AAP focus on Patidars in marginal seats in Saurashtra, Surat

AAP is looking beyond its usual urban catchment areas, and eyeing rural votes in Saurashtra, hoping to disrupt the traditional two-party BJP vs Congress race in the State

November 03, 2022 08:22 pm | Updated November 04, 2022 01:32 am IST - NEW DELHI/AHMEDABAD

Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and Punjab CM Bhagwant Maan during Tiranga Rally in Ahmedabad on April 02, 2022.

Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and Punjab CM Bhagwant Maan during Tiranga Rally in Ahmedabad on April 02, 2022. | Photo Credit: VIJAY SONEJI

The entry of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) into the electoral fray in Gujarat, a State which has traditionally seen a two-party fight between the BJP and the Congress, has created a flutter in terms of what it would mean for next month’s Assembly polls

Will the AAP hurt the prospects of the Congress by splitting the anti-BJP votes? Or can it make headway in the cities, its usual catchment area, thereby inflicting some damage on the BJP as well? Will the AAP actually win seats or will it simply grab a notable vote share without capturing any seats? These are some of the questions arising out of the party’s entry into the State elections

Rural-urban split

Traditionally, Gujarat has been a two party contest, with the BJP gaining significant support in urban areas and the Congress dominant in rural areas. In the 2017 elections, for example, the BJP won 55 out of 73 urban seats (75.3%). In rural areas however, the Congress won 62 out of 109 seats (56.8%) while the BJP won 43. 

Into this scenario enters the AAP, bolstered by a decent showing in the Surat local body polls last year. According to political observers in the State, the AAP is concentrating on the city of Surat as well as four districts in Saurashtra, which are largely rural. Hence, the theory that AAP is only going urban is not correct, and indeed that view of their strategy is limiting. 

“There are more than 30 seats in Saurashtra where the winning margin was less than 1% of the total votes polled (either for the BJP or the Congress), and the AAP is concentrating on those too,” said a senior leader of the BJP.   

Strong Patidar presence

The Patidar community, who have traditionally voted for the BJP, have a strong presence in many of these seats in Saurashtra. Although the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti aligned with the Congress during the last Assembly polls in 2017, this time around, its most prominent leader Hardik Patel is with the BJP. However, two of its founding members, Alpesh Kathiriya and Dharmik Malaviya, have recently joined the AAP. They are likely to play a significant role in Varachha and two other seats dominated by Patidars hailing from Saurashtra who have settled in Surat.  

This move not only shows the AAP’s intention to bring out its firepower in Surat, but also signals that young members of the Patidar community are being wooed.

“In the last election, some Patidar vote did shift to the Congress, but it led to some counter polarisation of communities that were antagonistic with regard to the Patidars but were in the Congress camp, who voted for the BJP,” explained the senior BJP leader. “Former minister Nitin Patel’s victory in Mehsana (dominated by Patidars but with significant non-Patidar vote as well) was considered an example of this counter polarisation,” added the leader.

The AAP hopes to leverage this counter polarisation for its own gain. For instance, the AAP is concentrating on the Botad seat which saw BJP’s senior leader Saurabh Patel winning by a slender margin last time. Similarly, in the Rajkot Rural seat, which is reserved for the Scheduled Caste community, the AAP is likely to field Vashram Sagathia, who was the Congress candidate last time and lost by a narrow margin.  

The AAP has also fielded a Patidar candidate in Jasdan, a traditional Congress stronghold and Koli dominated seat in the Rajkot district. Kunvarji Bavalia has won the seat for the Congress multiple times since 1990 including in 2017, but subsequently joined the BJP in 2018. Now, a local Patidar leader from the AAP in Jasdan will likely eat into the votebank of the Patidars, who traditionally prefer the BJP over the Congress in the constituency.  

“The AAP very clearly thinks that the vote bases of the Congress and the BJP, barring any hugely emotional issues, are not truly transferable to each other. But as a new force, with no political baggage of the past, it could provide a home for voters from both parties who are looking for a change,” observed the BJP leader. 

In this set piece that is emerging in Gujarat, the jury is still out on whether the AAP will score well or at all. 

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