The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the most successful political unicorn in Indian history, has thrown down the gauntlet to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the upcoming Gujarat elections, challenging the ruling party in its citadel.
While, this is the big political story from India, the AAP election preps reveal a gaping hole at the heart of its project -- the utter lack of a political ideology which would differentiate it from the Prime Minister’s political party.
When you challenge Hindutva in its core laboratory, what is the brand unique selling point (USP) that you offer? The AAP has always acted as if its real political rival is the Congress party. It has hoovered up the Congress vote in Delhi and Punjab -- the two states that it currently runs.
Art of dodge
With the BJP, the Arvind Kejriwal led party has perfected an artful dodge. It sidesteps the BJP on ideology and proffers a Hindutva-lite package. While this worked in Delhi and Punjab with its voter composition, Kejriwal will have to face off with Modi for Gujarat.
The AAP chief is an extremely shrewd politician who does not take up causes which are a vote repellent. Consider the fact that Kejriwal as Delhi Chief Minister kept totally mum when Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) was under siege by the central government. He stayed resolutely mum on the Delhi riots and happily accepted the resignation of a Dalit minister who was under Hindutva fire for attending an event.
The minister Rajendra Pal Gautam was present in a mass event where B R Ambedkar’s 22 oaths were recited. The BJP pounced on AAP calling it “anti Hindu”. Gautam was clearly sacrificed for the Gujarat elections by Kejriwal.
AAP’s vacuous project
The vacuum at the heart of AAP’s project is revealed again and again as it does not want to take on the BJP on the issue of appealing to Hindu voters. AAP says its model for Gujarat is a successful delivery of services such as education and healthcare to voters.
Modi has publicly mocked it as “giving revidis” (freebies) to voters. AAP leaders say its voters are well aware that it is hamstrung on ideology -- pointing out that it has swept Delhi repeatedly by also getting the minority vote.
Yet as the AAP expands and is viscerally attacked by the BJP on corruption, it has to fight back. Currently AAP leader Satyendra Jain is in jail for an alleged case of money laundering and a popular minister in the Delhi government, Manish Sisodia, is under fire for what the BJP calls the liquor scam.
Kejriwal cannot dodge
Kejriwal has done a brilliant job in painting the Congress party as entitled and inefficient but, is finding the BJP a difficult customer. Under direct BJP fire, Kejriwal can’t sidestep Modi as he has done till date. The BJP, on the other hand, is spoiling for a confrontation.
It wants a Modi versus Kejriwal face off in Gujarat. So far Kejriwal has only cried vendetta politics. But, if the AAP start-up has to grow, it has to reckon with the BJP, its brand of Hindutva politics and the party’s biggest icon -- Prime Minister Modi. AAP cannot dodge.