New Delhi: After a humiliating defeat in Municipal Corporation of Delhi polls, the rift in the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) led to a churn last week with talks of "course correction". After a week-long drama, on Tuesday, Kumar Vishwas reaffirmed his faith in the party and said he was not running after any post or power. As a part of his compromise with Arvind Kejriwal, the party expelled Okhla MLA Amanatullah Khan, who had called Vishwas a "BJP stooge".
[blurb]The other interesting development was that Vishwas was handed the reins of the party organisation in Rajasthan, replacing Manish Sisodia.[/blurb]
Vishwas's elevation is significant since Rajasthan Assembly polls are due in the second half of next year. Sources say after being kept out of the campaign in Punjab, Vishwas was keen to lead the charge and prove himself in a poll-bound state. Rajasthan could accord him that opportunity.
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Manish Sisodia, who was the AAP state-in-charge in Rajasthan, had already set in motion the process of organisation building. Vishwas, when he takes charge, will not have to start from scratch.
Ashok Jain, AAP state coordinator, said, "The organisation building work in Rajasthan is happening rapidly. We are not thinking about elections right now. Our first priority is to build the party from the ground and take AAP's message to the people. It is premature to say much at this stage, but we are confident that we will get support. The rest is up to the leadership. There are around 46,000 polling booths in Rajasthan. In over 20,000 of them, we have a fully functional organisational base."
Targeting a triangular contest
Arvind Kejriwal's party may have underperformed in the Punjab Assembly polls, but it was successful in making it a three-cornered fight. Rajasthan has traditionally seen only BJP and Congress as the main parties. The AAP will be hoping to emerge as an alternative. Sisodia, in a press conference earlier this year, had said, "People here are disenchanted with the BJP rule and they are not willing to trust Congress. AAP will provide them an alternative."
[blurb]Challenges for them, however, will be immense. Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje has already kicked off the BJP's campaign. Congress, too, has been waiting in the wings for five years and has deep organisational roots in the state.[/blurb]
An AAP leader, on condition of anonymity, admitted that "work needs to be done". The source said, "You cannot compare Rajasthan to Punjab. After Punjab gave us four seats in the Lok Sabha, we got a natural fillip. In Rajasthan, we don't have that kind of launch pad. A lot more work needs to be done but we are on the right path."
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For Jain, however, Vishwas's entry is a game changer. "When Manish Sisodia came, we were enthused with confidence and worked hard to build the party. Kumar Vishwas's entry will bring a new energy. He is an excellent speaker with a mass appeal."
The Rajasthani connection
Despite rumours that Vishwas has been given charge of Rajasthan just to pacify him, a source close to Kejriwal said the party was serious about the northern state.
"Manish had already said we were going to fight elections in Rajasthan and we are serious about contesting. Elevating Kumar Vishwas to Rajasthan state-in-charge is a smart move. Not only is he a good speaker, he also has a connection with Rajasthan. During his days as a professor of Hindi literature, he taught at a college in Bharatpur. Even his wife is from there. He is no stranger to the state," the source said.
[blurb]But not everyone is not convinced about it. A former AAP leader on condition of anonymity said, Kejriwal has given Vishwas the charge just to placate him. "Rajasthan elections are more than a year away. They gave this post to Vishwas only to pacify him. Kumar does not work well with others because he has a bigger ego than even Arvind. Kumar loves Kumar."[/blurb]
BJP-Congress mock the newbie
Rajasthan hasn't been kind to smaller parties. BJP and Congress have ruled the state alternatively since 1989. And if there is one thing on which the archrivals agree, it's the unlikelihood of AAP finding any ground in the state.
[blurb]Ashok Parnami, Rajasthan BJP president, said, "If the AAP decides to come to Rajasthan, I can promise to you that they will be decimated. The people have seen that the Kejriwal government has not completed any of its promises in the last two years. On the other hand, we have the BJP government which has completed 72% of the promises it had made in the 2013 manifesto."[/blurb]
He added, "The Congress is facing a crisis of credibility and leadership. They have an internal tussle for power between Sachin Pilot, CP Joshi and Ashok Gehlot."
When asked if AAP will not gain from the Congress decline, Parnami said, "AAP won't, we will."
Rajasthan Pradesh Congress Committee (RPCC) vice-president Rajendra Chaudhary said, "There is no way AAP will find a foothold in Rajasthan. The state always chooses between BJP and Congress. Some former Congress and BJP leaders had formed new parties, but they have not been successful. Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje is hugely unpopular in the state. That is why the common people will choose Congress, a party with experience."
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