The Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) high-voltage campaign has opened up the bipolar and almost linear politics of Gujarat, especially for the Muslim electorate that has largely stood by the Congress, which has however been unable to dislodge the BJP for the past 27 years.
While the AAP gives them hope and provides them with an option, the majority of voters from the community are just yet not ready to put their faith in the untested entity.
In the urban centres, the Muslim voter appears to be more enthused about the prospect of having a third horse in the race. “From the time, I was born the BJP alone has ruled the State and our families have voted for the Congress. What has the Congress done? The Congress MLAs switch sides at will for the highest bidder,” Aslam Akhani, who runs a food stall at Morbi market, says. The attack by the 27-year-old was directed at Congress leader Brijesh Merja who won from the Morbi Assembly constituency in 2017 only to switch to the BJP midway.
Rahim Khan, an autorickshaw driver, is far less articulate. He mumbles his support for the AAP simply because he doesn’t see the Congress coming to power at the Centre. While the AAP is also currently only in power in two States, he finds their voluble campaign far more reassuring.
A distance away in the Wakaner Assembly constituency, Arif Messaniah is reticent about his political choices. As he stacks up bales of jowar crop, he speaks about the irrigation troubles and the erratic power cuts (for agricultural connections). But at the end of the litany of complaints, he slips in his fear that the AAP, after all, is an alien to this political landscape. When the need arises, where would he go searching for the AAP’s candidate, he asks.
The recall value of the AAP candidate is also very low as compared with the far more entrenched Congress and BJP leaders in the fray. Cotton mill owner Yakub Bhai Sherasiya in Lalpara village is reluctant to reveal his political affiliations but expresses similar scepticism about the AAP’s non-existing organisation in the area. For him, the AAP leaders are at best just television entities.
Though the rural voter might not share the euphoria about the AAP like their urban counterparts, one cannot dismiss the party entirely. There are stray voices, though far milder, who gingerly express their support for the new entrant.
In Wakaner, Hussain Bhai Baddi, disagrees that the AAP is noisy. “They are not noisy, they deliver whatever they promise.”
His daughter, who recently visited Delhi, has witnessed it first-hand.
“This time I shall vote for jhadu (broom, the AAP’s election symbol) to clean up all the muck,” he murmurs.
Voices like his, though not numerous, could tilt the scales against the Congress.
In Wakaner, for example, the Congress’s Mohammad Javed Peerzada had won by a margin of only 1,300 votes in the 2017 election. Mr. Peerzada has been fielded again, and if stray voices like Mr. Baddi’s grow, he could find himself in trouble.
For now though the sceptics continue to outnumber the believers. Sixty kilometres away, at Gondal market, Jawahar Dawood Lotia waves off the AAP as a “Delhi ka item (item from Delhi)“.
It is not just unfamiliarity or its lack of presence on the ground, many are also scoffing at the AAP’s freebie model.
Abdul Gaffar, who runs a plastic furniture shop at Dhoraji Market, says, “I may advertise that with the purchase of x amount of furniture I will give two chairs free. But do I really sell these chairs for free? As an astute businessman I will adjust the cost elsewhere. Similarly for AAP, if they promise us free electricity, free this and free that, we also need to see, where and how are they planning to adjust this cost.”