In Delhi’s socialite circle there is a pet phrase ‘Mutual Admiration Club’. But in Gujarat, in the run-up to December 1 and December 5 polling, people are talking about MCC – the Mutual Criticism Club. This definition suits the AAP and the Congress party, which have held considerable opposition space in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat. The Congress accuses Arvind Kejriwal of being Bharatiya Janata Party’s ‘B-Team’ and that the latter is contesting Gujarat polls only to help the Saffron party. On the other hand, the AAP says there are ‘Ilu-Ilu (I love You)’ deals between the BJP and the Congress. Of course, the age-old stories of two cats and a monkey settling the share of the cake applies in Gujarat polity as both the AAP and the Congress are eyeing typically ‘anti-BJP votes’. So, the common refrain is each one of them – the AAP of Kejriwal and Rahul-Sonia Gandhi’s Congress will cut into each other’s vote share and ultimately help the party of Narendra Modi, their common enemy.
Modi factor works
The BJP leaders and booth level workers say Gujarat’s developmental works in infrastructures and welfare measures including core health sector and women welfare, are unique on several fronts. They are also done in style. When COVID-19 vaccination campaign was at its peak both globally and in India, Gujarat had recorded 180 vaccine doses for every 100 persons. Countries such as the United States, France, Germany and Canada were behind Gujarat’s record.
In Gujarat, the total number of women panchayat representatives is more than male representatives. The ‘monetary support’ to women especially in rural Gujarat has played a crucial role in the growth of economic activities. In Gujarat, the enrollment ratio of girls in primary education has been on constant rise. In 2018-19, it was 88.5 per cent and this has shot up to 90.5 per cent by 2019-20. Moreover, the Dholera Project is seen as the perfect initiative by Narendra Modi when he was Chief Minister to combat urbanisation issues and a key investment option for all sorts of investors.
The AAP sources in Ahmedabad even refer to the so-called ‘silence’ of the Enforcement Directorate’s probe into the National Herald case wherein a big hungama was generated over questioning of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul. Of course, they say, Manish Sisodia was under severe attack. The truth lies in the womb of time. But the BJP sees this year’s polls as an easier battle (unlike 2017), but the saffron party’s poll managers are leaving nothing to chance. There is an attempt to balance things at every level. In the first list, therefore, there were 14 women, 43 Patidars, 14 Brahmins and 14 Scheduled Castes and 24 from the Scheduled Tribes. On the other hand, AAP is applying a mixed game sort of strategy. It is trying to use caste factors and also bring in a share of soft Hindutva. Many in Rajkot, Ahmedabad and Surat do not endorse AAP’s move for demand for having Ganesh and Hindu Goddess Laxmi in Indian currency notes.
Ajay Banerjee, working with a private bank in Ahmedabad, said, “In the past, caste used to be a major gamechanger for Congress stalwart Madhav Singh Solanki when he could lead his party, winning as many as 149 seats in 1985. That was a different era and a different Congress party certainly. But now, the AAP is trying to make use of caste and has also pushed a soft Hindutva line. This will not work anymore in Gujarat”.
Opposition in Disarray
Meanwhile, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, who campaigned in Surat and Kutch areas, told Organiser, that “it will be erroneous to overestimate the powers of AAP. It is not AAP or Arvind Kejriwal’s leadership per se that is in play. A section of voters belonging to the trading community are only playing up the AAP card.” Nevertheless it is a fact that the Bharatiya Janata Party still dreams to achieve its target. Union Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal recently said in Mumbai, “We will easily cross the 150 mark”. The reference is obvious. Dr Sarma told party supporters that reaching 135 seats possible for BJP. But he said the Congress has ‘traditional’ votes in Gujarat and therefore it is surprising why Rahul Gandhi stayed away from the Gujarat poll campaign this year.
In Gujarat politics it goes without saying that the Congress has not tasted power since the 1990s, yet it remains a strong party in certain pockets. Even after 2002 riots triggered by the burning of Karsevaks in Godhra and the so-called polarisation, the BJP and Narendra Modi’s best tally was 127.
Consolidation of Hindu Votes
But what matters a lot in Gujarat politics is consolidation of Hindu votes. LK Advani’s Rath Yatra had achieved that in 1990 – just five years after Solanki’s record best – and the Congress strength was reduced to a mere 33. The Congress vote share also nosedived to 31 per cent and BJP won 67 with Janata Dal at 70.
Working in alliance, the BJP and Janata Dal had humbled the Congress. But this time around, nobody sees any chance of stitching any poll adjustment formula by the Congress and the AAP. Since the 1990s, Gujarat has played to the Hindutva gallery and the BJP successfully won elections in 1995, 1998, 2002, 2007, 2012 and 2017.
