Swaraj India, the Yogendra Yadav-led political party, is struggling to find its place in the political arena in the national capital as it contests its first election – Sunday’s municipal polls in Delhi.
Yadav and Prashant Bhushan, both founding members of the Aam Aadmi Party, floated a socio-political movement called Swaraj Abhiyan in April 2015 after being expelled from the Aam Aadmi Party following a dispute with Arvind Kejriwal over internal democracy. Last October, Swaraj Abhiyan launched its political wing, Swaraj India. While Bhushan is the national president of Swaraj Abhiyan, the political outfit is led by Yadav.
For the upcoming municipal elections in Delhi, Swaraj India is contesting 211 out of 272 wards in the city. Of the total candidates, 111 are women – 92 of them have been fielded from seats reserved for women.
Joined at the hip?
Swaraj India has been taking on its political rivals, including the ruling Aam Aadmi Party in Delhi, on issues such as water, garbage, pollution and corruption.
On Friday, the last day to campaign for Sunday’s municipal polls, this reporter visited two municipal wards – Sangam Park and Bawana, where Yogendra Yadav campaigned – to find out what voters thought of Swaraj India’s chances in the election.
“It is tough to say,” said Mohammad Jahangir, a fruit vendor who lives in North Delhi’s Sangam Park ward, near the Azadpur wholesale fruits and vegetable market. “Swaraj needs to prove itself first. It seems they are trying to capitalise on the anti-incumbency mood as people are frustrated both with the BJP-ruled municipal corporations’ inefficiency as well as the AAP government in Delhi. Capitalising on the anti-incumbency mood is something that AAP has already done in the past, but today it seems like a risky game.”
As Jahangir spoke, a group of around 60-70 Swaraj India campaigners, dressed in bright yellow, marched past his shop, waving flags and blowing whistles – the election symbol of the party. The whistles got louder as the rally crossed paths with campaigners for AAP, Congress and BJP.
An inevitable comparison
While Swaraj India has openly challenged AAP to win 50% of the seats in the municipal polls or quit the Delhi government, taking their political rivalry a notch higher, on the ground, voters are hard-pressed to differentiate Swaraj India from AAP, and comparisons with the parent party, so to speak, are inevitably made.
According to Veer Pal, a resident of Sangam Park ward, Swaraj India has so far not been able to create the kind of wave the Aam Aadmi Party successfully created twice. “At present, there is no such political wave working in favour of Swaraj India or any other party,” said Pal.
Another ward resident, Vrijesh Kaushik, who owns a pharmacy, said that the problem with Swaraj India, at this stage of the campaign, was the lack of visibility. “We know that they are different from AAP, but we hardly see the Swaraj campaigners in the area,” said Kaushik. “The other parties are much more visible.”
The repeated comparisons with AAP indicate that it may have been easier to take Swaraj India out of AAP than AAP out of Swaraj India, at least in the minds of some voters.
“They are not just different from AAP, they are better than AAP,” said Abdul Kalam, an e-rickshaw driver who lives at the slum cluster in Bawana in North West Delhi. “In this ward, the support for Swaraj can easily be attributed to their choice of candidate – a popular anti-drugs and anti-bootlegger crusader in the locality. The party may have just started but people believe in them.”