Battlefield Gujarat: In Cong’s Absence, AAP Takes the Fight to BJP

After the Patidar and Dalit protests, a bruised BJP faces a new challenge in Gujarat in the form of Kejriwal.  

Updated
Politics
5 min read
Kejriwal is the new entrant in politics of Gujarat, which has seen a two-way fight between BJP and Congress for a long time. (Image: <b>The Quint</b>/Hardeep Singh)

On 1 August at 4:41pm, when Anandiben Patel announced her resignation on Facebook, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was one of the first politicians to react. “This is the victory of our fight,” he declared. The reaction of the Congress, the only Opposition party in Gujarat, was routine and modest.

As a result, as far as the media is concerned, Kejriwal’s aggressive Aam Aadmi Party managed to occupy the space which was left vacant by the Grand Old Party.

While the drama around Anandiben’s resignation unfolded, the Aam Aadmi Party made sure its response was memorable. The party has never failed to give the media what it craves – great headlines and eventful pictures. AAP workers flashed hoardings with catchy lines on Ahmedabad flyovers, which were obviously splashed all over Gujarati newspapers the next morning.

Anandiben is scared of AAP, reads the banner, while her resignation has injected new enthusiasm among party workers.
Anandiben is scared of AAP, reads the banner, while her resignation has injected new enthusiasm among party workers.

Why is AAP Focusing on Gujarat?

“Initially, we just wanted to provoke and irritate Modi in Gujarat,” admits an AAP insider candidly. “But when we went there, we realised there was serious opportunity there,” he adds.

Annoying Modi in his home state while the BJP created hurdles for Kejriwal in Delhi sounds like a perfect tit-for-tat political strategy. Kejriwal paid his first major visit to Gujarat in March 2014 during Lok Sabha elections. He met people from various sections of Gujarati society, held press conferences and even tried to gatecrash Modi’s Gandhinagar residence to discuss “rising gas prices”. The drama that followed gave him the publicity he badly needed in the run up to parliamentary elections.



One of the rare occasions when arch rivals Kejriwal and Modi shared a stage. The birth anniversary of Sardar Patel in October 2015. (Photo courtesy: Twitter.com/<a href="https://twitter.com/search?f=images&amp;vertical=default&amp;q=kejriwal%20modi&amp;src=typd">@ITNlive</a>)
One of the rare occasions when arch rivals Kejriwal and Modi shared a stage. The birth anniversary of Sardar Patel in October 2015. (Photo courtesy: Twitter.com/@ITNlive)

It was during this visit that Kejriwal saw an opportunity in the vacuum created by the lack of an Opposition. BJP had been ruling Gujarat for almost two decades and the Congress just didn’t have it in them to fight despite their deep roots in the state.

Congress has been working hard to give space to others. AAP stepped into that space. The new party has no network in the state, but general perception is good. People say, this party is better than Congress. 
Darshan Desai, Gujarat-based Senior Journalist

What is AAP’s Strategy?

The Aam Aadmi Party knows that merely perceived anti-incumbency won’t help it win elections. The party has decided to follow its tried and tested Delhi pattern. With its base of 8000 volunteers, the party is focusing on issues that are of concern to the aam aadmi.

They are taking up issues like high electricity rates, cancellation of semester exams, slum demolition and toll taxes. All these issues affect the common man. They are getting good responses whenever they protest. 
Meghdoot Sharon, CNN-News18, Ahmedabad

Patidar reservation was the turning point for politics in Gujarat. While the BJP government was facing massive statewide protests organised by Hardik Patel, Kejriwal recorded a video in support of the 23-year-old and against the BJP government that slapped sedition charges on him.

Although AAP has backed Hardik Patel, it has shied away from extending support to his demand for reservation. At this stage, the angry, young party doesn’t want to upset other communities, it seems.

Before making our manifesto for the Assembly election, we will go and meet the people of Gujarat. After speaking with them, we will decide about it (stand on reservation for Patidar community). 
Ashutosh, AAP Spokesperson to The Quint

AAP played an active role in the recent Dalit protest organised against the thrashing of four Dalit tannery workers by gau rakshaks. The strategy is to go for a Dalit-Muslim-Patidar combination in Gujarat, say AAP sources in Delhi. Dalits constitute 7%, Muslims 9% and Patidars form 14% of Gujarat’s total population. Together, they add up to 30% of the state’s population, but all these communities are politically sensitive and are known to turn out in huge numbers to vote.

Thousands gathered in Ahmedabad to protest against thrashing of Dalits. (Photo: AP)
Thousands gathered in Ahmedabad to protest against thrashing of Dalits. (Photo: AP)

Does AAP have a leader in Gujarat?

The problem which AAP is facing in Punjab is unique. It has a party structure and a mass base, but nobody at the helm to lead them. Kejriwal seems to have learnt his lesson and has been grooming a leader in Gujarat. Kanubhai Kalsaria is Kejriwal’s answer to Modi in Gujarat.

Kanubhai is an interesting character. He was a BJP MLA when he stood up against the then Chief Minister Narendra Modi. He led a farmers’ agitation against a proposed Nirma cement plant and managed to get it scrapped. He’s known for his impeccable character, say local journalists.

But the 62-year-old state convener of the Aam Aadmi Party lacks pan-Gujarat stature. He has no following beyond Saurashtra. But the party has no better option available. It plans to project this farmer leader against “industry friendly” Modi.

File picture of Kanu Kalsaria protesting against Anandiben and her family. (Courtesy: Twitter.com/<a href="https://twitter.com/DrKanubhaiAAP/media">@DrKanubhaiAAP</a>)
File picture of Kanu Kalsaria protesting against Anandiben and her family. (Courtesy: Twitter.com/@DrKanubhaiAAP)

Kejriwal has dispatched his confidant Ashutosh to concentrate on Gujarat. The former journalist has been travelling across Gujarat and tweeting against Modi almost everyday.

How Many Seats Can AAP Win in Gujarat?

Amid Patidar and Dalit protests, there is a leadership crisis in Gujarat BJP. Kejriwal was quicker than the Congress to take advantage of it. He visited Gujarat twice in the last one month alone and has scheduled another visit next week. It means the Aam Aadmi Party is taking Gujarat seriously. But is Gujarat taking it seriously?

AAP’s electoral performance in Gujarat hasn’t been encouraging. All its candidates lost their deposits in 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The party said it didn’t want to repeat the “mistake” of fighting an election without organisational structure. So, in December 2015, AAP didn’t participate in the local body polls, which saw a Congress comeback in rural Gujarat.

Arvind Kejriwal with Kanu Kalsaria and Kumar Vishwas in Gujarat. (Photo courtesy: Twitter.com/<a href="https://twitter.com/search?f=images&amp;vertical=default&amp;q=%E0%A4%97%E0%A5%81%E0%A4%9C%E0%A4%B0%E0%A4%BE%E0%A4%A4%20%E0%A4%86%E0%A4%AA&amp;src=typd">@KapilKhaneja</a>)
Arvind Kejriwal with Kanu Kalsaria and Kumar Vishwas in Gujarat. (Photo courtesy: Twitter.com/@KapilKhaneja)

Now Aam Aadmi Party has announced its intention to fight all 182 segments of the Assembly polls to be held in November 2017. Even if it works hard on building a party structure, raising local issues, building caste alliances and campaigning, experts say that it will be in a position to win only 5-10 seats. However, it can play a bigger role by eating into votes of other parties. It will be interesting to see who it causes more damage to – the Congress or the BJP.

Kejriwal may not make windfall gains in terms of seats, but he is in a position to distract Modi. Will he succeed in shifting his battlefield from Delhi to Gandhinagar?

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