March 14, 2022
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we look at whether Aam Aadmi Party can challenge the Bharatiya Janata Party nationally. We also look at the arrest of five people in Assam with alleged links to a terror outfit affiliated with Al-Qaeda, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Is AAP ready to take on the BJP nationally?
The term “breakout star” is often used in sports and entertainment. In politics, a politician can be branded a breakout star. You see them break onto the scene and continue to climb the ladder to greater heights. In the Indian political arena, there are some attributes of a breakout star that could apply to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
As the results came in for the five states that went to the polls, a few things became clear – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) once again showed its dominance, and the AAP had its say in Punjab. The Congress has continued to underperform as questions once again arise on its future. If there is a void left, can the AAP fill it? Are they now best placed to challenge the BJP? Or do they still have a thing or two to learn before reaching those heights?
Here’s how it played out – the BJP dominated Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. In Goa and Manipur, the BJP didn’t necessarily dominate but were victorious. The AAP had it easy in Punjab. In the lead-up to the elections, there were several high-profile variables – an Omicron wave, farm protests, Congress infighting, discourse on anti-incumbency, etc.
Once the dust settled, it was clear the BJP and AAP were the ones celebrating, and the Congress, once again, had to look in the mirror. Given the rise of the AAP, it’s worth taking a short trip down memory lane to better understand where the party came from and where it goes from here.
Founded in November 2012 by Arvind Kejriwal and his companions, the party’s formation came out of differences between Kejriwal and activist Anna Hazare. The anti-corruption movement had staked its ground in India, and infusion or non-infusion of electoral politics was the breaking point.
The AAP made its electoral debut in the 2013 Delhi Legislative Assembly election. It emerged as the second-largest party behind the BJP. However, neither had a clear majority. Subsequently, the AAP formed the government with support from Congress members of the assembly. Kejriwal became the Chief Minister of Delhi. It was a short-lived victory. 49 days later, the government resigned as it failed to pass the Jan Lokpal Bill.
Cut to the 2015 elections, and the AAP regained its groove. It won 67 of the 70 seats. The Congress was wiped out, and the BJP only got 3 seats. In the 2019 general elections, the party lost all seven parliamentary constituencies to the BJP. In the 2020 Delhi Legislative Assembly election, the AAP won 62 seats. So, it has been a bit of a see-saw for the party’s electoral outings.
All through this, the BJP has gained dominance by consolidating a core Hindu voting bloc, and Congress has waned in its electoral performances. Over the past couple of years, the discussions have started on who can take up the mantle of being the BJP’s chief rival. With the AAP winning Punjab convincingly and its clear aspirations to expand in other states, is this the beginning of a new political powerhouse?
Primed for the challenge
The party’s performance in Punjab shows that its influence isn’t limited to Delhi. From a general standpoint, Kejriwal isn’t afraid to speak on national issues when it comes to taking on the BJP-led union government. The party has aspirations for other states, including Himachal Pradesh. Then there’s Modi’s old stomping ground of Gujarat. Kejriwal and Punjab Chief Minister-designate will participate in a three-day Tiranga Yatra in the state to launch their campaign for the Assembly polls.
As journalist Shekhar Iyer wrote, the AAP’s performance in Punjab shows its welfare politics has caught the voter’s imagination. He promised doles for women, better healthcare, and education. Sure, it’s the standard campaign promise fare, but voters chose the AAP in hopes of better governance in the face of the Shiromani Akali Dal’s and Congress’ inability to be cohesive. This performance in Punjab could result in the likes of Mamata Banerjee, Sharad Pawar, and K. Chandrasekhar Rao – all contenders to the top job – taking notice.
Part of climbing up the national political ladder is striking while the iron is hot. Expanding its ambitions to other states now is opportune since the Congress party is firmly on the back foot. The AAP has the advantage of learning from mistakes made by other parties. But it has also learned from its own. Previously, the party was hesitant to put its faith in local leaders in Punjab. In 2017, it was restricted to 20 MLAs in the 117-state assembly. As senior journalist Rajesh Kumar wrote, this performance could realign things on the national stage and make Kejriwal a prospective national leader.
BJP’s firewall and a long road ahead
It’s good to have ambitions. For the AAP, going to Himachal and Gujarat solely based on its Punjab win could be jumping the shark. Also, the party still hasn’t formally governed Punjab. The elections in those two states aren’t till the end of this year. That’s a long time in politics, and anything can happen. Gujarat has been a BJP bastion since 1995. There’s no way Modi will let the BJP lose his home state without a big fight.
As far as Punjab goes, the party needs to perform there. They will be under the microscope. The test will be if Kejriwal’s and the AAP’s brand of welfare politics is limited to campaigning in poetry and comes in for a rude awakening of governing in prose. The state is under ₹3 lakh crores of public debt. It has a drug problem and high unemployment. The state’s own tax revenue share in total revenue is only 51% between 2015 and 2021, compared to 63% of neighbouring Haryana.
