Why AAP is contesting for 2014 Lok Sabha elections ? Why did they not run Delhi, did a good job and then reach elsewhere? Did AAP get too ambitious down the way? Does this mean that they really do not want to govern since there is no possibility of them winning seats in double digits, forget getting close to 50 or more. Are they fighting to spoil the game of a particular party ?
Too often these question have been asked. As an Aam Aadmi movement enthusiast, I share my perspective. AAP’s spokespersons Arvind Kejriwal and Yogendra Yadav have often clarified on why fighting nationally is important. In keeping with the healthy culture of questioning and debate, it is not something which AAP can ignore.
So here is my attempt at taking a stab at it. This is no official version and is rumbling of someone who has developed interest in politics, post AAP.
Core Reason – Be a ‘National Party’
The fundamental reason for fighting general elections is to be a ‘National Party’. Lets double click this and look at the technical angle behind this. What makes you become a ‘Political Party’? . As per ‘Election Commission of India’, there are guidelines which help you to first become a ‘State Political Party’ and then ‘National Political Party’. In both cases, you get to keep your symbol in the state if you are a state-party or across states, if you are a national party. Inn the interest of time, let me list down the qualifying conditions. As per “Elections Commission’, If you are engaged in in a political activity, and:
– if you have 1 person out of every 25 from that state to the ‘Lok Sabha’ then you qualify. Illustration – From Bihar, there are 40 MP seats, so win at least 2 Lok Sabha seats and you are good.
– for state assembly elections, get 1 for every 30. So for ‘Bihar’, there are 243 odd seats, get 9 assembly seats and you are now a ‘State Party’. Got it.
– if you poll 6 % of total votes polled within that state (either towards Lok Sabha Elections or towards state assembly elections)
So if you win enough seats as per above formulae or if you get enough votes then that makes you qualify to be a ‘State Party’.
If you are able to do that in at least 4 states, you become a ‘National Party’. So if AAP gets 6 % of total votes polled in 4 states (say Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and may be UP) you are home.
For serious readers here is the official word on this – http://eci.nic.in/eci_main1/RegisterationPoliticalParties.aspx
But why crave for the status of a ‘National Party’? The logical progressions suggests first becoming a ‘State Party’ and then moving on to be a National level player. While that sounds like a good ‘how to scale the start-up’ strategy, it is something which has never worked in India during last 67 years, ignore the outliers.
To understand this, let us look around and spend some time on the current ‘State Parties’. Here is a list which comes to my mind without doing a lot of research, start from ‘North East’ and then going up towards ‘North’ and finally heading down, covering the central, western, eastern and finally to the great Indian Ocean. It is a long list, but do read it since this would help you to place things in perspective.
1. Assam – Asssom Gana Parishad – remember Prafulla Kumar Mahanta, the youngest guy to become a CM and AGP has roots in activism and all that.
2. W. Bengal – CPI (M) they are every where but W.Bengal is what they are known for. Think of Jyoti Basu.
3. W. Bengal – TDP – Mamta Di of Hyundai Santro fame.
4. Bihar – JD – either as RJD (Lalu), or JDU (Nitish Babu).
5. UP – SP (Mulayam Netaji and now Akhilesh), BSP (Mayawati)
6. Uttrakhand – No state party
7. Delhi – AAP (Kejri in his Blue WagonR)
8. Punjab – (Akalis – in all avatars)
9. Haryana – IN Lok Dal (Ch. Devi Lal) – And I am not counting people like Janhit congress etc
10. J & K – National Conf (Abdullahs. Just for the sake of humour, imagine the senior Abdulla doing rounds in Sringar on his scooter (or was it a bike?) with Shabana on the pillion. What fun!)
