AAP: Poltical startup with national ambition, a SWOT analysis

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), it was started as a political ‘start-up’ based on the idea of the Anti-Corruption movement in 2012. In 10 odd years, the party under the leadership of Arvind Kejriwal, won successive terms in the national capital, achieved the rare feat of having government in two states and got the status of a National Party. Although, when compared to other parties, AAP does not have that big a base pan-India. But, in ambition and energy, this party is second to none. However, the past few weeks for the party have been challenging. Also, it has given a good opportunity to make a detailed look at the strength and weaknesses of the party.

A Brief Look at AAP’s History

The foundation of the Aam Aadmi Party was laid during the Anti-Corruption movement, which also paved the way for Congress’ downfall. The movement had names from all fields. From Anna Hazare to Kiran Bedi to Kumar Vishwas to Baba Ramdev to…..Arvind Kejriwal. An IIT graduate and a civil servant (both exams cracked at first attempt) who was already working against Corruption through his NGO ‘PARIVARTAN‘, and was already a Ramon Magsaysay award winner. He saw the perfect opportunity and decided to use the ‘momentum’ to electoral success. Surprising many, he did eventually bring the turnaround, by uprooting 15-year Congress rule in Delhi and defeating the incumbent CM and seasoned leader Sheila Dixit.

Although he delivered on the promises of quality education, health and free electricity. With time, Kejriwal understood that doing ‘idealistic politics’ is easier said than done. Now, huge spending on ads, which he used to object to earlier, AAP itself started doing. Tickets to people with a criminal record, and receiving political funding, also saw AAP slowly delving onto the same path as others. As a reason, many leaders like Yogendra Yadav, and Prashant Bhushan started exiting the party. Anna Hazare was not happy ever since the party was formed. Now, whether Kejriwal was “morally right” or not about the tweaks he made in his politics, that’s for you all to decide, but I think Kejriwal himself might wonder about this question one day.

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Arvind Kejriwal (Photo: Deccan Herald)

Strength: Middle-Class vote base

First of all, we would be looking at the ‘strength’ or the ‘qualities’ which make AAP a serious contender for being a national option. If you look at any political party in the country, it is focused on one particular linguistic (DMK, TMC, BRS), religious (Shiv Sena) or cultural ideology (parties in NE). But, that is not the case with AAP. Although the party is primarily Delhi-based, Delhi happens to be a cosmopolitan region, which doesn’t restrict its scope. The same goes for the leader. Arvind Kejriwal is the only non-BJP and non-Congress leader who can “fluently” ask for pan-India votes. Here, Kejriwal also deserved credit. The reason is, although, he did his study, and even civil services in English, Kejriwal is smart enough to make his politics completely Hindi-based to take his appeal to the pan-India level.

AAP knows the art of ‘marketing’ and does so with a bulk of energy. One can only make other states at least “think” of themselves if it has something credible to show up. And, AAP has very well been able to project its so-called “Delhi Model”. AAP has got massive energy, it doesn’t shy away from spending effort and money on campaigning. AAP also knows how to use BJP’s own tools against BJP. For fighting the juggernaut BJP, you need to choose the issues very cleverly, and AAP has been quite smart at that by always projecting itself as “nationalist” and “pro-poor”.

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Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal in a tense still (Photo: dailyO)

Weakness: Confusing and Reluctant Stands

Well, once the goody-goody talks are done, let’s look at the serious weaknesses, or rather constraints of this party. Firstly, the thing I called its biggest strength, is also its biggest weakness. “No Ideology”. The party has a serious reluctance in taking a stand on issues. AAP wants to keep the discussions around education and health only so that it benefits them. But, in a country like India, the discourse cannot always remain centred around education and health. In a sensitive country like ours, there are many forces which will bring up sensitive, religious and controversial issues (you know who the forces are). But, even beyond that, till you are a regional force, your whole ideology can revolve around the words like ‘pro-poor’ and ‘corruption-free’, but once you want to be looked at as a national option, people must be knowing about your take on foreign policies, economy, and even certain sensitive issues.

You can’t call yourself a “progressive” party focusing on human capital on one hand, and then on other hand talk about a ridiculous idea of bringing the Laxmi-Ganesh picture on currency notes. You can’t be campaigning in Gujarat, and thinking that you will ‘refuse’ to utter a word on the shameful release of Bilkis Bano’s rape convicts and lynching of Muslim men during the Garba ceremony, and also get away with it. The other weakness of this party is the reluctance of Mr Kejriwal to decentralise power. Because of this, the party’s core base has not expanded much. Except for a few on top, there are not many big leaders with ‘experience’. Although there are some really charismatic leaders like Atishi and Raghav Chaddha, the party has serious work to do in expanding its base.


