The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s history of taking Delhi and Punjab by storm is unlikely to be repeated in Gujarat. Even the frisson of excitement first generated by the partyis fast fizzling out as the campaign reaches its peak, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi hitting the trail that includes a door-to-door outreach towards the end.
Conversations across the state revealed three reasons for AAP’s dissipation in Gujarat. The first is the pick of Isudan Gadhvi as chief ministerial candidate. Gadhvi lacks the kind of caste or community backing that a Patidar like AAP Gujarat unit President Gopal Italia would have attracted. AAP’s presence is largely rooted in Surat, where the party had won 27 seats and 28 per cent vote share in the 2021 municipal elections.
Of the total 16 seats in Surat, AAP hopes to give a good fight in at least five seats, including Katargam, Varachha Road, Kamrej, Karanj and Olpad, where Patidar support would be crucial. The candidature and projection as CM of Gopal Italia, a Patidar who is contesting from Katargam, would have been a strong attraction, at least in Surat where AAP has put up prominent faces from the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) . PAAS had played an important role in mobilising the Patidar community and weaning it away from the BJP in 2017, which caused heavy losses to the party in Saurashtra. It was the intervention of the late Arun Jaitley and personal efforts of Home Minister Amit Shah that saved the BJP in Surat, where the BJP managed to win 15 of the 16 seats in the last Assembly polls.
The second reason for AAP’s dissipating prospects is the shrinking resources with heavyweights such as Indranil Rajyaguru quitting the party. Rajyaguru is a former Congress MLA from Rajkot East and among the richest candidates in Gujarat, with declared assets worth Rs 141 crore and is known to be a political patron. Rajyaguru had won the 2012 election from Rajkot East on a Congress ticket and then shifted his constituency to Rajkot to contest against the then Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani in 2017. He lost that election but is still known to wield considerable influence in the Saurashtra region. His quitting AAP and joining the Congress is a boost for the latter.
The third reason is that AAP’s relative freshness may have been an asset in Delhi or Punjab, but in a large state such as Gujarat, the lack of recognition, especially of local candidates, is a drawback, especially when pitted against the omnipresence of the BJP.
In Ahmedabad, political discussions with ocal traders in the Diamond Association, revealed strong support for the BJP and a recognition of the Congress’s entrenched candidates. But there was no mention of AAP.
“Himmatsinh Patel of the Congress is strong in Bapunagar (assembly constituency in Ahmedabad). He won in 2017 and is fighting well this time. But we will vote for Modi. Even if he puts up a donkey for a candidate, we would still vote for him,” said Maganbhai V. Patel, secretary of the Diamond Association. About 15 diamond traders gathered around in the Association compound nodded vigorously, but claimed no interest in AAP. Significantly, almost all the traders were Patidars and almost all were vociferously supporting the BJP. “Last time (in 2017), there was anamat andolan (agitation for reservation). So a lot of us opposed the BJP. There is no such problem this time,” said K. A. Patel.
Even within AAP, volunteers confessed that the focus is in Surat and adjoining seats in South Gujarat where there is some chance of winning. There is some attraction in Saurashtra, where the party’s CM candidate is contesting from Khambalia seat in Dwarka district. But in North and Central Gujarat, the contest is still bipolar, between Congress and the BJP. While both the Congress and the BJP wonder whose votes will be cut by AAP, the consensus is that it will struggle to cross the double-digit mark.