11. Rajasthan, Gujrat, MP have no big ‘State Parties’.
12. Odisha – BijuJD (Naveen Suave Patnaik)
13. Andhra – TDP (Chandrababu Naidu) – Lets not worry about Semandhar and YSR Congress and all that as of now.
14. Karnataka – Mostly National if you ignore JD(Secular). (Distraction – You know, sometime I feel bad for VP Singh and other folks who created Janta Dal, it looked like a good party to counter Congress. BJP with its Sanghi baggage was finding difficult to move out of Hindutva and play a bigger national role. So Thakur VP Singh started the anti-corruption thing against the biggest guy in town and did pretty well. Forming a govt. You look at JD today and you see 100 versions of them. I didnt like VPSingh thought because he also made me take out morchas and run from Police batons, all in the name of Anti Mandal Commission. When Rajeev Goswami self-immolated him in 1990, I was in class XII (young and more stupid than what I am, writing this log), breaking window panes of DTC. His single act kind of galvanised the whole movement. Rajeev died a quite death in 2004. RIP young man)
15. Maharashtra – Shiv Sena (All Thackerys), NCP
16. Chhatisgarh – No big state party.
17. Jharkhand – JMM (Shibu Soren)
18. Tamilnadu – DMK and AIDMK (Karuna and Jaya)
19. Kerela – CPI-M (LDF). UDF would have some local players though.
Now, why I am listing all these.? From the earlier logic of ‘do well in Delhi and then head elsewhere’, do you see any of Mamta or Jaya or Nitish or Biju or Maya to ever scale up to the level of fighting and winning nationally? Would Jaya even appeal to people in Punjab for PM position? (I know we had Deve Gowda and that kind of proves the rule that it won’t work). No wonder that all these years the party that has been ruling is INC which is truly a national party (and later leading UPA with anyone and everyone) or BJP (NDA) which is kind of National Party but very little footprint in a many many states. This whole paradigm of doing well doesn’t work because once you get into the nuts-n-bolts of fighting assembly elections and winning and running government and fighting opposition, you are left with no time to build nationally. Most likely, you begin to find friends to kind of partner with and they become a local-hero. Over time, you get so type-casted that is is hard for you to get out of it. Imagine Nitish fighing from Mumbai or Jayalalitha fighting from Lucknow.
So, if you are trapped in the ‘State Party’ (often called ‘Regional Party’) mould, it is almost impossible to get out of it. After few years, people would say that Arvind can only work in a highly urban centre like Delhi, he speaks Hindi, he is not someone whom I would want to see as leading a national party with the goal of forming a national government. And lets remember that in current state of affairs, AAP with its strong anti-corruption stand, is nowhere close to forming any alliance. They know that if Vajpayee could not do it (as part of NDA) and Manmohan could not stop A. Raja , there is no way you can run a anti-corruption thing without doing it completely by yourself. And the only way to achieve that is by becoming National, not in terms of technicalities but in terms of ‘Product Positioning’.
To borrow from my field of work (software) and to quote:
Ries and Trout gave a new twist to the term: “But positioning is not what you do to a product. Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect.” Thus Volvo tells us that it makes “the safest car”; BMW is “the ultimate driving machine”; and Porsche is“the world’s best small sports car.”
AAP badly needed ‘General Election 2014’ to set this positioning correct and that is what exactly they are doing.
But its not yet over, while the strategical reason is in place, there are other operational as well as ‘Scaling Up’ factors and lets looks at them briefly.
Finding the Winn-able Candidates
Post Delhi elections, a horde of professionals, lawyers, activist of national level, people of repute joined AAP. Whether it is journo Ashutosh (candidate from Chandni Chowk, against Kapil Sibal) or banker Meera Sanyal (from Mubmbai) or activist Medha Patekar or CFO Balakrishnan of Infy or much lesser known heroes like Tiliya Devi from Jhanjharpur in Bihar (Do you know she is a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and I know that recently Obama said that everyone gets it these days, he has one as well) or Mrs. Batra or Phoolka or Bhangwant Mann from Sangrur (heard that he and Phoolka are the 2 winnable candidates).
From Vishal Dadlani (Pentagram, no, ok remember that baldie judge guy from Zee SaReGaMa, no, not Himesh, he had a wig but the real flaunty bald one, ok enough) to Raghu Rodeo to rock-n-roll Javed Boogie Woogie Jaffery, AAP has fielded a truly ‘Shiv ki Sena’ (do not confuse it with Shivsena, which is now more like a ShiftSena after MNS Raj Thackery). Now would this popularity convert into wins, no-one knows. You need winnable candidates and in today’s circumstances , it is a a function of reputation and caste and religion and charisma. This mix is what would take you through, if you are weak on a couple of pillars, the others should take you home.
