By Saarthak Anand
The political field in the state of Karnataka welcomed its latest entrant on 18 January as the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) announced its decision to contest the upcoming Assembly elections in the state. AAP, which enjoys a brute majority in the Delhi Assembly, is yet to take a call on the number of seats that it would contest. Elections to the state’s 224 seats are expected to be held during the April-May period.
The AAP would aim to project itself as a viable alternative to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress, which currently dominate the political arena in the state. Besides the two national parties, the Janata Dal (Secular) of former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda is also a significant player. “People are tired of choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea. We come with the promise of better governance,” said Pankaj Gupta, AAP general secretary in-charge of Karnataka, in Bengaluru on 18 January.
A cautious move
The decision to contest has come after a long process of deliberation, taking into account the ground realities in Karnataka. The party had conducted sample surveys in various constituencies, covering such regions as the coastal belt, Mumbai-Karnataka, Hyderabad-Karnataka, and southern Karnataka. “A recent privately commissioned survey has shown that up to 80% of the people are looking for a credible alternative. This is the reason we have chosen to contest the election-to offer such an alternative and to address the problems of the common man,” read a party statement. On 21 December, party observer for Karnataka Sanjay Singh had visited Bengaluru to examine the possibility of fielding candidates for the polls. He had met with workers and leaders, and it was following this that AAP decided to throw its hat in the ring. “This is the right time for our party to contest the forthcoming assembly polls as our survey shows that people of Karnataka are looking for a credible alternative. We have decided to contest the polls but on how many seats is yet to be decided,” Gupta added in Bengaluru.
At present, the state is ruled by Congress, which had swept the 2012 elections. The upcoming polls are expected to be quite tough for both the BJP and Congress; recent opinion polls have predicted a tight race between the two. Should such a scenario eventually unfold, the JD(S) and other smaller parties – AAP included – might turn out to be kingmakers. Asaduddin Owaisi’s All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen is also in the fray this time.
Dearth of popular leaders
Besides its weak grassroots network in Karnataka, a significant concern for the AAP is the lack of a popular face. Although the party has traditionally welcomed outsiders into its fold, it is highly unlikely that it would manage to attract a strong leader with a state-wide acceptance in the short while that remains before the polls. “Ours is a policy-driven party and not a personality-driven party. We will field winnable candidates. You will see the changes our manifesto has to offer. The support we have been receiving from the people is great,” said Prithvi Reddy, the party’s Karnataka convenor.
A stepping stone to the future
The AAP’s decision to contest in Karnataka comes on the heels of disappointing performances in Punjab, Goa, Gujarat, as well as the Delhi municipal polls. The upcoming election is likely to serve more as a platform for the party to establish a significant presence in the state. With just a few months to go for the elections, not even the most optimist supporter of the party would reasonably expect it to form the state’s next government. AAP had drawn a blank in Karnataka in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. This time, however, it has a three-year governance experience in Delhi to present to the public. As Reddy said, “In 2014, we were selling a concept. Today we are selling a proof of the concept.” The impact this has on the party’s prospects in Karnataka, however, remains to be seen.
Featured Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
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