Popular TV journalist from Gujarat, Isudan Gadhvi joined AAP in presence of Arvind Kejriwal on June 14 (Image source: @ArvindKerjiwal)
On September 12, a day after Vijay Rupani resigned as Gujarat Chief Minister, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Raghav Chadha claimed that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was forced to change chief ministers in Gujarat and Uttarakhand facing a challenge from the Arvind Kejriwal-led party.
“The AAP challenged the BJP by saying ‘perform or perish, which forced the BJP to change its CMs in both the states,” Chadha, AAP national spokesperson and Delhi legislator, said.
In June, party supremo and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, during one of his visits to Gujarat, announced that AAP will field candidates in all the 182 seats in next year’s assembly elections.
The AAP, considering its national ambitions, has come a long way in Gujarat. Years after facing a humiliating defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls when its 24 candidates lost deposits, the party is now emerging as a strong force, at least in some parts of Gujarat – under BJP rule for more than two decades.
The Surat success story
Things started changing in AAP’s favour in February when it tasted its first major electoral success and emerged as the principal opposition party in the 120-member Surat Municipal Corporation. The BJP won 93 seats, AAP 27 and the Congress drew a black.
READ:How Arvind Kejriwal's AAP trumped Congress in Surat municipal polls
AAP scored a zero in five other municipal corporations – Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Rajkot, Jamnagar, and Bhavnagar – it contested. But enforcing a zero on the Congress in Surat has boosted its ambitions of moving beyond Delhi. More so, since Surat is the hometown of Gujarat BJP president CR Paatil.
The party projects itself to be an alternative to both the BJP and the Congress. “Both the Congress and the BJP are partners in crime in Gujarat for the last 27 years. AAP is the honest alternative that Gujarat is awaiting,” Kejriwal told reporters during his Gujarat visit in June.
The Surat performance was linked to the weakening of the Congress in the diamond hub. The influential Patidar community had supported the Congress after 2015, but, perhaps, preferred the AAP in the local body polls.
Also, read: Gujarat civic poll results | BJP strengthens hold in state, AAP gains at Congress' expense
Incidentally, or otherwise, Gujarat AAP chief Gopal Italia, who joined AAP in June 2020, is a Patidar from Surat.
"Four leaders from Surat were made ministers in the oath-taking of the new cabinet. With this, BJP's state president, one central minister and four state ministers are from Surat. This is the same Surat where AAP created history by winning 27 seats," Italia said after the new Cabinet of ministers were sworn-in on September 16.
In the Surat municipal polls, the AAP won all seats in the Patidar-dominated areas where the quota agitation was led by Hardik Patel in 2015. Patel is now the president of the Gujarat Pradesh Congress.
The AAP has won the assembly elections in Delhi thrice and it is the principal opposition in Congress-ruled Punjab.
As part of its national ambition, the party has been trying to make inroads into Gujarat since its inception in 2012. In the 2017 assembly elections, AAP fielded candidates in 29 seats but drew a blank again. The BJP secured a simple majority in the assembly polls, bagging 99 of the 182 assembly seats.
Also, read:Politics | AAP has a second chance to fulfil its national ambitions
Before June, Kejriwal visited Gujarat in February and played out a victory-like procession. Since then, he and other leaders, including Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, have visited Gujarat many times, indicating that the party is keen on strengthening its presence in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
Many in the BJP have acknowledged the AAP challenge. Former minister and Varachha (Surat) MLA Kumar Kanani told the media, according a report in Economic Times, that the BJP will find it hard to win Varachha in 2022 as AAP has grown a massive support base in the constituency. Varachha is a Patidar-dominated region that contributed to AAP’s Surat performance in February.
Others are, however, dismissive. "Not every star-up succeeds in spite of great incentives and here is one that is trying to exploit a saturated market with sub-quality product. It's a venture better dropped at conception, BJP spokesperson c said recently.
Reports suggest that the AAP has an edge in three of the 16 assembly seats in Surat district, as of now. The party, it is said, expects to get an advantage in at least half the assembly seats over the next one and a half years, according to a report in India Today.
Wooing local influencers
In the past few months, AAP has inducted many leaders, including journalist Isudan Gadhvi and Surat-based businessman Mahesh Savani, into the party ahead of assembly polls 2022.
Gadhvi, a popular news anchor, quit his job and joined the party
in June in the presence of Arvind Kejriwal. Savani, a Patidar figure, is a social worker
who owns several educational institutes and is known for organising mass weddings for orphaned women. The BJP has been reportedly trying to woo Savani, who belongs to the Leuva Patel community, which is highly influential in Surat and in the southern districts of Gujarat.