Aam Aadmi Party national convener Arvind Kejriwal has created enough noise in Gujarat recently, to register his party’s presence in a state that has saffron ingrained within its very soul.
Can the AAP prove damaging to the Bharatiya Janata Party in a state the latter has controlled for 27 years?
AAP’s Arrival In Gujarat
“The BJP is not going anywhere.” This is the most common sentence heard in the urban circles of Ahmedabad, from businessmen to lawyers, and from corporate employees to homemakers, roughly three months before the state election. While their degree of belief in the party’s chances to retain Gujarat varies between five and 25 years, they are certain that they will at least take the next term. Kejriwal’s repeated visits seem to have done little to change this sentiment.
Following the landslide Punjab win in March, the AAP supremo has been doing the rounds in Gujarat for months, visibly in hopes of riding the same wave. Kejriwal has offered everything to the voters of Gujarat, keeping in line with his messiah complex. This includes promises regarding free electricity for up to 300 units per month, allowances for women and unemployed youth, job creation, and improving healthcare and education. He was seen distributing cards to avail subsidies on electricity and water in various localities of Rajkot and Surat, the validity of which may come into effect if his party secures the state mandate.
Although the party has come through on its big ticket promise of supplying 300 units of power for free in Punjab, this hasn’t been without bleeding state funds. Six months down, the Punjab exchequer is already under a debt of Rs 2.63 lakh crores. The power subsidy bill is expected to cross Rs 20,000 crores in Punjab this fiscal, with Rs 7117 crores still pending from the last fiscal. Nevertheless, it is with this incentive that Kejriwal seems to be hoping to make a dent in the BJP’s hold on its model state. But do the people of Gujarat feel the same way?
A Series Of Unfortunate Events
Even if one were to leave aside the ethics of the “revadi” culture promoted by most parties in the north, including the BJP in Himachal Pradesh, the AAP should have done enough research to know its target audience. Expecting the people of a state, whose tagline is “jai jai garvi Gujarat”, to be accepting of freebies, is more of a political blunder than a gimmick. Although the viral video of a resounding “no” in response to Kejriwal’s promise of free electricity was doctored, people do not exactly approve. Moreover, making promises of building a corruption-free government while his ministers Satyendar Jain and Manish Sisodia continue to face corruption charges is not doing Kejriwal any favours. This does not go to say that BJP ministers are not remotely corrupt, but that when it comes to the saffron party in Gujarat, people know who is cheating them and out of how much, and have learned to live with it. As per a familial account, it seems like a small price to pay in return for Home Minister Amit Shah himself commanding municipal corporation authorities to clean up and fix the city roads within a fortnight.
During his most recent visit to Ahmedabad, Arvind Kejriwal managed to give all sides a cause to fault him. Attacking two national parties with their established grassroots following, yelling at a police officer how he should be ashamed of himself when all he was doing was following orders to provide the politician with security, and then immediately going back to Delhi in a private jet after creating a ruckus about being an “aam aadmi” who wanted to be within his people and go their homes in an auto-rickshaw. These acts have prompted the BJP and the Congress to draw their bows sooner this time, instead of much later in the case of Punjab. The parties have filed an RTI together, claiming that the AAP has misled people with false claims of achievements in Punjab. They have also accused it of using public money to invest in the party’s publicity campaigns. Noteworthy, this came a day after BMW Group India refuted Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann’s claim that the company was set to establish a manufacturing unit in his state.
Additionally, on Thursday, 56 former civil servants in Gujarat signed a detailed letter addressed to the Election Commission of India, in which they demanded a withdrawal of the AAP’s recognition, citing a violation of the Election Symbols (Reservation and Allotment) Order, 1968. “We totally disapprove of the blatant efforts of AAP to politicize civil servants. We firmly believe that such instigative comments, coming from the convener of the AAP and a sitting Chief Minister, indisputably diminish public confidence in the institutions and guardians of the State,” read the letter. The group of retired civil servants is represented by retired IAS officer M Madan Gopal, who said that the “unbalanced and controversial” comments made by Kejriwal during a press conference in Rajkot, and his conduct, are in breach of the Model Code of Conduct. Reportedly, the letter read:
“Mr. Kejriwal has manipulated these public servants through misleading considerations, stating that in exchange for their allegiance, the AAP will award them with free electricity, free education, new schools, transfer “thousands of rupees” to the bank accounts of the women of their households and fulfil their additional demands within one month of the AAP coming into power in the State.
“We emphatically state that through his comments, Mr. Kejriwal has attempted to persuade public servants to act in contravention of the principles and ethics by which they are governed and to act as agents for AAP in the upcoming elections.”
The unfolding of these events within a week has not helped the AAP’s case. The final nail in the AAP’s coffin was the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) reneging on its alliance promise to the party, and deciding to contest all 182 seats on its own.
AAP’s Agenda Setting
It remains unclear how hopeful the AAP is about its success in Gujarat, but it has been sure to make enough noise to establish its presence. Most analysts believe and common Gujaratis updated with state politics believe that its achievement might just be limited to eating into the Congress seats. The BTP is also expected to be part of the concentrated contest in the Narmada and tribal belt, and stands a good chance. The Chhotubhai Vasava-led party contested independently for the first time in 2017, and won 2 out of 5 seats in the state assembly. The AAP’s main contest will be with these parties on some 70 odd seats.
However, it cannot touch the BJP. Changing three chief ministers and the breakdown of healthcare management during COVID does not seem to matter against the Modi wave still prevalent. If the AAP’s national convener has made sure to spearhead his party’s movement in the state, the BJP has a three-time CM and two-time PM doing the same.
Moreover, above development, polarisation continues to remain a bigger driving factor in Gujarat. The largest group of voters, comprising locals above the age of 30, still remembers the communal riots in 2002 and the years before that. Additionally, it is familiar with the events that have brought these annual riots to a halt post-2002. While it was a boon for the majority, the larger minority also considers it to be a boon since a BJP administration would ensure the safety of the community, unlike a fresh, young-blooded party like the AAP who would like to “bring a change”, indirectly clearing the way for the dormant flames of Godhra to rise.
The Horus Eye is a weekly column written by Divya Bhan analysing current affairs and policies. This column does not intend or aim to promote any ideology and does not reflect the official position of The Sparrow.