The Aam Aadmi Party may have realised that the Himachal Pradesh politics is not an easy one to break into.
We visited Shimla and met with AAP candidates and workers to understand the public sentiment in the state, and its dismal performance in the Himachal Pradesh elections.
Nestled between beautiful mountains, we stopped at a crowded chai-tapri where locals were enjoying a lazy weekend. After speaking to a few people, it was clear that the state did not consider AAP to be a serious contender. Its role seemed to be to take votes away from the Congress or the Bharatiya Janata Party.
When we reached the AAP headquarters, the party office was shut. The locals we spoke with told us they were not confident about the party. They added that AAP did not promise anything significant or unique. Moreover, they added that the party does not know the people of the state.
Some AAP candidates told us that the party did not have enough manpower to run a successful campaign in Himachal Pradesh.
A candidate from AAP, whose friends were also contesting from the BJP and Congress, told us that he was trying his hand at politics to see how many votes AAP can get. He was not optimistic despite AAP’s victory in Punjab. In fact, he pointed out that it will take AAP much longer to understand Himachal Pradesh politics, and even more time to win an election here.
AAP’s dismal performance
As anticipated, AAP could not get favourable results. They not only failed to win a single seat in the state, they could not even get the runner-up position in any of the constituencies. Their overall average vote share was 1.1%.
In Dalhousie, Kasumpti, Chopal, Arki, Chamba, and Churah, more people voted NOTA than AAP.
Talking about the party’s awful performance, one of the candidates, on condition of anonymity, said that AAP could not garner votes because they did not get any local party support, as most of the workers were focused on the Gujarat assembly elections.
As a result, their campaigns were not structured and all the candidates had to fend for themselves.
Even in places where the candidates could manage to hold roadshows, there was barely any media coverage. A majority of the AAP candidates were contesting for the first time, and without any guidance and support, they could not run successful campaigns. The absence of senior leaders like Arvind Kejriwal and Bhagwant Mann also affected the party’s election campaign in the state.
AAP’s manifesto – ‘Himachal Ki Janta ko Kejriwal ki Guarantee’ – had a lot of loopholes. ‘Kejriwal’s guarantees’ were not enough for the party to make a mark in the state.
For instance, apple farming in Himachal Pradesh contributes to 13.5% of the economy, and the growers have a considerable influence in more than 20 out of the 68 seats in the state. These include Mandi, Kullu, Chamba, Kinnaur, and Lahaul and Spiti districts.
However, the party didn’t cater to the interests of the apple farmers.
Congress, on the other hand, had a people-centric manifesto, ‘Himachal Himachaliyat aur Hum’.
It promised to set up a horticulture commission with apple growers as its members. It also promised to decide on the minimum support price (MSP), and added that market players won’t be allowed to buy apples from the growers below the MSP, even if it is Adani’s company.
BJP’s ‘Sankalpa Patra’ promised farmers that they do not have to pay more than 12% GST rate on apple packaging material.
While AAP promised to provide free water supply to farmers, Rs 40 per day to cattle farmers, and a reasonable minimum support price for fruit growers, they failed to woo the apple farmers of the state.
A lack of unique suggestions in the manifesto and no ground work led to the party’s dismal performance in the state.
Banking on their recent wins in Delhi and Punjab did not work for the party. The locals prominently mentioned that AAP’s campaign did not strike a chord with the Himachalis.
After the resounding success at the Delhi municipal elections and Punjab assembly elections this year, AAP should make an effort to understand the ground-level reality in Himachal Pradesh and try again for the next term.