Can AAP be Gujarat’s third force?
Party ramps up efforts in state that will go to the polls in 2017, eyes votes of the agitating Patel community
Ahmedabad/New Delhi: Gujarat, a state whose political narrative is defined by its bipolar contests between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress, could see the emergence of a third force with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) planning to contest all 182 seats in the 2017 assembly election.
After building a base in Delhi, Punjab and Goa, the party is focusing on building its organizational structure in Gujarat.
AAP’s Gujarat observer Gulab Singh Yadav—who is also a member of the Delhi assembly—announced the party’s plans at a press conference on 4 June.
When contacted, a senior AAP spokesperson said, “While preparations are on in the state, the political affairs committee of the party will take a final call on contesting elections. So far, the party is officially contesting elections in the states of Punjab and Goa.”
Political experts said it is too early to say if AAP will have much of an impact in a state that has been a stronghold of the BJP for over two decades now. But they do not rule out the possibility of the party gaining some ground due to anti-incumbency.
“AAP has got a good response in Punjab and Goa and it seems to be a good logical entry for them in the highly urban state of Gujarat. They might ride on the success of these states that will go to elections ahead of Gujarat and may even get a token presence in Gujarat. Their entry in Gujarat may end up hurting the Congress more than the BJP,” said Jai Mrug, a Mumbai-based political analyst.
Harshil Nayak, media-co-ordinator and spokesperson for AAP in Gujarat said: “We have got an overwhelming response in Gujarat. We already had 4.5 lakh members in Gujarat who joined us during the Lok Sabha elections in 2014. We began Mission Gujarat Jodo in February to increase our visibility and to get new memberships. We have held 50 meetings so far and have registered 1 lakh new members till 1 June. We have created a strong presence on social media and have about 500 volunteers working part-time.”
The party has about 8,000 active volunteers in the state.
Yadav was in Gujarat recently to help build the party organizational structure. AAP has also started a mass contact programme. Last week, volunteer meetings were held in various places, including Ahmedabad, Surat and Vadodara.
AAP, which handed out a crushing defeat to the BJP in the 2015 Delhi assembly election, seems to be eyeing the votes of the agitating Patel community in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state.
The powerful and influential Patels, supporters of the BJP for over two decades now and constituting about 14% of the state’s population, have been agitating for quotas for over a year now.
Their leader, 22-year-old Hardik Patel, is facing sedition and other charges linked to the stir he headed last year that turned violent.
AAP chief and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal came out in support of Patel recently. In a video message played at a press conference in Gujarat last week, Kejriwal sought to know what crime Patel had committed to deserve being slapped with such serious charges.
And on 10 June, posters and banners of Kejriwal were seen in cities such as Ahmedabad, Surat and Rajkot with claims of support from the Patel community for the party and its leader.
AAP leaders say that there has been a positive response to this message. “After Kejriwal’s message, there are posters in his favour that have been put up across the state by supporters,” said a party leader.
Analyst Mrug says that there is a strong chance that those communities that are not supporting the Patel agitation might align themselves with the BJP or the Congress. In the 2012 assembly election, the BJP bagged 115 seats and the Congress won 61 out of the 182 assembly seats.
A BJP leader said on condition of anonymity that while AAP’s entry in Gujarat could help the party in rural areas by cutting into Congress votes, it could be a cause of worry in urban areas, which are its stronghold.
AAP’s plans to enter Gujarat received a boost after the local body polls in December in which the BJP suffered a setback. Soon after the polls, where the BJP faltered in district panchayats, losing 22 out of 31 seats to the Congress, AAP leaders said that the party would hold as many as 50 rallies and strengthen its base in the state over the next six months. AAP has put five central leaders in charge of five regions in Gujarat.
AAP has made its presence felt in the state, holding as many as 18 protest rallies in the past four months across 33 districts on issues such as the alleged land scam involving relatives of chief minister Anandiben Patel and high electricity tariffs.
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