In less than two weeks, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Gujarat inducted a second high-profile recruit, as Mahesh Savani, a prominent businessman, community leader and philanthropist, joined the party on Sunday in the presence of Delhi’s Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has been quietly making an ambitious attempt to get a toehold in Gujarat, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) bastion. Earlier this month, he had come to Ahmedabad to induct into the party a well-known journalist and hugely popular news anchor, Isudan Gadhavi.
Mr. Sisodia, after inducting Mr. Savani into the party at a press conference, also held a meeting with Pravin Ram, a youth activist who is spearheading the Jan Andolan Manch and fighting for unemployed youth in the State.
After the meeting, reports emerged that Mr. Ram, whose outfit enjoys support among the youth, is likely to join AAP. The party has mostly remained confined to the national capital but now wants to grow in the home State of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
In addition to Mr. Ram, AAP leaders of Gujarat and Delhi are negotiating with several other leaders who enjoy the support of farmers and rural communities in the State. “There will be many new and influential entrants in our rank in the days to come,” said the AAP leader.
The party has been working to induct popular faces from diverse backgrounds such as media, community service, philanthropy and youth activism.
“Gujarat wants a change because there is a fixed match the BJP and the Congress are playing in the State,” Mr. Kejriwal had said in his press briefing when Mr. Gadhavi was inducted into the party in Ahmedabad.
He stressed that AAP would emerge as a real alternative to the BJP in Gujarat in the next Assembly election in 2022, which his party would contest from all 182 seats.
Mr. Sisodia also echoed the same view on Sunday when he said “the next 2022 Assembly poll in the State will be between the BJP and the AAP”, and that the AAP will be the main challenger for the BJP.
Earlier in May, a Patidar community leader from Saurashtra, Naresh Patel, who said that the next Chief Minister of the State should be from the Patidar community, had profusely praised AAP’s governance in Delhi and had said that the popularity of the party was rising in Gujarat as well.
However, local BJP leaders in the State scrambled for days to ensure that other Patidar faces don’t follow Naresh Patel and go to the media praising AAP or Mr. Kejriwal. “Patidars want an alternative to the BJP and somehow, Congress is not that alternative. This is where the Kejriwal and AAP come in the picture,” said a prominent Patidar leader.
This may also apparently be the reason why a prominent businessman and Patidar community leader such as Mr. Savani, whose PP Savani group has a ₹2000-crore business in the diamond city and who has made his name in community service by organising mass marriages for orphaned girls and running hostels for HIV-infected persons, is attracted to AAP.
“His entry into the AAP will certainly make a difference because he is hugely popular in all communities. Every year, he organises mass marriage for 200-250 girls who have no parents or no father. He gives jewellery worth ₹1.5 lakh and entire sets of kitchen, furniture and other essentials to each girl,” said Manoj Mistry, a newspaper editor from Surat.
Mr. Savani has so far sponsored marriages of close to 4,000 girls from all communities without any discrimination. “He has base in Surat as well as in the Saurashtra region,” Mr. Mistry added.
According to him, many other such people, including different community leaders and businessmen, would join the AAP in Surat in the next few months.
In the municipal election held in February this year, the AAP, in its maiden contest, had won 27 seats in the Surat Corporation and emerged as the main opposition party in the local civic body. According to insiders, the AAP’s strategy, seemingly, is building an umbrella social platform where farmers, rural communities, traders, businessmen, youth activists and community leaders can be included, at a time when the ruling dispensation is facing growing anti-incumbency and the main Opposition party, the Congress, remains comatose.