Well, if you talk about ‘Opportunities’, there is a whole ‘aasman’ (country) in front of it. It has the energy and ambition required to do the job, all it needs is some more meticulous planning and perseverance to stand all the attacks by the ruling regime.

However, on the ‘Threats’ front, the biggest threat that I personally fear is that AAP may end up becoming the ‘worst’ of the very two parties, it started to fight against…the BJP and the Congress. BJP’s autocratic ruling style and Congress’ family politics. But, I genuinely hope that won’t be the case


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Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann after Punjab election results (Photo: NDTV)

Start of a History in PUNJAB

Punjab, a state that was primarily being ruled by two parties; Akali Dal and Congress. At one time, Punjab was one of the top-performing states in the country, but over the years the performance of the state dipped very much. Not just it is no longer in the top 10 states in the country, but the financial burden on the state too has risen to worrisome levels. Clearly, both Akali Dal (in coalition with BJP) and Congress were not delivering as per the expectations. As a result, the public too started looking for a political alternative.

At such a time, an alternative named ‘AAP’ came to the fore offering the ‘Delhi Model’. The promises of good schools, hospitals and a corruption-free government, were just what the Punjab people were looking for. In addition to that, the schemes of free electricity and Rs 1000 to per adult woman further bolstered AAP.’s chances. In 2017 too, AAP had performed well, but not declaring a  CM face hurt its chances. This time, AAP didn’t took any chance, and declared comedian-turned-singer and two-time MP from Sangrur, Bhagwant Mann as the CM face.

There were other factors too that ‘helped’ AAP’s chances. Firstly, the resentment among the Punjab public against the BJP after the Farm Laws made sure that AAP had only to fight Congress and Akali Dal (and not BJP much). Secondly, the streak of political disasters by Congress started with Captain Amarinder Singh’s removal to Charanjeet Singh Channi’s appointment. As a result, AAP registered a historical victory by winning 92 of the 117 seats. The magnitude of the victory can be understood by the fact that big leaders like Pratap Singh Badal, Sukhbir Singh Badal, Navjot Sidhu, and Captain Amarinder, no one was able to stand against AAP’s hurricane. The mandate was clear, and the public wanted an AAP government and a possible ‘Delhi Model’ in the state.

Now, AAP has become the only non-BJP and non-Congress party in the country which has governments in more than one state. But, is it the end of the achievement? NO…it is just the start. Now, the onus lies on AAP, to go past the Delhi model and to make a ‘Punjab Model’ indeed. If the party is able to transform a state with such deep-rooted structural problems, high crime rates, and poor financial conditions, then the credibility of AAP as a national option will be bolstered to the next level. The recent episodes of ‘Amritpaal’ and ‘Simranjeet’ are examples that it is not going to be an easy task. Also, the AAP will have to shed the image of being “remote-controlled from Delhi” as is constantly alleged by the Opposition there. Overall, as I said, history was made in Punjab, but it’s just the start, and where the party’s expansion will reach in long term will very much depend on its performance in Punjab only.

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AAP National Convenor Arvind Kejriwal during election campaigning in Gujarat (Photo: Hindustan Times)

The Bitter-Sweet Result in GUJARAT

After the massive win in Gujarat, AAP and Arvind Kejriwal were geared up for making a huge mark on the home turf of the MODI juggernaut…Gujarat. Now, by no means was it going to be easy for a new party with almost no base in the state. But, Kejriwal has got tremendous energy (just like BJP). He led the party’s campaign in the state and shook the political scenario in the state with his powerful campaigning. The BJP which was ruling the state for 27- long years too did come under pressure (might have a little but it did). Soon, ‘schools’ and ‘hospitals’ entered BJP’s social media and campaigns. Also, the political attacks and raids against AAP reached their peak during this time. Also, the MCD polls too were scheduled just close to the Gujarat polls to make it difficult for Kejriwal to campaign at both places.

Ultimately, AAP did open its account in the state but was able to win only five seats. Although that was a good performance for such a new party, it was a bit below what was expected from AAP after spending so much money and effort on such an intense campaign. However, the thing that might and will help AAP, in the long run, is the fact that it managed to come second on more than 40 seats. Also, getting a vote share of close to 15 per cent is a very positive sign. Plus, it was indeed able to get a good chunk of votes in the tribal area.

