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AAP expands across India, but will it click in polls?
Thursday February 13, 2014 8:20 AM, M.R. Narayan Swamy, IANS

Since its dramatic showing in Delhi, the Aam Aadmi Party has expanded swiftly across most parts of India. But it's not clear if the party will make a similar impact in the Lok Sabha polls.

AAP leaders are confident it will, and point to the soaring numbers who are joining it in state after state at a time when most people are wary of politicians and political parties.

Although its government in Delhi could come apart over more issues than one, AAP is attracting youths, activists and professionals as well as retired bureaucrats in thousands, shows a nationwide IANS survey.

AAP's growth is startling in some states, feeble in some.

For a party formed only in November 2012, AAP now claims 9.8 million members nationwide.

Uttar Pradesh has embraced AAP like few states have, one reason being its proximity to Delhi, the original AAP hub.

Uttar Pradesh boasts of some 1.8 million members, followed by over one million each in Bihar and Maharashtra.
Delhi, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh claim 800,000 members each.

Other membership ranges from over 100,000 in West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Assam to around 200,000 in Orissa, Gujarat and Jharkhand, around 250,000 each in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, about 400,000 to 500,000 each in Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan, and nearly 600,000 in Kerala, say AAP leaders.

With Haryana and Maharashtra set for assembly elections this year, AAP is focussing on these two states.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal hails from Haryana's Bhiwani district. His uncles still live there.

Political pundit and AAP strategist Yogendra Yadav is widely seen as Haryana's chief ministerial candidate and is also tipped to fight the Lok Sabha polls from Gurgaon, adjoining Delhi.

In Uttar Pradesh, AAP has 72 functional district units and hopes to contest all 80 Lok Sabha seats. AAP's Kumar Vishwas has vowed to take on Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi in Amethi.

Many of its leaders belong to or live in the state: Ashutosh (Mirzapur), Manish Sisodia (Ghaziabad), Shazia Ilmi (Kanpur) and Sanjay Singh (Sultanpur).

AAP functions in 34 of Maharashtra's 35 districts, AAP state secretary Preeti Sharma Menon told IANS. Its most prominent leaders are activists Anjali Damania and Mayank Gandhi.

In Bihar, Social Welfare Minister Parveen Amanullah quit the Janata Dal-United cabinet to join the fledgling party, giving it a major boost. "AAP is getting tremendous response," said state convener Somnath Tripathi.

AAP has expanded rapidly in Karnataka's urban parts, particularly Bangalore, but has made lesser impact in Andhra Pradesh. "People see a ray of hope in AAP," lawyer and AAP member Ravi Chandra said in Bangalore.

Like in many states, most AAP members in Kerala are under 45 years. It is getting members of other parties too.

Political analyst Vijay Kumar Sharma told IANS in Jaipur that AAP was "a topic of discussion everywhere".

In Odisha, prominent people who have joined AAP include well-known farmer leader Lingaraj, retired IPS officer Surendra Nath Swain and retired IAS officer Prasanna Mishra.

Savita Bhatti, wife of late comedian Jaspal Bhatti, and former Punjab director general of police Shashi Kant have joined AAP in Chandigarh.

AAP plans to contest 150 to 300 Lok Sabha seats, primarily to defeat politicians it feels are corrupt or have a criminal history.

Comparisons are already being made between Kejriwal, Rahul Gandhi and BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.

But the Lok Sabha battle won't be easy as the AAP network is new and untested. And though the party has a lot of admirers, critics too exist.

Kolkata taxi driver Ram Lal told IANS: "I have heard neither about AAP nor Kejriwal. I want good roads. My vote is for Narendra Modi."

Jaipur resident S.K. Jha added: " AAP may create a stir in Delhi, Mumbai or Bangalore. But it will be difficult to break through vast states like Rajasthan."

(With inputs from Jaideep Sarin, Anil Sharma, Mohit Dubey, Imran Khan, Sirshendu Panth, Jatindra Dash, Mohammed Shafeeq, Fakir Balaji, Sanu George, V. Jagannathan, Quaid Najmi and Gaurav Sharma.)

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