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Gujarat Elections: Is it Advantage BJP or Can Congress, AAP Put Up a Fight?

With only a few months to go for the Gujarat elections, how are political parties preparing to win over voters?

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Gujarat Elections: Is it Advantage BJP or Can Congress, AAP Put Up a Fight?
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Ahmedabad on Friday, 10 June, is his second visit to Gujarat in a span of just about 15 days. Earlier, on 29 May, he visited Rajkot and Gandhinagar to mark eight years of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA government at the Centre. The PM is also scheduled to visit Vadodara on 18 June. This makes a total of three visits in less than a month's time.

Why exactly are we discussing the prime minister's travel itinerary? Because he is not alone. The who's who of Indian politics are frequenting Gujarat as the state gears up for assembly elections later this year. This list includes national leaders like Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, Home Minister Amit Shah, and AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi.

Clearly, political parties in Gujarat have entered the poll mode in full swing. While traditional players like the Congress and the BJP are looking to regain power, new entrants like the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) are preparing to make a dent in BJP's home state in the run-up to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

What is at stake in the saffron state and what tricks have political parties come armed with, to the battlefield? The Quint spoke to party workers on the ground to find out.

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For BJP, Old Is Gold!

The BJP has been ruling Gujarat without a break for the past 24 years and during this period it has given the state five chief ministers – Keshubhai Patel, Narendra Modi, Anandiben Patel, Vijay Rupani, and Bhupendra Patel.

In September 2021, Rupani was replaced by a lesser-known, low-profile Bhupendra Patel in a bid to tackle anti-incumbency and regain lost ground among the crucial Patidar community in the state. The BJP now continues to heavily depend on PM Modi's image to win the elections.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets people in Gandhinagar on 29 May. 

(Photo: Twitter/BJP Gujarat)

The Quint spoke to the Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Pradip Parmar in the Gujarat government. Parmar emphasised on the work done by the BJP government at the Centre dismissing claims of anti-incumbency.

"The Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre has worked for the poor and the marginalised giving people homes and jobs. People have watched his (Modi's) work over the years and will vote for the BJP keeping that in mind," he said.

Parmar also added that the Bhupendra Patel Cabinet has proved its efficiency over the last 6 months and each candidate of the party will emerge victorious with a bigger margin than last time "even if the elections were held today."

Under pressure for its handling of the COVID crisis and the lockdown-induced economic distress, the BJP top leadership including State President CR Paatil, Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel, and Home Minister Amit Shah have chalked out a strategy for the upcoming polls.

In addition to the Patidars, the BJP's focus is on consolidating the tribal vote in the state. During his 10 June visit, the prime minister will address a gathering of tribals at Khudvel village in Navsari district.

People from all over the tribal belt of south Gujarat – Tapi, Dang, and Valsad districts are expected to attend this event. It is pertinent to note that the tribals in Gujarat have been unhappy about the now-scrapped Par Tapi Narmada (PTN) project.

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Congress Is Working – 'Slow and Steady'

Having been out of office for over 27 years, the Congress party lost to BJP by a narrow margin of 22 seats and a vote share of 7.7 percentage points in the 2017 assembly elections. This, however, is where most reasons to cheer for the Congress come to an end.

The party has maintained a dismal record in local body polls held in 2021, winning a clear majority only in one out of 81 municipalities and 18 out of 231 taluka panchayats.

The departure of leaders like Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakor has further kept the party in headlines for the wrong reasons. And the sudden announcement of break from public life by senior leader Bharatsinh Solanki also didn't do much to help the cause of the grand old party.

"Hardik (Patel) was a headache for us and now he will become a headache for the BJP," former Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) President Arjun Modhwadia told The Quint.

"He had some clout and was a popular leader when he joined the party after the Patidar agitation but soon after he lost his support base. Not even a single MLA or agitation leader went with Hardik as he switched. This should tell us something," Modhwadia added.

Rahul Gandhi addressing party leaders during his 10 May visit to the state. 

Photo: Accessed by The Quint.

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    Anti-inflation march organised by Congress in Ahmedabad. 