Mr Kejriwal has to understand one thing very clearly, these petty things will anyways not help him win over the ‘hardcore’ BJP voters or those who vote solely based on the ‘Hindutva’ factor. After all, when they (voters) have a true Hindutva party (BJP), why would they even think of a mini or semi-Hindutva party. Also taking a stand against the release of the Rapists of Bilkis Bano, wouldn’t have hurt its base. The reason is, those who are supporting rape and lynchings, are anyways so mentally rotten, that one can’t expect them to change their voting preferences. For AAP, the best bet will always be staying as Neutral as possible, at the same time, keeping in mind that being neutral doesn’t necessarily mean remaining silent.

Coming back to politics, it would have been better if its two big names Isudhan Gadhvi and Gopal Italia had become MLAs and entered the Assemblies, but they can still be the most visible (and audible) voice of the Opposition in the state. Congress, on the other hand, displayed a peculiar piece of campaigning, giving the message as if they are not even fighting. Also, there was not much difference left between AAP (5) and Congress (16), as the former’s entry heavily dented and ate the latter’s base in the state. Now, if AAP is able to ‘persuade’ the public that it is more likely to stand a chance against BJP. So now, AAP has two main things to do in the state. The next big thing AAP has to do is to focus towards building a strong cadre and voter base in the state. The issues raised by AAP definitely gained public traction, and further capitalisation may end up making the 2027 Assembly elections very interesting, and AAP is known for contesting ‘interesting’ battles.

The MCD Elections

The MCD was initially scheduled to happen around April. As I mentioned above, they were rescheduled just adjacent to the Gujarat polls. Now, although there isn’t any official confirmation on it, you don’t need to be a genius to understand the purpose of this “rescheduling”.Notably, if teh MCD polls would have taken place in April (as originally planned), AAP was expected to win around 200 out of 250 seats. Also, despite being in power for 15 long years, BJP felt the need for the unification of MCD (there were 3 MCDs earlier), just when the polls were to take place. Eventually, AAP di won the polls but not by a huge margin (134 out of 250 seats with BJP winning 104).

Now, there were several factors that pulled down AAP’s victory margin, but this “Cherry Mandering” was definitely one of them. But, the drama didn’t stop just there. Even for simply electing the Mayor, the two parties BJP and AAP fought like animals and created repeated ruckus inside the house.  Also, the Delhi LG will go down as perhaps the most “unconstitutional” person to have ever held the post. He was the one who repeatedly broke the rule and allowed nominated members to vote. Finally, the mayor was elected after Supreme Court intervention. Although, both AAP and BJP were guilty, it is no Rocket Science, which party would have wanted the polls to occur and which party would have wanted to stall it.

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Shelly Oberoi, the DU professor who became Delhi Mayor (Photo: The Indian Express)

AAP, Politics and Future

The recently held MCD polls did present certain lessons that AAP should look at carefully. Firstly, AAP is no doubt the biggest party in Delhi with its core voter base firmly in place. But at the same time, the reduction in AAP’s vote share showed that a huge chunk of Muslim votes shifted to Congress. This is a clear signal to the AAP, that the appeasement politics, and taking an ‘almost BJP’ stand would cause more loss than gains (if any). Also, it must keep in mind that although it has national ambitions, it can NEVER take its starting base for granted. The next focus should be not just to keep its Delhi ‘fort’ solid, but to revive the lost ‘Muslim’ votes too by taking them into confidence. Also, the time is ripe to take its focus on winning some Lok Sabha seats. The recent arrest of Manish Sisodia (Kejriwal’s most trusted aide) shows that AAP needs to have more big leaders in the party for expanding at the scale it wants to. However, I wouldn’t comment on the Excise Policy case much, because the case is under investigation and I am no authority to give my ‘take’ on it.

Coming onto AAP’s ‘national scope’. As I said above, there are several reasons why I believe AAP can very well be a huge pan-India party. Also, as Congress continues to weaken (though it has a great chance of winning several upcoming Assembly polls), there is a political vacuum in the national arena. AAP must be hopeful that after there is a generational shift in BJP, the vacuum at the national level further opens up. As of now, AAP is playing a ‘Test Match’ with a complete focus on the 2029 Lok Sabha elections. In my opinion, Haryana and Goa are the states, AAP should put its next focus on before turning to Gujarat again. All in all, I would just say that AAP is a ‘phenomenon’, a political start-up that took Indian politics by storm and still showcases immense scope. Now, whether it is able to realise its full potential and achieve want it aspires, will depend on how meticulously and smartly AAP under Arvind Kejriwal takes on politics at the national level. Anyways, interesting times are definitely ahead for political observers.

“Education cannot be a matter of charity. Education has to be a matter of right”- Arvind Kejriwal


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