AAP fails to make a mark in West Bengal (Election Special)
Despite creating such a buzz, particularly among the young and those looking for alternative politics in much of the country, the Aam Admi Party (AAP) seems to have failed to create even a ripple in West Bengal.
Plagued by defections and allegations of corruption, Arvind Kejriwal's party is contesting in only four of the 42 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state. It had initially claimed it would contest for at least a dozen seats.
The constituencies where the Aam Aadmi Party fielded candidates are in the metropolis and its vicinity: Kolkata South, Kolkata North, Barrackpore and Howrah, besides northern Bengal's Raiganj.
But social activist Mudar Patherya withdrew from the contest in Kolkata South citing health reasons, leaving only four candidates.
Their selection became a contentious issue within the party and created resentment among a large number of members who subsequently either quit or joined the rival Garib Aadmi Party (GAP).
"AAP has been reduced to a 'tamasha' (drama) in Bengal mostly because of the central leadership's step-motherly treatment," said Kazi Masum Akhter, who was one of the chief organizers of the party before he quit.
"AAP never bothered to create an organizational structure and there is rampant infighting, factionalism and arbitrariness," he said.
Echoing similar views, former AAP member Mohammad Sirajuddin Sekh, now a GAP candidate in Howrah, charged his former colleagues with corruption.
"Ironically, AAP, which was born out of a crusade against corruption, is now all about money, especially in Bengal. Thousands of people have quit the party in disgust," Sekh told IANS.
According to one volunteer, AAP, which once boasted of recruiting over 150,000 members in West Bengal, has seen an exodus of activists who have either quit or gone dormant.
"When the party leadership is not bothered, why should we? We religiously organised marches and roadshows, but the people in Delhi have chosen to ignore us," said one AAP activist.
"Kejriwal and other leaders never paid a visit to Bengal despite repeated requests," he added.
AAP leader Shazia Ilmi admitted during a visit to Kolkata that there was factionalism and warned volunteers about its consequences.
But AAP candidates Pasharul Islam and Alok Chaturvedi are not ready to write off the party in Bengal and claim that a dearth of suitable people forced it to field fewer candidates.
"A stringent and elaborate procedure is followed to select candidates. Unfortunately we didn't have sufficient time or the resources to scout for suitable candidates. People realise our handicap and AAP can't be written off just because there aren't many candidates here," Chaturvedi, in the race from Kolkata North, told IANS.
Islam, contesting from Raiganj, said lack of funds has been a major hindrance as the party has not been able to reach out to a large number of people in the state.
But others feel that the "nondescript" nominees will not make much of an impact on the electorate.
Some have ridiculed the choice of candidates -- on social networking sites.
Despite repeated attempts, the Aam Aadmi Party failed to woo several prominent personalities including the likes of rebel Trinamool Congress MP Kabir Suman, former IPS officer Nazrul Islam (a critic of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee) and Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra, who was arrested for circulating emails mocking the chief minister.
Both Mahapatra and Nazrul Islam said they were not ready to take the political plunge.
Political analyst A.K. Jana says AAP's dismal condition in the state is mostly because of lack of an organisational network.
"Without an organisational structure, a political outfit cannot survive no matter how popular it may be. Moreover, they do not have a leader here to bind the party together," a Vidyasagar University professor said.
Marxist leader and Left Front chairman Biman Bose refuses to call AAP a political outfit.
"While they won many seats in Delhi and their slogan for fight against corruption has found resonance among the masses, I don't think it's a major phenomenon. I also cannot understand how they can accommodate some corrupt leaders," Bose told IANS.
(Anurag Dey can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 25-04-2014)