Signboard Parties Are Inconsequential
Gujarat has been dominated by bipolar politics between the BJP and the Congress. In the run-up to the fast approaching Assembly elections – Dec 1 and Dec 5, we have the AAP of Arvind Kejriwal trying to play a significant role and all eyes are on whether it will harm prospects of Congress. In addition to AAP, there are a few parties. In psychological terms one can say signboard parties. Most often these signboard parties make a huge difference in the ultimate analysis in many States but not in the case of Gujarat.
Controversial cop DJ Vanzara, a former “encounter specialist”, has floated the Praja Vijay Party and claims his new outfit is wedded to Hindutva ideology but would be fighting the BJP. Vanzara was acquitted in the alleged fake encounter case of Sohrabuddin Shaikh and was acquitted in the infamous Ishrat Jahan alleged fake encounter case. “People of Gujarat do not easily accept a non-Hindutva party. Apart from Vanzara’s party, PVP and three better known parties the BJP, Congress and the AAP; other parties, which are in the 2022 fray, are Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Communist Party of India (CPI), Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP), All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and All India Trinamool Congress (AITC).
For 89 seats that go to polls in the first phase on Dec 1, both the BJP and the Congress have fielded candidates in all 89 seats. AAP has named nominees for 88 seats, BSP of Mayawati in 57 and AIMIM – six. Notwithstanding much hype, in 2012, even former BJP stalwart Keshubhai Patel-led Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) could poll only 3.63 per cent votes and could win only two seats The NCP vote share was 0.67 per cent and surprisingly, it also won two seats. The Janata Dal (United) also could manage to win only one seat and got 0.45 per cent of votes. The Independents had a share of 5.83 per cent of votes and only one of them could make it.
In 2017, Independents managed 4.3 per cent of votes and picked up 3 seats. The Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP), won 2 seats with a modest 0.7 vote share. Bahujan Samaj Party received 0.7 per cent of votes but did not get a single seat.
The AAP took a calculated risk trying to rework the latent caste differences. The Delhi-based party has tried to develop a new acronym OTP — OBCs, Tribals and Patidars. Theoretically, it looks good but the same ‘Caste factor’ may actually work against AAP’s CM face–Isudan Gadhvi. Gadhvi has been fielded from Jam Khambhaliya where Ahirs have been winning the seat continuously since 1972. Gadhvi is a non-Ahir and his nomination has left even the most enthusiastic AAP supporters surprised and even anguished.
The AAP is planning big in Patidar-stronghold Surat region. But the BJP had done pretty well in Surat even in 2017, despite the GST and demonetisation anguish of Gujarati traders. Of course, according to an educationist in Rajkot, “The Saurashtra region remains complex …all eyes are on these parties and how they will handle the battle. But an AAP-Congress consolidation would have been the best option which never happened”. The Congress and the AAP friendship is unlikely. Political observers know how the AAP has snatched Congress’s prominence both in Delhi and Punjab.
Thus the fear is perhaps the Congress will be replaced by the AAP. Of course this will be a big embarrassment for Rahul Gandhi and the Congress. But this argument is based on over-estimating AAP. This is largely guided by New Delhi’s ‘sickular’ and English media.The grand old party has preferred to play safe and even went defensive to an extent. It has re-nominated all the four sitting MLAs from Ahmedabad. In 2017, Congress politics had a lot of backroom calculations and surprises. But in 2022, two such ‘surprises’ Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakor are now in the saffron camp.
Owaisi to spoil AAP’s Game
The AIMIM’s Dalit leader Kaushika Parmar is contesting from Danilimda seat in Ahmedabad district. The party has also fielded its State Chief Sabir Kabliwala, from Jamalpur-Khadia in Ahmedabad. In 2012 Assembly elections, Kabliwala had contested from Jamalpur-Khadia, which has nearly 60 per cent Muslim population. Wasim Qureshi will be AIMIM nominee from Surat-East and Shahnawazkhan Pathan from Bapunagar in Ahmedabad.
The BJP has fielded Hardik Patel in Viramgam while Alpesh Thakor, who joined BJP in 2019, has now been moved out from his Radhanpur constituency and has been instead fielded from Gandhinagar South. From Radhanpur, the BJP nominee for 2022 is Lovingji Thakor. The Congress has suffered electoral reverses earlier in Gujarat when anti-BJP votes would split. In 2002, the decisive polls that made Narendra Modi a ‘big leader’, there were at least 30 seats which the BJP could win only because the votes split between Janata Dal, NCP and the Congress.
In the final analysis, most BJP leaders and middle-level poll managers are happy over the way things are going on in Gujarat.