Buoyed by the winning as many as 27 seats in local body polls in Surat held earlier this year, Aam Aadmi Party has now trained its guns on Gujarat Assembly elections scheduled for December 2022. In the Surat Municipal Corporation elections held in February 2021, the BJP got the highest seats (93 out of 120) but AAP won as many as 27 seats emerging as the opposition. Congress went out for a duck.
So now, AAP is confident that it can lure the enterprising Gujaratis by offering freebies as it does in Delhi. This, despite the disastrous governance by the Delhi government led by AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal himself. To make some noise ahead of the elections, AAP has roped in moneybag realtor Mahesh Savani, who is accused of kidnapping and extortion, and a Gujarati journalist Isudan Gadhvi, perhaps to offset the venom that has come out of its leader Gopal Italia.
Gujarat has traditionally been a two-party state – people are either BJP (or in recent times Modi) loyalists or Congress loyalists. There is no in-between. This is why there is no significant regional party. Further, Since 1998 when Keshubhai Patel led the BJP to victory, Gujarat has always had a BJP government. An entire generation has grown up in only BJP ruled stated. So with AAP jumping into the arena, here is what we can expect.
Ugly hood of caste politics
Kejriwal may have promised that he will change politics, but he never said he would change it for the better. This is why caste politics is being raised. You see, Congress in Gujarat was the pioneer of caste politics. Former Chief Minister and tall Congress leader Madhavsinh Solanki had brought in the ‘KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim)’ theory for vote bank politics.
AAP is just taking it forward. Ahead of the 2017 Gujarat assembly elections, AAP had sided with the Patidar community where now Congress leader Hardik Patel was leading an agitation for reservation as OBC community. Italia is one such Patidar leader who was a close Hardik Patel aide and now President of the Aam Aadmi Party in Gujarat.
An RSS leader in Surat while speaking to OpIndia said that Aam Aadmi Party has tried to consolidate the Patidar and Muslim voters. Patidars are disgruntled with BJP and Muslims has been a traditional vote bank for Congress. “Aam Aadmi Party is not a direct threat, but it will definitely create a dent and BJP will have to fight harder to retain the power. It is an unprecedented 25-year anti-incumbency the BJP is facing. Gujaratis may just want to give AAP a chance,” he said.
Can AAP form government in Gujarat?
A senior journalist from Gujarat while speaking to OpIndia said that it would be too much of a fantasy to imagine AAP will actually form the government in Gujarat. “AAP is making disgruntled BJP supporters join its party by creating a ‘mahaul‘. Kejriwal wanted to tap into the Patel vote bank during the Patidar agitation. There is an artificial discontent amongst the Patels where they want to become leaders themselves, like Hardik Patel, who played the caste card to emerge as a leader. Patel community got carried away by his rhetorics but when he joined Congress, they were disillusioned,” he said.
He further added that in the 2017 elections, the Patidar community voted for Congress instead of BJP. However, this time around, they may vote for AAP, making Congress come out as a bigger loser. “AAP is relying on the 25-years anti-incumbency. Kejriwal thinks people are fatigued by BJP presence. For the first time in 2017, the BJP seat tally went below 100 even though there was a slight increase in vote share,” he added that while AAP may get a couple of seats, those 10-15 seats it may win would be traditional Congress seats.
“There is no sign of revival of Congress in Gujarat,” an RSS leader from Surat said. He, however, expressed fears that while AAP and Congress may not form government in Gujarat on their own, if BJP fails to cross the majority mark, the two parties may forge an alliance and come to power. “If Congress can ally with Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, what can stop it from joining hands with AAP,” he said.
BJP does not even consider AAP significant enough to take them seriously
The BJP in Gujarat, however, is unperturbed with Aam Aadmi Party making noise. “We do not take them seriously. They are too insignificant to even be considered a real threat. They must fight elections as India is a democracy and if they do win seats, good for them. Robust democracy is important. But Gujaratis are logical and hardworking people. These promises of free electricity which has voltage fluctuation other issues won’t sit well with Gujaratis,” a senior BJP leader told OpIndia.
Gujarat is a two-party state
Gujarat has traditionally been a two-party state. Till Keshubhai Patel formed the first-ever BJP government in the state in 1995, Gujarat had only one non-Congress Chief Ministers. Babubhai Patel of Janata Party, who was CM for a little less than a year in 1975 during Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency and again for about three years in 1977.
In 1996, Shankersinh Vaghela, a former BJP leader quit the party and floated his own political party, Rashtriya Janata Party. With the external support of Congress he became the second non-Congress Chief Minister of Gujarat. He had to step down after Congress threatened to withdraw support and another RJP leader Dilip Parikh became the CM. Later, the party was merged into Congress.
In 2007, Gordhan Zadafia, who was the Gujarat Home Minister when the 2002 Gujarat riots broke out, floated his own political party Mahagujarat Janata Party. In 2012, ahead of state assembly elections, Keshubhai Patel floated a political party, Gujarat Parivartan Party. Zadafia later merged his party with Gujarat Parivartan Party which eventually merged into the BJP.
Since March 1998, Gujarat has only had a BJP chief minister.
While it may be too soon to make predictions on who may win the elections, but one thing seems sure that Congress may end up being pushed further into oblivion as BJP may continue to gain from AAP’s entry.