The Fifth Element in Maharashtra elections (Election Special)
After initial dilly-dallying, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has finally put up candidates in all the 48 constituencies of Maharashtra in the Lok Sabha elections - making it the first time a party has taken such a mega-political step.
It will now compete with the four main contenders in the state - Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena saffron front - which are also jointly contesting for all 48 seats from the state.
There is also Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BJP) which is contesting all 48 seats this time round - in the past, it failed to open an account here. The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena may contest around a dozen seats.
AAP has come with certain advantages and disadvantages as it vies for the voters' attention to provide an alternative to the two main groups - Congress-NCP and BJP-SS.
For one, as state AAP secretary Preeti Menon-Sharma put it, the party can bank on the "clean image" and tremendous goodwill enjoyed by its founder-leader Arvind Kejriwal.
"We have proved ourselves in Delhi...It was a principled stand both before the elections and after...Kejriwal's policies and desire to work for the people's good has drawn attention," Sharma told IANS.
Another advantage cited by party leaders is that the AAP had its roots in Maharashtra, from where veteran social crusader Anna Hazare had launched his nationwide anti-corruption campaign nearly three years ago.
The main players of the original team subsequently fell out, with one led by Kejriwal graduating to floating the AAP and contesting the Delhi elections. Kejriwal became the Delhi chief minister but quit the post with the intention of donning a national mantle.
To an extent, AAP has indicated that it means business by selecting clean candidates with a good public image in different fields, but severely burdened by political naivety and lacking financial resources.
On the one hand, it has fielded renowned grassroots social worker Medha Patkar in Mumbai North-East and on the other a former banker and corporate honcho Meera Sanyal in Mumbai South.
The late jurist and former ambassador to US Nani Palkhivala's lawyer son, Phiroze Palkhivala, is contesting from Mumbai North-Central, while famous Marathi actor Nandu Madhav has been nominated from Beed against senior BJP leader Gopinath Munde.
The AAP's firebrand campaigner Anjali Damania, who locked horns with the NCP leadership over the multi-crore rupee irrigation scam, will grapple with former BJP president Nitin Gadkari in Nagpur.
The chief whistle-blower in the irrigation scam, former senior state bureaucrat Vijay Pandhare, will challenge powerful NCP minister Chhagan Bhujbal in Nashik.
Well-known farmer leader Raghunath Patil will take on his former friend and farmer leader, sitting MP Raju Shetti, in Hatkanangle.
There is an assortment of other bureaucrats, social personalities, a former senior police officer, film personalities, minorities, backward classes and more - all ready to sweep clean the state's political scenario with the 'Broom'.
AAP insiders reveal that most candidates have problems of raising funds for the election campaign and have to rely on public dole to take care of even routine expenses.
"In Nagpur, for instance, we seek donations at street corners and road signals and people are giving us. Volunteers also collect money from their relations, friends, well-wishers and the common public when our candidates go to solicit their support," AAP's Mumbai treasurer Suresh Acharya told IANS.
Each rupee thus collected is fully accounted for in party records and used as required. "So far, we may have collected a few lakh rupees in this manner. Then, there are special fund-raisers like the dinner organised by Kejriwal in Nagpur recently," he said.
"One thing is certain - unlike other major parties, we have tremendous goodwill, but don't have money to blow up," Acharya smiled.
Local AAP supporters like Anand Joshi from Borivli said that a major advantage for the party is its giant-killer reputation, courtesy Delhi.
"Nobody can accurately predict how many seats it will win in Maharashtra or around the country; this mystery factor will also help the indecisive voters to back AAP candidates, and this gives jitters to candidates from all other established parties," Joshi said.
Acharya said that what the party lacks in resources for organizing mega-rallies, it compensates by way of door-to-door campaigning, mass contact programs and showing the voters that "we are just like you - the common citizens of this country".
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 28-03-2014)