Like the past, in Punjab and Goa for example, there is anticipation in the opposition quarters that the AAP may end up cutting into Congress votes and in turn, help the BJP win.
Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal recently announced that his party will contest all seats in the upcoming Gujarat assembly elections. Addressing a press conference on June 14, Kejriwal said that the state was treated like an orphan during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kejriwal said that the youth of Gujarat is unemployed today, parents are struggling to get admission for their kids in schools and colleges, businessmen are scared and farmers are dying by suicide and only AAP can bring a positive change.
Arvind Kejriwal said that the Congress in Gujarat is in BJP’s pockets. He claimed that the government schools and hospitals in the state are in shambles even after 75 years of independence and said that AAP, if elected to power, can fix them.
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The last election in Gujarat saw a stiff contest between the BJP and the Congress. The Congress managed to stop the BJP at 99 while it climbed to 77 seats in the 182-member assembly. However, due to defections from Congress and by-poll wins, the BJP increased its tally to 112 while Congress slipped to 65. While no other political parties were able to emerge as a threat to the BJP in the state, the Aam Aadmi Party is upbeat on its recent performance in the Surat Municipal Corporation elections where it won 27 of 120 seats on its debut.
The entry of Arvind Kejriwal’s party in Gujarat, however, has been subject to a lot of criticism. Like the past, in Punjab and Goa for example, there is anticipation in the opposition quarters that the AAP may end up cutting into Congress votes and in turn, help the BJP win.
While Kejriwal claims AAP is in Gujarat to bring change, the Congress believes that it has been brought in by the saffron party only to divide votes. Speaking to FinancialExpress.com, Gujarat Congress Chief Spokesperson Dr. Manish Doshi alleged that AAP is functioning as the BJP’s ‘B-team’. “Modiji took charge as chief minister in 2001. From 2001 to 2017, the vote share and the seats of the Congress have increased in the state. In 2017, we fell short by around 15 seats. Rahul ji put in all his full effort and campaigned effectively then. I don’t want to comment more on AAP because it’s the ‘B’ team of the BJP…..The question is that they have been called here. The BJP’s politics has been based on polarisation, division of votes in the name of religion. They will talk big in the first four years, will announce big schemes, and when the election comes, they will talk about Hindu-Muslim, Mandir-Masjid, Love Jihad. The recipe that they had for winning elections has finished now. Now they know that even their development plank will not help. So they want division of votes to win the poll,” said Doshi.
He stated that Gujarat stands to lose more than gain by the entry of AAP. “People are fed up with the corrupt, anti-people policies of the BJP government. The Congress has been fighting democratically against this for a long time. We are fighting for farmers, we are going to people and fighting for them. Be it commercialization of education, inflation, Aarogya services or other issues, we are fighting continuously. The people of Gujarat are fed up with the BJP and its tactics…the Congress is the only option against the BJP….I want to ask why the AAP did not contest by-polls on 8 seats? What is the relation between Sanjay Singh and Amit Shah? They will have to answer this,” said Doshi.
Doshi said that the Congress is taking together its leaders and preparing for the next assembly polls. “In the next 15 months, we will go to people on a large level…If there is any shortcoming within our organisation, we will also improve upon it in the coming months,” said Doshi.
When asked about whether the Congress will join hands with AAP in case of a hung assembly, Doshi said that the people of Gujarat always vote for a decisive government and there won’t be any hung assembly.
On the other hand, AAP Delhi MLA and Co-Incharge of Gujarat, Gulab Singh told FinancialExpress.com that there exists no opposition in Gujarat and people of the state have been left to suffer. “There is no opposition in the state. Tell me one face of Congress or the BJP who have credibility in the state. The BJP asks for the vote on Narendra Modi’s name. Rupani ji has become chief minister for the second time. Tell me what’s his achievement? We have brought Isudan Gadhvi (a journalist who recently joined AAP during Kejriwal’s visit) who is among the top journalists in the state but has joined AAP. In the coming days, you will see a lot of popular faces including non-political and some good political persons will join us,” said Singh.
When asked, does it mean that some leaders of BJP or Congress with a clean image may join AAP in the coming days, Gulab Singh said, “Absolutely, people like these will be joining AAP.”
He said that people of Gujarat are fed up with both the BJP and the Congress in the state. “They are two sides of the same coin.
“Whenever the BJP wants MLAs, the Congress supplies it to them. Eight MLAs were sold recently and the people of Gujarat saw this open murder of democracy. The BJP has been in power for over 25 years and they are in power because the Congress MLAs are sold and they don’t talk about issues affecting the common man. They don’t protest against the BJP on the streets. This is the reason we are starting a march from 28 June,” said Singh.
When asked how he plans to reach out to people ahead of the polls, he said that AAP members will go to every village of Gujarat in the coming days to collect COVID death data. “Our leaders Isudan Gadhvi and Gopal Italia will go to 18000 villages in Gujarat and we will collect the death data due to COVID-19. We will promise a relief/compensation package just like Delhi and will announce it if voted to power. CM Vijay Rupani has not once talked about this (compensation). We will guarantee MSP which no CM gave in the last 27 years. We have controlled the private school’s fee hike in Delhi and promise to do the same in Gujarat where privatization and commercialisation of education is rampant. Be it the ruling party or the opposition party, both have their share in this. The high fee is taking a toll on parent’s pocket. If free electricity can be given in Delhi, we can give it in Gujarat as well. We will keep it all in our election manifesto. People are looking at AAP with hope,” said the AAP MLA.
Gulab Singh said that it has not been a week since the joining of Isudan Gadhvi and we have received lakhs of calls from people expressing their wish to join the party. “We are working hard at ground level. Our volunteer base is increasing. The 18 months to the elections are like a challenge for us. We have to reach out to 55,000 booths which is another challenge for us. But we will do our best as people want a change this time,” said the AAP Gujarat co-incharge.
While both AAP and the Congress are confident of toppling the BJP this time in Narendra Modi’s backyard, it will be interesting to see how the new political equations and the new narratives take shape in Gujarat. A stronger AAP may eventually give the BJP just what it needs to tide over what would otherwise be a tough battle to win.