The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is pushing to make a triangular contest out of, what is usually a bipolar fight, between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress in Gujarat.
It is placing its bet on incumbency against the ruling BJP and a weakened Congress in the state to create a space for itself.
But of the two, who is AAP planning to impact electorally?
The BJP, in the last two elections, in 2012 and 2017, has retained its support base in urban and semi-urban areas.
Despite the Patidar agitation last time, the BJP managed to clinch another victory for itself in 2017, though the number of seats it held in the Assembly was reduced from 115 to 99.
At its peak, the agitation demanded Other Backward Classes (OBC) status for the Patels and reservation in higher education and jobs for the community.
The Patels are divided between Leuva Patels and Kadva Patels, with the former generally considered the more affluent of the two. The Leuva Patels are also seen as more inclined to support the BJP.
Kadva Patels, on the other hand, are comparatively less well-heeled and were, therefore, the major force behind the Patidar agitation. The agitation was led by Hardik Patel, himself belonging to Kadva sub-caste.
Though the BJP won the 2017 elections, the impact of Patidar agitation was felt strongly in Saurashtra. The party could win only 23 out of 54 seats in a Patel-dominated region.
BJP’s loss was Congress’s gain as it increased its tally here.
At that time, Hardik Patel supported the Congress, even though he officially joined the party only in 2019. The Congress, however, soon lost the momentum it had gained among the Kadva Patels.
AAP’s First Brush with Victory
In the Surat Municipal Corporation, the AAP won 27 seats while Congress could not win even one.
The highly developed urban centre and trade hub gravitated towards a newbie party as the misgivings on the impact of demonetisation and GST on traders remained a factor.
Wanting to capitalise on the win, the AAP is on a mission mode to impact the Gujarat elections and emerge as the only credible national alternative to the BJP.
AAP has inducted many of the names associated with the Patidar agitation, including Gopal Italia, from Surat, as well as new entrants, Alpesh Kathiriya and Dharmik Malaviya, who were co-convenors of Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), along with Hardik Patel.
AAP’s Poll “Strategy”
Many commentators believe that AAP’s ascension in the state would directly lead to Congress getting shrunk. However, many in the BJP believe that AAP is not here to replace Congress but to create a situation where it emerges as a king-maker, at least in this election.
The AAP is looking to challenge the BJP in urban and semi-urban seats, which have been the latter’s stronghold.
In the last two elections, at least, Congress has not been able to make much difference in the urban and semi-urban constituencies.
In 2012, Congress+ won only 14 seats in the urban clusters, out of 73, and 11, out of 30, in semi-urban.
In 2017, the party increased its urban tally by three seats to 17 and semi-urban by one seat, to secure 12 seats in total.
In the rural areas, in 2017, the Congress gave the BJP a tough fight, reducing the latter’s tally from 56 to 43 seats. In the current scenario, it appears that it is aiming to maximise its strength and outsource its weaknesses to the AAP.
In fact, in 2017, half of BJP’s seats came from four highly urbanised centres, Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Surat and Vadodara.
Areas where Congress, anyway, does not have a chance, are the constituencies the AAP is hoping to make an impact.
Taking A Slice of Hindutva Pie
AAP’s posturing in favour of the Hindutva plank is aimed to steal away BJP’s loyal constituency with promises of freebies peppered with softer aspects of Hindutva.
From temple-hopping and calling oneself a messenger of Bhagwan Krishna to suggesting placing images of Hindu Gods and Goddesses on currency notes, AAP’s intention is not lost on many.
Gopal Italia’s viral videos, where he is seen using derogatory language against Hindu’s religious rituals have also not gone down well with the people of Gujarat.
Italia’s own community of Patels wants to distance itself from the remarks he has made, including the ones targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mother. Italia is believed to be the architect of AAP’s win in SMC, which is why he continues to retain his position within the party.
With its election-time rhetoric, it is clear that AAP is, at least directly, not after the minority vote, which has been a Congress vote bank in the state.
In fact, it is taking their vote as a by-product of gathering enough support from the majority, to be seen as the real challenger to the ruling BJP.
However, the BJP does not seem to be leaving anything to chance. It is considering the Congress as much a contender in the rural parts, as it is considering AAP a threat in the urban areas.
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