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AAP shadow on urban poll

Bhubaneswar, Jan. 4: For most of them, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is the new punching bag in Indian politics.

On public platforms, major political parties do not pull their punches while attacking the fledgling outfit, which is threatening to change the country’s political discourse. But when it comes to chalking their strategy to woo voters, the three biggies, which are out to capture the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation, have no qualms about taking a leaf out of AAP’s book. None, though, would admit it publicly.

Rehabilitation of slum dwellers, which AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal focused on while campaigning in the Delhi Assembly elections, remains high on the agenda of the BJD as well as the Congress and the BJP in Bhubaneswar. However, they are yet to come up with formal manifestos. They are also talking about well-lit roads and parks and other civic amenities just like AAP, which read the voters’ pulse in Delhi more accurately than others.

“There are more than 400 slums in Bhubaneswar. We cannot think of the city’s development without rehabilitating their residents,” says panchayati raj minister Kalpataru Das, who is choreographing the BJD’s campaign. The state government, according to sources, is planning to provide houses to slum dwellers.

All the parties are assiduously wooing the slum dwellers, who number around 3.08 lakh in Bhubaneswar (close to 40 per cent of its population). The BJP is no different with its senior leader Biswa Bhushan Harichandan asserting that “bastiwallahs” have been neglected by the state government ever since his party pulled out of the coalition government in 2009. “We are also highlighting the Naveen Patnaik government’s other failures such as its inability to provide pipe water to residents and improve sanitation,” said Harichandan, who, though, is no admirer of Kejriwal. “AAP manifesto is good in some respects, but a lot of it does not sound practical. We want to be pragmatic,” the leader said.

Sources said the Congress was busy drafting its manifesto, which was likely to have shades of AAP though the party may not admit it. Of other things, the party might promise 200 units of free electricity per month to the below poverty line (BPL) residents. The main Opposition party was also likely to promise 10 schools in slums, concrete roads in the outlying areas of the corporation and crime control by co-ordinating with the home department if voted to power.

Most of these promises are clearly inspired by AAP, but mention Kejriwal and the party leaders bristle. “We don’t need lessons in politics from him. We are not aping his party,” said a senior Congress leader, who did not wish to be named. However, BJD veteran Kalpataru Das had no hesitation saying on record that AAP did not set the benchmark for his party. “We have been in power here and people know our work. We have not released any formal manifesto, but we don’t need to copy anyone,” said Das.