A group of people, mostly youths, greeted Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal with chants of “Modi-Modi” outside Gujarat’s Vadodara airport as he landed earlier this week for a daylong campaign for his Aam Aadmi Party in the BJP-ruled state where polls are due later this year.
The chants were met with “Kejriwal-Kejriwal” shouts by AAP supporters who were at the airport to receive the party’s national convenor.
“It’s obvious for the BJP to get people to chant slogans against me because they are going to suffer a lot this time,” Kejriwal told a press conference later. “Interestingly, when Rahul Gandhi came, they didn’t chant slogans against him.” With polls nearing, political observers and pollsters working on the ground say Kejriwal has managed to turn the Gujarat elections into a BJP versus AAP narrative as the Congress, the principal opposition party, offers a “cold response”.
However, they have doubts if Kejriwal and the AAP would succeed in reaping electoral benefit out of this narrative when the polls are held by the end of this year
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“An aggressive poll campaign of the AAP and the Congress’s cold response so far has helped Kejriwal turn the Gujarat elections into BJP versus AAP narrative,” a pollster collecting data for a survey agency told PTI, requesting anonymity.
He said the AAP is following the same “playbook” and deploying the same ecosystem” the BJP does during elections — “picking up fights with rivals, launching counterattacks and sending out the desired message to the voters through aggressive poll campaigns, spokespersons and social media” — to build the narrative in its favour.
Last month, the AAP appointed over 1,100 “social media warriors” to drive its poll campaign amid the fierce face-off with the BJP over a range of issues including the alleged corruption in the Delhi excise policy, which has now been withdrawn by city’s AAP government, and the alleged misuse of central probe agencies by the Modi dispensation.
Yashwant Deshmukh, the founder of the poll study agency C-Voter, said while Kejriwal is “working hard” and his party is campaigning “aggressively” in Gujarat, there is no clarity on the priority of the Congress as it is caught up in its ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’.
“They are engaged in such a huge activity and skipping the most important state, Gujarat, where they are out of power for 27 years and elections are to be held in the next few months,” he said.
Since July, the AAP supremo has visited Gujarat almost every week, leading his party’s campaign as well as reviewing and finetuning the preparations. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has visited the state just twice in five months. He had gone to Gujarat once in May to launch Congress’s poll campaign in the tribal-dominated Dahod district of the state.
On September 5, he had addressed his party’s ‘Parivartan Sankalp Rally’ in Ahmedabad and made a host of poll promises, some of which were already announced by Kejriwal — 300 units of free electricity to every household, jobs to 10 lakh youths, farm loan waiver — as the AAP’s “guarantee” to the people of the state.
Kejriwal had launched his party’s poll campaign in Gujarat as early as on April 1 when he held a roadshow in Ahmedabad, riding high on the the AAP’s stupendous victory in Punjab.
In his subsequent visits, he promised a host of “guarantees” to the people of the state, targeting almost every segment of voters– youths, women, farmers, government employees, businessmen and auto-rickshaw drivers.
The grand-old-party has not been unable to unseat the BJP in 27 years. Deshmukh said Kejriwal has found “a fertile ground” in Gujarat as almost “every fourth voter” in the state has never seen a Congress regime and, therefore, is open to welcome “a new campaign, suggestion and change” offered by a third party.
“Two generations in Gujarat have only seen the BJP regime and they are open to express their anger,” he said “But, the problem with the Congress is that it is unable to hold on to this 25 per cent block at the moment because of lack of imagination and aggression.” he said.
Kejriwal is trying to fill the vacuum created by the absence of the Congress’s national leadership in the state, he said, but added he felt the Congress is still “much ahead” of the AAP. “It’s rather the Congress versus the AAP,” he said.
But, with the kind of attraction Kejriwal is getting currently, Gujarat may witness what Punjab saw five years ago when the AAP’s efforts helped dethrone the BJP and its allies, but couldn’t bring it to power. The Congress had emerged victorious, while the AAP had to settle for the main Opposition status.
Noted psephologist Sanjay Kumar, who is also the co-director of Lokniti-CSDS, said the Kejriwal-led party is getting “some attraction”. “But it is too early to say the Gujarat elections will be a fight between the AAP and the BJP.” “There is a (AAP’s) buzz in some big cities and among some sections of the voters but it has not travelled to smaller towns and rural Gujarat,” he said. “I am looking at a three-way contest in Gujarat.” But Gujarat-based independent journalist and political analyst Darshan Desai does not agree with this analysis.
The AAP has managed to expand its support base in rural Gujarat, he said. “In fact they started with rural Gujarat and then came to the cities.” In the 2017 polls, the BJP retained power by winning 99 of the total 182 seats , while the Congress bagged 77. Later, several Congress MLAs resigned and joined the BJP.
The AAP, which had fielded its candidate on 29 seats in 2017 polls but could not open its account, is gearing up to contest all seats this time, hoping to dislodge the BJP from power.