Gujarat is crucial to Kejriwal's national aspirations

AAP is aiming for second spot in Gujarat, thereby becoming BJP's main opposition

PTI11_04_2022_000131A Broom brothers: Kejriwal with AAP’s chief ministerial candidate Isudan Gadhvi in Ahmedabad | PTI

FOR THE AAM Aadmi Party, the current election season is about balancing contrasting political aspirations. On the one hand, it has entered the electoral arena of Gujarat in a clear indication of its national aspirations, and on the other, it is keen to make its dominance of Delhi politics complete by winning the civic polls.

The electioneering for the Gujarat Assembly elections was already under way when the polls to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi were announced. The MCD polls were supposed to be held in April, but were postponed because of the Centre’s decision to unify the three municipal corporations in the capital. AAP leaders say that they had anticipated that the MCD polls could be held around the same time as the Gujarat polls, and insist this will not have an impact on its poll prospects. The party claims that the MCD polls are scheduled before the announcement of Gujarat poll results because the BJP is not confident about its prospects in either of the two elections.

Both the elections are high-stake battles for the AAP, and its leaders are expected to be stretched between the two states. Arvind Kejriwal especially is in demand in both the places as he is the face of the AAP’s campaign. The party’s MLAs in Delhi were supposed to spend time in Gujarat, but they will now have to focus on the MCD polls.

“The people of both Delhi and Gujarat have made up their minds to vote out the BJP and vote for the AAP,” said AAP MLA Durgesh Pathak, who is in charge of the MCD polls. “No matter what the BJP does, it will not harm the AAP.”

In Delhi, the AAP aims to unseat the BJP from the MCD, which the latter has ruled for 15 years now. In Gujarat, the AAP’s surprisingly good performance in the civic elections, especially in Surat in 2021, has brought it to the fore as a serious contender in an otherwise direct contest between the BJP and the Congress.

The AAP has made an aggressive bid for power in Gujarat and, according to party leaders, it will be a big achievement to emerge as the BJP’s main opposition in the state―home turf of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah. The assessment is that if the AAP succeeds in occupying the second spot in the three-cornered race, it will boost its national credentials and help its projection of Kejriwal as Modi’s main opponent ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

The party claims that it is wrong to say that it does not have a presence at the grassroots level. According to AAP strategists, the party has repeatedly gone back to the people through surveys and a door-to-door campaign that focuses on the welfare schemes of its governments in Delhi and Punjab.

Kejriwal has got under the skin of the BJP, with his frequent visits to Gujarat and his aggressive outreach efforts. The BJP, wary of the AAP’s abilities to cut both its votes and that of the Congress, appears to be focusing on attacking the newbie party more than its traditional rival.

The AAP has linked the corruption allegations against its leaders, including the CBI’s probe into alleged irregularities in the new excise policy, and the claims of corruption against party leaders made by jailed conman Sukesh Chandrasekhar, to the BJP’s insecurities with regard to Gujarat elections.

Like in Delhi and Punjab, the AAP has gone to the people of Gujarat with ‘Kejriwal’s guarantees’, mainly comprising promises of free electricity, education and health care. The Delhi governance model, say AAP leaders, has set the agenda for the elections, and that it was out of frustration that Modi referred to the AAP’s promises as revdis (freebies).

Also, the party’s hindutva posturing is an attempt to bring into its fold the ideologically committed voters of the BJP. While the general expectation is that the AAP could cut into the Congress vote because it has reached out to the economically weaker social strata, Congress leaders say the AAP could end up harming the BJP more since it has a greater presence in urban areas.

While the AAP’s campaign in Gujarat has been described as all hype and no substance by the traditional parties, the party claims that it is making inroads in both urban and rural areas. Its foray into Saurashtra, where it first made its mark by winning seats in the Surat municipal polls, exemplifies this, say AAP leaders. And, Kejriwal himself has acknowledged that the party’s caste-based outreach is aimed at the Other Backward Classes, Tribals and Patidars, the formula popularly described as ‘OTP’. AAP leaders insist that to say that the party will eat into the votes of only the Congress or harm the BJP in urban areas is a very limited view of the scenario as it is reaching out to support groups of both the established parties.