Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has decided not to campaign in Gujarat during the run-up to the Assembly elections. However, the Aam Aadmi Party will be fielding candidates in select constituencies in the state that has witnessed Saffron domination over the past two decades. Likewise, the AAP will virtually keep away from the contest in Himachal Pradesh where the Bharatiya Janata Party will be seeking to wrest power from the Congress in a straight fight.

In what is being seen as a marked shift from its earlier tactics, the AAP has devised a strategy which is essentially aimed at “weakening the BJP in various states prior to the final showdown in the 2019 Parliamentary elections”. In Gujarat, for instance, according to the AAP’s estimation, the Patel and Patidar vote, which has been the BJP’s backbone, do not appear to be favourably inclined towards the “saffron party”. However, it is a well known fact that the Patels have never backed the Congress except for a brief period when Chimanbhai Patel was the Chief Minister. Therefore, the AAP would field candidates in Patel dominated constituencies so as to ensure that they have an option other than the BJP.

A senior AAP functionary stated that his party did not have full-fledged machinery nor the finances to take on both the BJP and the Congress in Gujarat. In addition, many top leaders believe that a multi-cornered confrontation in the state would only assist the BJP as it would divide the anti-BJP vote. It is due to these inherent restraints that the party would be contesting in select constituencies where it has a chance of winning and, thus, allowing the Congress to confront the BJP in the rest.

In the changed circumstances, the AAP leadership’s view was that the BJP was a bigger enemy than the Congress. The BJP had let down the people, who with huge expectations had brought it to power. It is in this context that the AAP was willing to work in tandem even with the Congress and other opposition parties so as to achieve its objective of diminishing the BJP’s influence in states where it is considered strong. Simultaneously, the AAP wants to keep its campaign in Gujarat at a low-key scale and Kejriwal’s resolution not to campaign in the important state which thrice elected Narendra Modi as its Chief Minister was seen as a step in this direction. “If Kejriwal goes to Gujarat, the AAP’s participation assumes a shrill pitch,” elucidated a senior leader. In other words, at this juncture, the party does not want Kejriwal to go to battle.

According to sources close to the Delhi Chief Minister, the AAP would be glad to work with the Congress in other states including Delhi. The party was not averse to broadening its base by inviting Congress activists and leaders with a clean image to move to AAP. “There is nothing personal against the Congress or any of the Congress leaders. We opposed them because of their corruption and policies. But the need of the hour is to weaken the BJP, and for that we would be comfortable in taking the help of opposition parties including the Congress,” sources said. However, the catch here is that if Congress leaders commence gravitating towards Kejriwal, the AAP would both concurrently and silently weaken the Congress as well.

It is evident that the turnaround in the AAP’s thinking is the consequence of introspection by its senior leadership following the party’s debacle in Punjab. At one stage, AAP was considered to be the party which was all set to oust the Akali-BJP government while simultaneously decimating the Congress. If this did not actualise, it was because the party’s leadership faltered both in strategy and approach. Its decision not to project a Jat Sikh as its face in Punjab proved counter-productive as its opponents convinced the electorate that Kejriwal, who originally hails from Haryana, was seeking to become the Chief Minister of Punjab.

In Gujarat, for instance, the party is silently wooing the Patels and is in constant touch with its top leaders. Attempts to make back channel communication with Hardik Patel, who has been at the forefront of the Patidar agitation, have been activated. The leadership is keen that the party should use the present state polls to ascertain the mood and assess its own strength as well as weaknesses. One section is also in contact with Dalits, Muslims and Tribals. The overall understanding that prevails amongst top leaders is that the Congress alone was, at this point, capable of stopping the BJP whose administration has left much to be desired, thus making people search for an alternate arrangement. At the same time, the AAP is also exploring its chances in Karnataka where it has a strong unit, and hopes that if it is able to make corruption the central issue, it would succeed in challenging the supremacy of dominant parties there. A segment within the AAP also wants the party to participate in the Assembly polls in Himachal Pradesh by contesting from the urban areas of the state capital Shimla, which in the past has supported a Left candidate as opposed to the Congress and the BJP.

In a nutshell, the AAP is adopting a chastened and well-calibrated approach where it is shifting its focus from being viewed as an out and out anti-Congress party, to being an out and out anti-BJP outfit. In the same sweep, by the partial participation in state elections, the AAP is ensuring that no other leader raises his head, from within its own ranks, to pose a challenge to its current leadership. The state polls would determine how it formulates and drafts its final political doctrine to combat the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

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