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The AAP in Goa

What went wrong?

It’s not difficult to understand the lure of the Aam Aadmi Party. People eager for change and deeply apprehensive about voting in a divisive leader like Narendra Modi would naturally embrace an alternative that promises to keep the voter at the centre of decision making even after elections.

So why is it, then, that here in Goa, an interaction with AAP leader Yogendra Yadav back in November scarcely drew a dozen people, a public meeting called by the state party leadership on Liberation Day attracted just 200 people and a 2 ½ month-old membership drive has so far signed up just 4,000 members? And why did a recent protest against casinos organized by the party at the Panjim Mandovi jetty draw at most a few score souls?

Party members, sympathisers and critics interviewed for this story believe the answer largely lies in the reputation of some of the folks who’ve joined the party, leaving a bad taste among many would-be AAP members.

“It’s the same old brigade of campaigners,” muttered a policeman standing on guard at one AAP meeting.

One local AAP leader who hasn’t exactly inspired a great deal of confidence is Dinesh Vaghela, who was previously with the Bharat SwabhimanTrust, a collective run by the yoga guru Baba Ramdev. The guru has since decided to support Modi. Another controversial entrant is Michael Ferns, who heads Dadleancho Ekvott, a men’s collective that fights to protect men against false and frivolous complaints filed by women.

“They are like seasonal fish,” said Savio Almeida, a young Goan expat who has grown skeptical about political parties.

While the AAP did snare some reputable faces like Dr Oscar Rebello and famed singer Remo Fernandes, the party is associated with NGOs that the public views with suspicion.

 “It’s easy to preach but difficult to practice,” Almeida said about AAP’s theatrics in the political arena, saying he doubts any politician would be able to bring back the billions of rupees that disappeared in the state’s mining scam or put the perpetrators in jail.

He remained skeptical about the AAP’s fortunes in the state. “Do they have proof when they make allegations against other political leaders? Or are they just shooting their mouths off?” he asked.

However, the AAP has its fair share of sympathisers.

One such sympathizer who asked not be named said he believes there are many former BJP voters who accepted money or favours in exchange for their votes but who are now disgruntled. He said they won’t come out publicly in favour of the AAP out of a “very real fear that the BJP will victimise them … but they are likely to vote for the AAP.”


Arvind Kejriwal


The AAP’s choice of candidates – Dattaram Desai and Swati Kerkar, who hail from the same area of Keri in Ponda taluka – has also left many sceptical of the party’s chances.

Desai is a fiery activist of the 90s who along with others successfully led an agitation against the Thapar DuPont Nylon 6,6 plant that was to come up in the Ponda taluk. He has been out of the headlines since. Kerkar, however, has been in and out of the headlines at various points in time as she headed the Keri Nagrik Samiti (Committee of Keri residents) and the Goenchea Ostoreancho Awaz (Goan Women’s Voice).

The AAP Goa’s biggest threat remains within, as explained by the party’s convenor Rajashree Nagarsekar.

“People of not very good (social) standing have begun joining us. Some of our members are in fact life members of other political parties. These issues have to be tackled,” Nagarsekar said.

Today Nagarsekar herself is facing allegations from her party’s “not very good standing members,” including Michael Ferns, who has begun speaking out against her as well as the party’s South Goa candidate Swati Kerkar –  both women.

Nagarsekar had this to say on Facebook:

“The smear campaign faced by women who enter public life is hardly new… Does the constant scrutiny under which they are placed, including a microscopic examination of their lives past and present, act as a deterrent to more women entering politics? Definitely yes!” she said.

The internal squabbling hasn’t stopped Desai from making the rounds in Goa to build support. His modest, unassuming style does appear to be winning some hearts.

The party has spoken out in particular against casinos and mining companies – refusing to accept donations from either and tapping into widely held sentiments among Goans. It’s also promising a clean break with the past. Whether the message will catch on remains to be seen.