Some of the factors that pundits and commentators talked about, specifically anti-incumbency and the farm protests, didn’t seem to have as big an impact as expected. It shows the BJP’s strength in weathering political storms to emerge with a strong showing. Just take Uttar Pradesh as an example. The BJP has managed to form an emotional bond with the Hindus of the state. Hindu majoritarianism isn’t something that disappears overnight or can be easily countered. It’s a durable political fact and one that the AAP won’t have an easy time overcoming.
What’s your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) AAP can become the principal challenger to the BJP nationally.
b) AAP cannot become the principal challenger to the BJP nationally.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
Big Lies And Deep Lies In Post-Truth India
For the Left:
Why The Gandhis Have No Takers Among Voters
🏴 STATE OF THE STATES
Attracting home buyers (Delhi) – To attract home buyers, the land-owning authority approved amendments to housing regulations. It comes in as several flats built by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) remain unsold in various housing schemes. One of the amendments is to allow public participation even if they or family members don’t own a flat or plot over 67 square metres in Delhi. The DDA will also offer unsold flats in housing schemes on a first-come-first-serve basis. Even central and state government departments will be eligible.
Why it matters: Per DDA’s 2021 Housing scheme, there were more than 22,000 applicants with payments from 12,253 confirmed. The NCR realty market is the second-largest in the country. As of last March, it had 222 million square feet of unsold stock. In November, the DDA’s new housing scheme was approved with around 15,000 flats on offer. At the time, it also approved amendments to mitigate risks of prospective bidders.
Bird census (Tamil Nadu) – The third and final phase of the Tamil Nadu Birds Census 2022 will happen later this month. It will focus on terrestrial birds in protected areas and bird habitats across the state. The Forest Department identified 15 wildlife sanctuaries, 16 bird sanctuaries, and 5 national parks for the survey. During the first phase, almost a million birds of 80 different species were surveyed. The second phase was conducted last month and covered more than 300 wetlands in 25 districts.
Why it matters: This type of synchronized survey is done to get a rough estimate of the population of both migratory and resident waterbirds in the state. It also helps to identify and analyse changing trends in species diversity and environmental factors. The survey has so far shown some good news as some near-threatened species like the Spot-billed Pelican, Eurasian Spoonbill, and Black-headed Ibis were found to be existent in several areas across the state.
Decreasing maternal mortality (Odisha) – There’s some good news for Odisha concerning maternal mortality rates. It has declined to 136 per 1 lakh births. It’s a 14-point decrease per data on Maternal Mortality in India 2017-19, Sample Registration System issued by the registrar general of India. It’s also the fifth-highest decline in the country. The state has implemented community and facility-based interventions under the National Health Mission. It has also initiated initiatives under the Sishu Abong Matru Mrityuhara Purna Nirakarana Abhijan (SAMMPurNa) scheme, launched in 2017.
Why it matters: In July 2020, Odisha was among the country’s six highest-performing states in declining maternal mortality rates. For 2016-2018, it declined to 168 per one lakh births. Even as Odisha fared better among the Empowered Action Group (EAG) states, it was above the national average of 113. Over the years, the state’s performance on delivering health and education services to children and mothers through Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) initiative was among the best in India and got better between 1992 and 2014.
CNG and PNG (Gujarat) – The Gujarat High Court asked the state advocate general Kamal Trivedi to provide details concerning air pollution. In hearing a PIL, the court requested information on daily production, consumption, and utilisation of CNG and PNG in the state. The Bench also noted that the state didn’t outline a future action plan to curb air pollution due to coal and lignite. The Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) said at 27 places in the state, the total consumption of coal is more than 3.3 lakh metric tonnes per day, and for lignite, it’s more than 1.1 lakh metric tonnes.
Why it matters: In October, the GPCB, in an affidavit to the high court, said major cities in the state suffer from severe air pollution. It specified that air quality in Ahmedabad and Surat was worse than the maximum standards. It also said the government will improve the air quality index by 35-50% by 2025-26. A part of this plan is to switch to natural gas and other renewable sources and move away from coal.
Al-Qaeda linked arrests (Assam) – The Assam police arrested five people, including a Bangladeshi national for their alleged links to a terror outfit affiliated with Al-Qaeda. Jihadi militancy has challenged the state security forces following similar arrests. One of them, a Bangladeshi citizen, had illegally entered India and worked as a teacher. He then successfully recruited four others to join the Ansarullah Bangla Team (ABT) to convert Barpeta into a base for Jihadi and unlawful activities.
Why it matters: Last week, Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said several jihadi terror outfits are active in the state. He said the state has formed a special wing to monitor and neutralise any Jihadi terror outfits. Assam will also expand its intelligence-gathering network for the same. Recently, BJP legislator Shiladitya Dev sent a memo to the Centre outlining details on Jihadi activities in the state. He said sleeper cells are active with the involvement of Bangladeshi citizens and groups.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
8.1% – The new Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) interest rate for the current 2021-22 fiscal. It’s the lowest rate on deposits in four decades.