How AAP helped BJP get its biggest landslide in Gujarat

The AAP played spoiler in about 50 triangular contests in the State, helping to split the opposition vote to the benefit of the BJP, by getting massive — and puzzling — levels of support in the tribal belt

December 09, 2022 09:48 pm | Updated December 10, 2022 12:56 pm IST - AHMEDABAD

AAP’s promise of free power, better health and education services may have found traction in the tribal belt of Gujarat.

AAP’s promise of free power, better health and education services may have found traction in the tribal belt of Gujarat. | Photo Credit: AFP

In the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Gujarat lies the story of the Congress decimation in a State where, for the last two decades, it has held at least 50 Assembly seats and a decent vote share above 35%.

This time, the AAP’s entry has completely changed the political configurations and calculations in about 50 seats, badly affecting the main opposition party’s prospects in those seats. 

The seats in the tribal belt running from north to central and south Gujarat, where the Congress appeared to have an advantage against the BJP, mostly went to the ruling party’s kitty thanks to the division of opposition votes between the AAP and the Congress

As per the Election Commission of India’s (ECI) voting data, around 50 seats, including the seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes (STs), the Koli-dominated seats in Saurashtra, and the seats with substantial Patidar votes, saw a serious triangular fight in which the saffron party benefitted due to the split in the votes for the opposition.

Tribal support

In the entire tribal belt, the AAP has pocketed a sizeable vote share. For instance, in the contest for the Khedbrahma seat, the AAP candidate fetched a whopping 55,590 votes. The Congress candidate Tushar Chaudhary won with a slender margin of a little over 2,000 votes against the BJP candidate Ashwin Kotwal, a Congress turncoat who only joined the BJP in July. 

Similarly, in tribal districts such as Dahod and Chhota Udepur in central Gujarat, and Narmada and Tapi in south Gujarat, the AAP candidates got a massive vote share; in several places, they even snagged the runner-up position.

According to tribal leaders from both the BJP and the Congress, the support for the AAP among tribals is surprising and puzzling for several reasons. First, the party did not have any prominent tribal leader in the State. 

Second, it did not focus as much on tribal seats as it did on a few seats in Surat and Saurashtra, because the AAP’s State leadership essentially consisted of Patidars like Gopal Italia, Alpesh Kathiriya and Dharmik Malaviya, and Other Backward Classes (OBC) face Isudan Gadhvi, who all lost. 

“As I see it, the tribals probably got attracted to the AAP’s sops like free power, better health and education services and allowances for women and youth,” a former tribal development minister told The Hindu

He added that had the AAP focussed solely on the 27 ST-reserved seats, it could have possibly won a large number of seats there given the support it garnered among the tribals. 

The AAP’s tribal candidate Chaitar Vasava did win from the ST-reserved seat of Dediapada. Ironically, as a protege of tribal veteran Chhotubhai Vasava, Chaitar was looking for a ticket from the Congress to contest from Dediapada where the outgoing legislator was Chhotubhai’s son Mahesh. However, the Congress’ leaders did not entertain his demand, prompting him to join the new entrant AAP. 

Splitting the opposition vote

In south Gujarat, the opposition party lost seats like Kaprada and Nizar only due to a split in votes as the AAP candidates walked away with a massive number of votes. 

Similar is the story in the Koli and Patidar belt of the Saurashtra region where the Congress won just three out of 54 seats while the AAP won four seats, one seat went to the Samajwadi Party (SP), and the remaining 46 went to the BJP. 

In the Koli-dominated Surendranagar district where the Congress had won four out of five seats in 2017, it lost all the seats, drawing a blank in the district. Here again, the AAP’s welfare promises may have enticed the Kolis, who are mostly small landholders and landless labourers at the bottom of Gujarat’s economic pyramid. 

The AAP’s five candidates who won comprise two Patidars, two OBCs and one tribal. 

The BJP won a landslide victory with 156 seats in the Gujarat polls, while the Congress won 17. Three BJP rebels have won as independent candidates and the SP got one seat. 

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