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Why AAP leadership has given up on Himachal polls

AAP roadshow in Solan, Himachal Pradesh.

Shimla: Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) convenor Arvind Kejriwal had deliberately launched his first political roadshow from Mandi, the home district of Himachal Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur in April 2022, as part of an ambitious attempt to capture the political space in the hill state.

“You have given 30 years to Congress and 17 years to the BJP. They looted Himachal Pradesh successively. We are honest people. Just give us a chance, if we fail to fulfil our promises, we will not ask for votes again after five years,” he had thundered.

Kejriwal was also accompanied by Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, apparently to showcase how AAP had registered a remarkable win in Punjab wiping out the Congress, Shiromani Akali Dal and also the BJP.

But as the Himachal poll campaign enters the last lap, the AAP bubble has burst. The party’s presence has been reduced to a mere symbolic one and is not being considered as a serious contender in the Himachal polls.

Gaurav Sharma, AAP spokesman, who had recently resigned and returned back to the BJP says the focus of the party has shifted to Gujarat, where Kejriwal hopes to give the BJP a tough fight. Most of the leaders from Himachal Pradesh who had joined the party either have left or given up hope.

AAP’s main target in Himachal Pradesh was the BJP. The party managers thought its presence in Himachal Pradesh will damage the BJP.

“However, after Kejriwal got a party brief that the electoral battle will be between the ruling BJP and the Congress, he cut down spending and recalled party teams. The teams are now camping in different towns of Gujarat” said Shashi Kant, a senior journalist.

The focus of Kejriwal and his party leadership is more on Gujarat—a state with 182 seats and going to the polls on December 1 and 5, 2022. The party is hoping to displace the Congress as the main opposition party in Gujarat.

With the poll contest in Himachal Pradesh remaining confined to the ruling BJP and the Congress the AAP leadership has realised that the party does not stand a chance and have no option but to leave it to their contesting candidates to “manage” their way.

AAP state president Surjit Thakur said, “ It’s true that AAP has put its energy  in Gujarat. The state with a higher number of seats—almost three times that of Himachal Pradesh, required more manpower and wherewithal. It’s wrong to say the AAP has shut down its shop in Himachal for now.”

He informed that the party has 67 candidates contesting the polls. One woman, who was contesting from Drang in Mandi has withdrawn due to pressures from the ruling BJP.

“We have completed a door-to-door campaign. Distributed 11 guarantees to the voters. Our star campaigners are touring the state. Kejriwal ji held a road rally in Solan last week, Munish Sisodia and Bhagwant Mann will be doing their poll rallies in the next three days” he explains.

The 11 guarantees of the APP for the elections include mostly freebies like free power, unemployment allowance of Rs 3000 pm  for youths, six lakh jobs, free healthcare, and a monthly cash allowance for all women above 18 years.  Besides the party announced concessions to the farmers, traders and government employees.

What also affected the AAP spirits was the arrest of Satyendra Jain by the ED on a money laundering charge. He was party incharge in the state and had been working on the ground to build up an organisational structure in the state for the November 12 poll.

Earlier, AAP president Anoop Kesari quit the party and joined the BJP. More office bearers also quit the party.

Surjit Thakur blames the BJP and Congress for spreading rumours about AAP to see that its cadres get demoralised and eventually give up their hopes to work in the party.

When asked about AAP’s prospects in the poll, Thakur said the party is getting a lot of support. The results will surprise both Congress and the BJP. He doesn’t agree with BJP claims on “Riwaaz Badlega”.

Asked why the party has not named him Chief Ministerial face as had been done in the case of Gujarat, Surjit Thakur maintained that maybe the party did not think of its need.  Once elections are over , the MLAs will decide their leader.

BJP party spokesman Karan Nanda said that the party does not consider AAP as a serious player. “The presence of AAP, if they were serious about contesting the poll, could have benefitted the BJP as the Congress would have lost its vote share.

One notable candidate in the fray on an AAP ticket is former BJP MP Dr Rajan Sushant –who had quit the BJP several times. He is contesting from Fatehpur –his favourite seat. Sushant had been a firebrand leader from Kangra district. He contested from the Fatehpur seat in the 2021 bypoll as an Independent but lost to Bhawani Singh Pathania of the Congress.