In Gujarat, a state where the BJP and the Congress have historically engaged in a two-party battle, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s entry into the race has raised questions about what it could imply for next month’s Assembly elections.
Will the AAP harm the Congress’ chances by splitting anti-BJP votes? Or will it be able to make breakthroughs into the cities, its traditional stronghold, and inflict some damage on the BJP as well? Will the AAP win any seats at all, or will it merely garner a big vote share, winning no seats? These are some concerns that have been raised about the party’s candidacy in the State elections.
Gujarat has historically been a two-party race, with the BJP getting massive support in urban areas and the Congress dominating in rural parts. For example, the BJP won 55 out of 73 urban seats in the 2017 elections (75.3%). However, the BJP won 43 of the 109 seats in rural areas, while the Congress won 62 (56.7%) of them.
The AAP, bolstered by a decent showing in the Surat local body elections last year, enters the fray. Political observers in the State say that the AAP is focusing on the city of Surat and four rural Saurashtra districts. Hence, the theory that AAP is only going urban is not correct but also limits their strategic perspective.
BJP’s senior leader states, “There are over 30 seats in Saurashtra where the winning margin was less than 1% of the total votes polled (either for the BJP or the Congress) and the AAP is concentrating on those too.”
Patidar’s Strong Presence
Patidars, who have traditionally supported the BJP, have a substantial presence in many of these Saurashtra seats. Although the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti supported the Congress in the 2017 Assembly elections, its most notable leader, Hardik Patel, now supports the BJP. However, two of its founding members, Alpesh Kathiriya and Dharmik Malaviya, have recently joined the AAP. They are expected to play a key role in Varachha and two other seats dominated by Patidars from Saurashtra, who have settled in Surat.
This initiative not only shows the AAP’s plan to use its forces in Surat but also shows that young Patidars are being courted.
A senior BJP member quoted, “In the last election, some Patidar vote shifted to the Congress, but it led to some counter polarisation of communities that were antagonistic regarding the Patidars but were in the Congress camp, who voted for the BJP. Former minister Nitin Patel’s victory in Mehsana (dominated by Patidars but with a significant non-Patidar vote as well) was considered an example of this counter-polarisation.”
The AAP intends to use this counter-polarization to its advantage. For instance, the AAP is focusing on the Botad seat, which was previously won by senior BJP leader Saurabh Patel by a slender margin. Similarly, in the Rajkot Rural seat, which is reserved for Scheduled Castes, the AAP is likely to run Vashram Sagathiya, who was the Congress candidate last time and lost by a small margin.
The jury is still out on whether the AAP will score well or at all in this Gujarat set piece.
Also Read: Gujarat Elections: Isudan Gadhvi Will Be AAP’s CM Face