For example, Shatrughan Sinha (yes, BJP trolls I am picking up your guy, go and merry) carries a big charisma. When he says in one of the Patna Sahib campaigns in his signature tone, “…Bihari Mazdooor Kashmir mein DanDanati goliyon ke neechay kaam karne ko taiyaar hain par Bihar mein kaam karne to taiyaar nahin hain..”, the ‘Dandanaaati’ sounds like a real bullet stream. When AB says to Bahuguna (ok, it is from my times, if you are young then just move on) “Meray Angne mein tumhara kya kaam hai’ in Allahabad, there is a roar which one can hear till Sangam. You need to get this mix and if not charisma, then look for caste, if not caste then how about religion and for all of these, the ‘reputation’ of being a local guy, and someone who would be accessible/approachable , of being helpful makes you win an election. A lot of current AAP crop lacks many of these and if not for these elections, there is no good way to know if Javed is a good candidate from Lucknow (he doesn’t need to win, the number of votes he gets would decide whether he was winnable or not) or Raj Mohan Gandhi from Delhi or Shastry (Grandson of LB Shastry) from Allahabad. The real data is what AAP badly needs if they really want to have a majority, whatever time in future.
We have seen Exit-polls being proven wrong, almost every time, and we have seen how market research would have never let Apple make a device called iPhone. If you have the opportunity to get some real data via these ‘General Elections’ then make use of it.
Setting up the infrastructure
So Positioning + Winnablity. Now lets go to back stage. This part is not exposed or covered in popular media but if you do not have a good network of Booth Managers, then you need to be a Rajnikanth to win elections. Amit Shah was given the responsibility to fix the ground-staff-infra for Uttar Pradesh. If Modi is PM probable from BJP then Amit Shah is the best man Modi could have sent to Uttar Pradesh (UP). UP with its 80 seats kind of decides the next PM. As a trivia UP has given 8 Prime Ministers so far. Starting from Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Choudhary Charan Singh, Vishwanath Pratap Singh, Chandra Shekhar and Atal Behari Vajpayee (more of a Gwalior guy though).
How do you set this infrastructure? In s/w parlance, we can assess the total load and buy servers, secure bandwidth, plan for backups, create presentations on how we would handle a million transactions and what not. Guess what, the real infra setup happen when you are live and when a customer is shouting on the other end of phone on his missing shipment. When the press begins to attribute quotes from the like of me as something coming out of AAP then you decided to identify a set of spokesperson, when people ask you for a process of selection, you setup a process, when people want to donate you, you setup a merchant gateway.
For a party which is a result of a activist movement and not a corporate planned event, you discover new things every day and you build and amend, you build and amend and that only happens when you have a real need. Of course, it is messy, error prone and painful but ‘General Elections 2014’ is the catalyst and it would be a big mistake to ignore that catalyst.
And finally, the First Flush needs to happen, soon.
Product Positioning done, National Party image set, winnability of candidates assessed and infra getting in place, so all good. No, just one more thing and that I am calling as ‘First Flush’. When you are setting up a water harvesting setup (hope Shekhar Kapoor reads it somehow), you try to channelize (literally) the rain water to a tank. The rule is that for the first rain, you do not save the water, you let it go to gutter. The first flush is always for cleaning, for getting the dirt out, for cleaning the slate. Today, a LOT of AAP (remember your Facebook wall where a lot of people commonly say , Oh I was a big supporter of AK and AAP but not after Delhi) members, office bearers, leaders are there because of the huge appeal of the change it brings (or promises to bring). There would be many more Binnys and there would be countless nameless workers who are working on the ground with the hope that magic would happen, soon. A lot of them would move on to different things in life after the elections as part of first flush. When AAP wins a insignificant number of seats and when AAP is victimised and tortured by the likes of big industries and when AAP is no more a glamour, the big first flush would happen. And AAP really needs that.
It is a long drawn fight, a fight for change, a fight for better India and participating nationally is the first big step.