjab where four members of the AAP won Lok Sabha seats in 2014.
So while UP would continue to be in focus for its larger national repercussions, the sting in the tail could well come from Punjab. If the AAP does well there, in effect, it would be announcing the arrival of Kejriwal as the most potent challenger to Narendra Modi in national politics.
It would also mean that Kejriwal’s strategy to concentrate on smaller states is paying off. The AAP boss has deliberately stayed away from the bigger states like UP where strongly-entrenched regional parties hold sway.
Instead, he has decided to take on the national parties, safe in the knowledge that the Congress is weakening by the day and the BJP would well be worth the challenge. The opposition space is vacant with regional parties tied down to their states and the Congress loosening its grip at the Centre. Someone has to fill in this vacancy and Kejriwal is fancying his chances, despite a not-too-brilliant record in Delhi as chief minister, a period marred by frequent run-ins with the central government and its agencies.
Kejriwal is keen to get into a situation where he can emerge as a consensus candidate where other regional parties can coalesce around him, in the event of a hung Lok Sabha polls. His equation with powerful regional satraps like Mamata Banerjee, Nitish Kumar and some others are well known and in a situation where a non-BJP alliance government is to be put into place at the Centre, the former income tax officer could well fancy his chances.
In terms of tactics, Kejriwal has decided to take on the most powerful man in Indian politics, Modi. His daily harangue against the prime minister ensures that he is in the news on a regular basis – in fact as regular as Modi.
Of course, if in the bargain AAP also scores in the Goa assembly elections, which goes to polls simultaneously and is another small state where it is pitted against the BJP and Congress, it would be the perfect icing on the cake.

While poll pundits and sage analysts have tended to ignore the prospects of AAP, it is largely fashioned by the fact that its ground support may often not be visible. It was certainly not visible in Delhi when the AAP managed to decisively checkmate a rampaging BJP and Modi in February 2015, an election where the AAP won all but three of the 70 assembly seats. The vast cadre of unemployed and hundreds of millions of others who have no stake in the system form the backbone of this party. They are not willing to listen to any arguments about the diminutive Kejriwal’s non-performance in Delhi, saying instead that it is the central government, which is not letting the AAP state government to function.
The presence of a political party in Delhi gives it some natural advantages that are not likely to accrue to parties, which are some distance away from the capital. The AAP, for example, hogs more headlines in the daily media than let’s say Odisha’s all-powerful Naveen Patnaik, who is in his record fourth term as chief minister since May 2014. A cursory look at headlines and the ongoing political discourse would confirm this point.
Delhi’s reputation as India’s political hub (in the same way as Mumbai is the country’s economic hub) ensures that parties active in the national capital have more chances of gaining instant recognition. A Delhi-based regional party (admittedly there have not been too many since 1947) is more likely to connect with the rest of the country than one who may be powerful in the state, but has no real link with the national capital. It is also triggered by the fact that Delhi’s political character ensures all states and castes are represented in the national capital. So the impact becomes truly national.
It would also be instructive to remember that the BJP’s precursor Bhartiya Jana Sangh (BJS) won its first electoral seats way back in the late 1960s, when the Congress held complete sway over the country. It has not looked back since then.
ranjitbhushan@mydigitalfc.com
Columnist: 
Ranjit Bhushan
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