Bengaluru, March 21: "Elections are a crazy business."
Often heard in newsrooms, this one-line prognosis assumes special meaning when overheard at a political party press meet. On Tuesday, as the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) announced its first list of 18 candidates for the upcoming Karnataka Assembly elections, there wasn't any dearth of one-liners nor predictions about the outcome of the party's ambitious bid.
While elections to the 224-member Karnataka Assembly are likely to take place between the last week of April and the first week of May, the declaration of AAP candidates has come at a time when its head office in the national capital is reeling under several controversies. The latest controversy to hit the AAP has a direct connection with party chief and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who seems to be on a "sorry spree", apologising to opposition leaders over remarks made in the past.
Did the sombre mood in Delhi or for that matter Punjab unit of the AAP has left its cadres in Karnataka demoralised?
Well, that hardly seemed to be the case on Tuesday. "We are all behind Kejriwal. He did the right thing," stated Karnataka AAP leaders when questioned by reporters following Kejriwal's apology to Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Bikram Singh Majithia recently. Earlier at a public rally, Kejriwal had openly called Majithia a "drug lord". Later the former minister of Punjab filed a defamation case against the Delhi CM in 2016.
While members of AAP in Bengaluru were happy that Kejriwal has apologised to Majithia and others to end the long list of defamation cases against him, the party leaders in Punjab seem to think otherwise.
The AAP may have been going through "another phase of trouble", but the excitement of its members in Karnataka was in complete contrast to the mood in Delhi. Many among the crowd present at the press meet believed the reason behind the 'unapologetic' enthusiasm could be the distance that separates the north from the south. Whatever may be the real reason, the AAP cadres in Karnataka certainly sounded confident of performing well and surprising their detractors in the coming elections.
What, however, stood out at the Bengaluru press meet, attended by a host of AAP leaders and volunteers in their trademark 'Main Hoon Aam Aadmi' caps, was the list of candidates. To cheer the aspiring MLAs, senior AAP leader and Rajya Sabha member of Parliament (MP) Sanjay Singh flew down from Delhi to the IT city. From retired IAS officer, aeronautical engineer, software engineer, anchor, advocates, autorickshaw driver to the grandson of a former chief minister of Karnataka, the AAP list impressed many because of its enviable pool of well-educated and respectable citizens.
(Someone in the crowd couldn't help think aloud that 'the ADR will hopefully have to work a little less this time compiling the list of criminal, corrupt and unlettered netas'.)
"We are trying to bring some amount of calmness to the otherwise chaotic business of politics where only rich and dynasts get a chance to contest elections," said a software professional who left his cushy job in the United States (US).
The AAP volunteer, who has been working with the party in Bengaluru for the last few years, requested OneIndia not to be named. "My biggest reward is that I get a chance to work with so many talented, honest and hardworking people in the AAP," said the gentleman in his late 40s.
Pankaj Gupta, the national secretary of AAP who addressed a group of reporters, too had something similar to say. "We have selected the candidates after much deliberation. Unlike others, the AAP believes in giving chance to those who are honest, hardworking and law-abiding citizens of the country. Our fight is against three Cs--corruption, criminals and communal forces," Gupta said.
"People want good roads, development and jobs. They are tired of corruption and divisive politics. The AAP will provide an alternative government to the people of Karnataka. We will replicate the AAP's Delhi success story in Karnataka with good schools and better healthcare system," promised Gupta.
The upcoming Assembly elections will be the AAP's second attempt to be a part of the electoral process in Karnataka. Making its debut in Karnataka during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the AAP fielded candidates from all 28 constituencies in the state but failed to win even a single seat.
"In 2014, it was an experiment, we had hardly campaigned. This time, things are different. All the 18 candidates have been campaigning and working with people for the last several months. People want a change and we will give them an alternative," said Mohan Dasari, a software engineer, who quit his job to be a full-time politician. Dasari will be contesting elections from the CV Raman Nagar constituency in Bengaluru.
Like Dasari, Santosh Nargund, a senior aerospace specialist and seasoned RTI activist who is contesting from the Hubli-Dharwad central constituency, said the partymen's confidence was a result of their work with the people and door-to-door campaign.
"I have been campaigning for the last few months in my constituency. We go and meet people in their homes. We are getting a tremendous response. People want change for sure," Nargund, who is contesting polls against senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and former CM Jagadish Shettar, told OneIndia.
Retired IAS officer, Renuka Viswanathan, said she joined politics to fight corruption. "Corruption is endemic across the country. I have seen it first-hand as a bureaucrat. The AAP's fight is against corruption and people will vote for us," said the polite politician who is contesting from the Shanti Nagar constituency in Bengaluru.
When asked if the party, which claims it has no muscle and money power, could challenge the might of the biggies in the elections, Prithvi Reddy, Karnataka convener of the AAP, said: "We are here to change politics." Reddy will take on senior Congress leader and incumbent minister for Bengaluru Development and Town Planning, KJ George, from the Sarvagnanagar in Bengaluru.
Taking a more realistic stand, Nargund admitted that "money and muscle power" do play a huge role in elections. "We are trying our best. For the results, we have to wait and watch."
Speaking to OneIndia, political scientist Sandeep Shastri said the AAP could give a stiff competition in a select few seats mainly because of the profile of its candidates, and poor image of opponents.
The confidence of the AAP candidates could also be a result of the fact that despite Congress CM Siddaramaiah harping on Kannada pride and appeasement of groups like Lingayats, the anti-incumbency wave is pretty strong in the state.
Regarding Modi wave, the AAP claims that it's almost non-existent in Karnataka.
A veteran journalist present at the venue was heard telling his colleagues that Karnataka is not Delhi and the AAP will find it difficult to win seats here. "I doubt it will win even a single seat. But I am sure the AAP will prove to be a spoilsport for the BJP in a few seats, helping the Congress win in return."
|Karnataka Assembly Election dates|
|Date of notification||April 17|
|Last date to file nominations||April 24|
|Last date to withdraw nominations||April 27|
|Date of polling||May 12|
|Date of counting||May 15|