    (Photo: Twitter/Gujarat Congress)

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>Anti-inflation march organised by Congress in Ahmedabad.&nbsp;</p></div>
  • 02/03

    Anti-inflation march organised by Congress in Ahmedabad. 

    (Photo: Twitter/Gujarat Congress)

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>Anti-inflation march organised by Congress in Ahmedabad.&nbsp;</p></div>
  • 03/03

    Anti-inflation march organised by Congress in Ahmedabad. 

    (Photo: Twitter/Gujarat Congress)

    <div class="paragraphs"><p>Anti-inflation march organised by Congress in Ahmedabad.&nbsp;</p></div>

Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi's Gujarat visit on 10 May and his subsequent interaction with the tribals, Modhwadia claimed, has boosted the cadre. Gandhi's visit was significant because Dalits and Adivasis make up a sizeable chunk of Congress' support base in Gujarat.

Modhwadia also added that the party is mainly working away from the media glare and full-fledged rallies will start after monsoon.

"The Congress is working at the grassroots. Youth Congress, Mahila Congress, and several other arms of the party are going door-to-door to engage with the voters."

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The Key to AAP's National Ambitions

After a massive victory in Punjab, the Aam Aadmi Party is now making the right noise in Gujarat with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, and Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann visiting the state to address people on different occasions.

After a 21-day long parivartan yatra across 600 villages, the party dissolved its entire unit in the state. "Based on the feedback we have received from the parivartan yatra, we will constitute a new team. There will be a complete structural overhaul of the party in Gujarat," former AAP state incharge Gulab Singh Yadav told The Quint.

Arvind Kejriwal during AAP's Tiranga Yatra in Mehsana.

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint)

Sources in the party claim that Arvind Kejriwal has tasked his trusted and closest aides to ensure that AAP has one person per booth in Gujarat by the first week of July.

In May, AAP joined hands with the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) in a bid to capture the tribal votes in the state. The party is also reaching out to the Patidar community through roadshows and rallies being addressed by Kejriwal himself.

Given its impressive performance in the 2021 local body polls where it won just one seat but bagged 21 percent of the votes in Gandhinagar, it is clear that the AAP is eyeing a benefit from the anti-BJP vote which the Congress is unable to consolidate.

This election will also be significant for AAP's national ambitions as it looks to expand beyond Delhi and Punjab.

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AIMIM and the Muslim Vote

AIMIM President Asaduddin Owaisi addressed public gatherings in Ahmedabad and Chappi in Vadgam Taluka of Banaskantha district. Chappi was at the centre of anti-CAA protests in Gujarat.

It is significant that even as AIMIM strengthens its base in the Muslim-majority areas of the state, the party has decided to field candidates from Hindu pockets in a bid to shrug off the 'minority party' tag.

During his address in May, Owaisi said that the party is open to alliances with regional forces. He also mentioned that the party leaders must focus on all communities and not just Muslims.

Asaduddin Owaisi and other party leaders address a press conference in Surat. 

(Photo: Twitter/AIMIM Gujarat)

Earlier, AIMIM had won 25 corporator seats in the local body elections in Gujarat, making its presence felt in the saffron state.

The Significance of BTP

Led by Bhil leader Chhotubhai Vasava and his son Mahesh Vasava, the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) is a key regional player representing the tribal population of the state.

The party has two MLAs in the Gujarat assembly – Chottubhai from Jhagadia in Bharuch and Mahesh from Dediapada in Narmada district.

The BTP joined hands with Congress ahead of the 2017 assembly elections but the equation soon turned bitter in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections when the Congress rejected Chhotubhai’s proposal to back him from the Bharuch and instead fielded their own candidate from the seat making it a triangular contest between the BJP, Congress, and BTP.

The two parties snapped ties in 2020.

The BTP then contested in the 2021 district and the taluka panchayat elections in alliance with Owaisi's AIMIM, and saw a near wipeout in the Narmada region.

The party was unable to win a single seat in Garudeshwar and was reduced to two in Dediapada taluka panchayat from 12 seats in 2015.

In May 2022, however, the party joined hands with Arvind Kejriwal's AAP in a bid to regain lost ground.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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