Lucknow/Patna: After emerging as a successful political force in Delhi, the Aam Admi Party wave has hit Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The party has embarked on an unprecedented membership drive, attracting the young and the idealistic in Lucknow, Patna and other cities and small towns in the two bellwether North Indian states.
From just 5,000 – before the Delhi assembly election results – to the current figure of 33,000, the growth in AAP membership in Lucknow alone is a sign of the party’s potential appeal in UP. In Bihar, at 15 camps around Patna and in 37 other districts, AAP volunteers have written out 60,000 membership receipts in the weeks after the election outcome were announced on December 8. Such is the enthusiasm that the newly formed party has run out of membership forms; the headquarters in Delhi has been asked to supply another 20,000.
In UP, AAP leader Kumar Vishwas’ decision to challenge Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi in Amethi had made national headlines. But beyond Amethi, AAP fever is gripping several key cities in India’s most electorally significant state. Retired engineer Shailendra Dubey, academic Sudhir Panwar, Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan and many others figure in discussions among AAP volunteers as possible candidates for Lucknow, Allahabad and other high-profile constituencies.
AAP spokesperson Badri Narain is not revealing names, but said that several prominent figures have approached the party to contest the 2014 polls from UP.
Booth level agents already in place
The party has already started putting booth-level agents in place. “We are appointing local coordinators who will keep in touch with about 50 families in their locality. During polls, they will be assigned polling booths to ensure our voters do not have problems and also to take up official duties during counting of votes,” said Narain. Similarly, the party is also in the process of appointing ward coordinators and assembly segment coordinators in the run-up to the polls.
Ratnesh Choudhary, AAP leader from Bihar, wants his party to contest all 40 seats. “We would like to field candidates in all the 40 Lok Sabha seats of Bihar. But it is for the PAC to take a final call on this,” said Choudhary. Earlier, only the young and the restless were keen on AAP. However, the dramatic outcome of the Delhi assembly elections transformed the atmosphere, explained Iftikar Hussain, district executive committee member for AAP’s Lucknow unit. “People from all walks of life and economic strata are joining us. It is as if they were waiting for the Delhi results to see AAP’s performance.
Ever since, we are busy dealing with queries on how to become an AAP member. Such has been the response that we have decided to hold membership camps in various localities to avoid people thronging our small office all the time,” said Hussain, who runs an LPG gas agency and has been associated with the AAP movement for long.
AAP has suddenly become a serious option in the nation’s political heartland. Eastern UP zonal coordinator Sanjeev Singh only has data for members joining through the traditional route of filling up paper forms. These numbers – for those joining though the ‘offline’ route — have gone up from 65,250 to nearly 1,45,000 in one month. “Online memberships are yet to be collated region wise. There has been an upsurge in membership ever since the Delhi assembly results were announced. Even donations have increased dramatically,” Singh said. He added that the response is the same from both rural and urban areas.
“In Allahabad, for instance, we have seen both students and teachers, even retired professors coming out to join the party. Lawyers practicing at the high court form a large chuck of our followers where tea stalls have become hubs of discussions centred on AAP. Crowds assembled within minutes at a few street corner meetings that we held in Allahabad. From housewives to shopkeepers to auto rickshaw drivers everyone was listening.
In the neighbouring Kaushambi district, which can be considered a rural area, we have seen lawyers, traders, farmers, and even local politicians fed up with their own parent party joining us,” Singh said. Aruna Singh, in-charge of central UP, says cities such as Kanpur have seen a three-fold increase in membership since the Delhi assembly polls. “Our membership in Kanpur is about 22,000; thrice of what it was before Delhi polls,” she says.
In Bihar, where AAP has set up camps in 37 districts apart from Patna, the response has been encouraging. “Out of the 60,000 membership receipts, 25,000 receipts were meant for Patna while the remaining receipts were for the other 37 districts.
About 60 to 70% of those joining the party are young people: mostly students, IT professionals or engineers,” said an AAP leader. When asked to comment on the social identity of the new entrants, the AAP leader said they were mostly educated youth. Four days ago, a prominent Patna-based doctor, Tejaswi Diwakar, sought online membership and on January 3, the former DM of Kishanganganj, F Ahmad, too formally joined the party.
However, for AAP leaders, the names of those joining the party were not important: “Who knew Rakhi Birla or Satyendra Jain before they joined the AAP? What is important for us is AAP candidates for Lok Sabha elections should have a history of activism and should not be tainted,” pointed out Choudhary, a national executive council member of AAP, who was also the Bihar coordinator for India Against Corruption.
Courtesy: ET Bureau