Uttar Pradesh is too big a state for AAP to make a difference in a short time

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has announced that it will contest the Uttar Pradesh elections in 2022.

AAP is the principal opposition party in the Punjab assembly and is currently in its second term in Delhi. However, its foray into Haryana and Goa turned out to be a damp squib.

The announcement to contest in UP does not come as a surprise as it was expected that AAP would venture out of Delhi after it won the capital in February. It has already announced that it will contest Uttarakhand, Goa and Punjab elections in 2022. However, in the process AAP runs the risk of stretching itself too thin.

Fighting the elections in UP will be the biggest election for AAP after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections where it contested 434 seats and won just four. Since then, AAP’s strategy has been to contest in small states which require lesser resources.

AAP’s 2014 outing in UP was disastrous to say the least. It contested from 76 of the 80 seats, including the high-profile Varanasi and Amethi seats. It lost the deposit in 75 seats, could garner just one percent of the vote share, and the votes polled by AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal, who finished runner up to Narendra Modi, accounted for one-fourth of AAP’s total votes in UP.

AAP lacks organisational strength in UP, and has stayed away from the state since 2014. If AAP plans to enter the state after a gap of six years, it has to be seen how much of an impact it can make. It has to be seen if the one percent who voted for AAP in 2014 will stick to their choice or have moved on.

Another factor which makes UP a complicated political chessboard is its caste-based politics; this is different from Delhi’s class-based voting. At present, the contest is triangular with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP) being the main contenders. The three enjoy a dedicated voter base. While the BJP enjoys the support of upper caste and OBCs, the BSP has Dalits as an anchor voting segment. The Yadavs and Muslims tend more towards the SP.

The Congress, under Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, is also working hard to make a mark in UP in 2022. There are other which focus on caste-based politics and have pockets of influence across the state, such as the Apna Dal, Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, Quami Ekta Dal, etc.

It would be difficult for AAP to enter this arena where caste loyalties are fixed; making an impact here, in such a short time, would be a tall order. It would require time and extensive campaigning to inform the voters about the benefits AAP can bring to their lives, it would take time to convince the voter about AAP’s politics, and it would take time to get voters to change their loyalty. About 15 months is the time AAP has to bring about these changes.

Currently UP provides no Delhi-like opening for AAP, no major corruption scandals, no loss of complete faith in opposition parties, and no crisis. UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is a popular CM, and it would be a mammoth task to shake his and the BJP’s presence in the state.

While the SP and the BSP are on the back foot lately, they still have a strong presence in UP. In the by-poll elections to seven seats in UP, held along with Bihar, the BSP bagged 20 percent of the vote share, while the SP bagged 24 percent.

Adityanath or Mayawati or Yadav, or even Priyanka, are leaders who are popular and recognisable faces. AAP’s UP in-charge Sanjay Singh is not in that league. It is not clear if AAP has many leaders who can enthuse the voters in UP and make a difference.

UP will also be daunting for AAP because of the sheer size of the state—UP (403) has close to six times the number of vidhan sabha seats than what Delhi has (70).Given these factors, it is not clear what or how much AAP will be able to achieve by contesting the 2022 UP polls. For now, it could be a vote cutter in select pockets.

The article was first published here.

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