Kim Arora,TNN | Jan 14, 2014, 12.41 AM IST
NEW DELHI: Now, there’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) effect across the border too. Inspired by Arvind Kejriwal’s battle against corruption, a small bunch of activists in Rawalpindi and Islamabad are working to float their own version of the party by March. An eight-city membership drive, including adjoining villages and small towns, is already on.
“We read about AAP’s work in India as reported in the Pakistani media. The issue of corruption is the same here as in your country. Our political leaders are the same as yours. AAP has set a good example by taking up this issue,” says chief organiser Arshad Sulahri, a 38-year-old social activist and former journalist from Rawalpindi, told TOI on phone.
The organizers claim to have received positive feedback in their drive to recruit members. “We have got about a 1,000 applications from the Rawalpindi-Islamabad area alone. By March 23 this year, we plan to have a final list of members ready and begin working formally,” says Sulahri. Those involved are currently working out of offices set up in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Lahore is likely to be the party headquarters.
At present, the online presence of AAP, Pakistan is restricted to a wordpress blog, a Twitter account (@aamaadmipartypk) with just two tweets and 10 followers, and a Facebook page (Aam Aadmi Party – Pakistan) with a mere 81 likes.
There’s little mention of Sulahri’s initiative in Pakistan’s mainstream press too. Human rights activist Asma Jahangir told TOI she hadn’t heard of them. However, Taimur Rahman of Laal, an alternative music band known for its politically-themed songs, said that he had come across a Facebook page of the party about a week back, but is unaware of the people associated with the party. Sulahri says he depended on his activist group Youth Forum Pakistan to gather an initial group of core members.
When contacted on the phone number listed on the blog, Sulahri told TOI that a combination of two factors — AAP’s rise in India and disenchantment with Imran Khan — inspired him to start an Aam Aadmi Party in Pakistan. “When Imran did a jalsa in Lahore, many people participated. Lots of them were poor people. But when the party’s central committee was formed, there was hardly any representation of the common man. The possibility of a common man contesting and serving the country ended there. There were big hopes from him, but we ended up disappointed,” says the Rawalpindi-based Sulahri, who speaks only Urdu and Punjabi.
Rahman is of the view that it would be harder for a new party to break ground in Pakistan, where politics is controlled by “a small power elite”. However, he would like to keep some room for “surprises”. “In India, the Anna Hazare movement mobilized enough people for the AAP to be born. In Pakistan, the lawyers’ movement strengthened the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI). In the last two-three years there have been several sporadic protests on issues such as power supply. But the level of mobilization with the Anna Hazare protest was different. If something like that happens, then yes, a new political force in Pakistan is possible. Otherwise, I don’t see it happening,” says Taimur, a political activist himself.
The AAP Pakistan is currently only willing to accept members between ages 18 and 50. Those associated with foreign-funded NGOs, MNCs and the army, says Sulahri, are being kept out. “We have to be careful about such people and observe them. Hum koi bhi khaas aadmi shaamil nahin karenge (We won’t include any special or powerful person),” he says.
An active role in politics might still be a good few months away, but Sulahri is clear that AAP Pakistan will want friendly relations with India. “Pakistan spends a lot of money on the border. We want to use the same money to serve the common people. For that, both India and Pakistan will need to be friendly and cooperative,” he says. Prashant Bhushan’s take on the Kashmir issue, that there should be a referendum on army presence in the strife-torn state, has been taken positively. “That is the right thing to do. It is important to take into consideration what the masses want,” says Sulahri. It’s another matter that Bhushan’s take has been discounted by the AAP leadership.