2017 is poised to be one of the most crucial years for Aam Aadmi Party as it is trying to shed the “regional party” tag by eyeing three major poll-bound states of Punjab, Goa and Gujarat and “emerge as an alternative” to both Congress and BJP.
Last year was marked by the party’s heightened bickering with BJP as Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal raised questions about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s academic qualifications, levelled serious corruption charges against him and mounted a spirited attack on his government over demonetization.
Talking about AAP’s priority this year, senior leader and Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia said the main focus will be to wrest power in the three crucial states going to polls next year and consolidate the party’s position nationally.
“AAP’s vision for 2017 is bagging Goa, Punjab and Gujarat. This year, big elections will be held. We are fully confident of forming governments in Punjab and Goa and thereafter we will make preparations for Gujarat Assembly polls,” Sisodia said.
Kejriwal has been making frequent trips to Punjab and Goa over the past few months and has also addressed public meetings in Prime Minister Modi’s home state of Gujarat.
However, the party is not contesting in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, which are also going to polls along with Punjab and Goa.
“There is Himachal (Pradesh) as well. AAP will focus on all states where polls will be held. Plus, the demonetisation crisis is not going to end. We are going to make it a major issue this year,” Sanjay Singh, party Political Affairs Committee (PAC) member and in-charge of Punjab, said.
In 2016, the party’s performance in the MCD bypolls came as a setback as it managed to bag only five seats out of 13, even as it aspires to replicate its success of Assembly polls in the full-fledged civic elections scheduled this year.
In the civic polls, AAP will contest against BJP, which has been controlling the MCDs for over nine years, Congress and the nascent Swaraj India, a party led by former AAP leader Yogendra Yadav.
However, as sword hangs over the heads of its legislators with two separate Office of Profit petitions seeking disqualification of 21 and 27 AAP MLAs, 2017 could be slightly rough for the party.
Disqualification in any of these petitions will mean bypolls. This is, however, unlikely to have any impact on the stability of Kejriwal government.
As far as confrontation with the Centre was concerned, 2016 was no different for the AAP in comparison to the previous year. Aware of how critical Dalits votes are to its overall expansion strategy, the party stridently raised the issues of suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula at the Hyderabad Central University (HCU) and flogging of Dalits in Gujarat.
Kejriwal visited the two states, attacking BJP and Prime Minister Modi over the issue. He also offered a job to Vemula’s brother, which he declined.
The issue of arrest of JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar was aggressively highlighted by the party which came out all guns blazing and accusing the BJP-led dispensation at the Centre of harassing the students community across the country.
While the Delhi government formed a probe panel to investigate the issue, the party kept on with its persistent attacks on the prime minister and Delhi Police.
The AAP is known to have an uneasy relationship with Delhi Police. During the year, the law enforcing agency arrested nine of its legislators over different charges, with some like Okhla MLA Amanatullah Khan getting arraigned even twice. The party also contemplated approaching the judiciary over “victimisation” of its legislators.
Suspension of its Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann for the nearly two sessions for video graphing security complex of the AAP also added to the rancour.
Following the high court’s order, which stamped Lt Governor Najeeb Jung’s supremacy as the administrative head, the party was persistent with its attacks on him as well the BJP, extending the much needed political support.
The party also witnessed its tally of rebel MLAs increasing. Its Bijwasan AAP MLA Devinder Sehrawat levelled serious allegations over the party affairs in Punjab, targeting the top brass. He became third AAP MLA after Pankaj Puhskar and sacked minister Asim Ahmed Khan to rebel against Kejriwal.
2016 also saw the AAP going hammer and tongs over the Delhi District Cricket Administration (DDCA), alleging financial irregularities by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, and arrest of Kejrwial’s principal secretary Rajendra Kumar.
The year also saw Kejriwal tightening his grip over the party, as he was again re-elected as AAP’s National Convenor.
He inducted his loyalists like Raghav Chadha, Atishi Marlena, in the newly-constituted Political Affairs Committee (PAC), party’s apex decision making. The National Executive, second most powerful body in the party, was revamped by inducting leaders from poll-bound states.