April 14, 2014

On the Road before E Day

Day 13: Why AAP is missing in many States

I have often been asked why the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has not been successful in West Bengal. My argument is AAP has got traction in primarily those areas where the Congress and the BJP are the only contenders and where voters are tired and cynical of both options. Delhi is a very good example. In the capital, and in neighbouring urban areas in Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh – and from what I hear Himachal Pradesh and pockets of Punjab – AAP has got a response due to fatigue with the two national parties.

That aside, in the northern, Hindi-speaking states, AAP has had a language advantage, most of its leadership being conversant in Hindi. It has also found great support from sections of the national media, which has an influence in the national capital regional and its periphery. One consequence of this is the large number of former journalists – three of seven in the Lok Sabha seats of Delhi alone – who have signed up as AAP candidates.

These factors are tested as one moves further from Delhi. In states where regional parties and leaders are satisfying the developmental urges and political sentiments of people, AAP will find it difficult to break in. There is the additional problem of language. Arvind Kejriwal and his lieutenants cannot possibly be evocative communicators in Bengali or Odiya or Telugu.

Never a strong force in Kolkata, AAP has now almost disappeared. A few weeks ago, my old friend Mudar Patherya joined AAP. A cricket writer of exceptional ability, Mudar later became a financial services professional. As a citizen of Kolkata, he is well-liked, has friends in several political parties and does a lot for civic consciousness. I have known him for three decades now, and have long felt he is the sort of person who should be in politics.

I was disappointed when I read in the newspapers that Mudar had become a member of AAP and had agreed to stand from the Kolkata (South) constituency. I didn’t call to congratulate him but neither did I send him a message to rethink. It was his decision and I respected that.

Recently, Mudar announced he was standing down as candidate and leaving AAP. The honeymoon was over. I phoned him and asked him what had happened. He said he was unhappy that there was little programmatic clarity and support from AAP in Delhi. “I was working with eight campaign volunteers,” he told me, “five of whom were from my family. The pressure was beginning to take a toll on my health.”

Gradually it dawned on Mudar that AAP was a non-starter. For his sake, I’m glad he found out sooner rather than later. For Bengal’s sake, I hope he – and others like him – gravitate towards mainstream and not maverick politics.

Derek O’Brien
Member of Parliament
Chief Whip in the Rajya Sabha and National Spokesperson, Trinamool Congress