The success of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)in winning all the six Municipal Corporation polls in Gujarat is no surprise. Nor is the poor performance of the Congress party. But what does make news and is a matter of concern for both the traditional political rivals is the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM) in these elections.

AAP won 27 of the 120 seats contested in Surat, AIMIM won seven seats in Muslim pockets out of a total of 192 seats in Ahmedabad.

The Congress was left biting the dust in Surat where it failed to open an account while it won just 25 seats in Ahmedabad and saw its tally coming down by half. The BJP won 68 of 72 seats in Rajkot, 69 of 76 seats in Vadodara, 50 of 64 seats in Jamnagar and 44 of 52 seats in Bhavnagar retaining its strong hold on the state.

With the state assembly polls scheduled for 2022, the entry of AAP and AIMIM has given a new dimension to the political chessboard in the state. Both these parties will be looking for a share in the pie in the second phase of the local polls scheduled on February 28 in 81 municipalities, 31 zilla panchayats and 231 taluka panchayats.

It is important to understand the hows and whys of the sudden emergence of these two new political forces on the scene and what it can imply in the days to come.

The AAP’s dent in Surat is being seen as a booster for possible expansion outside Delhi and Punjab, with Gujarat important as it is the home turf of both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

“It needs to be underlined that the core support base of AAP in Surat this time were the Patels who have been opposing the BJP since the Patel reservation stir of 2015 that saw a lot of violence. These Patels were led by Hardik Patel under the banner of Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS). In 2015 it was the Congress that had reaped the political dividend of their anger against the ruling BJP in Surat. But this time around they were annoyed with the Congress and turned to AAP,” Harish Gurjar, a senior political analyst based in Surat, pointed out.

The agitated Patels, particularly the youth, wanted to give a message that they would not go back to the BJP and are in a position to ensure a victory for anyone they support. This is reflected in the fact that AAP’s did well in areas like Varachha, Amroli, Kapodra, Puna and Kapodra which are dominated by the Patels hailing from Saurashtra working in diamond units.

“Patel rising in Surat whether it was during the regime of Keshubhai Patel, Shankersinh Vaghela or Vijay Rupani has a direct impact on the hinterland of Saurashtra and this a matter of concern for both the BJP and the Congress ahead of the next assembly polls,” Gurjar added.

Saurashtra region sends maximum legislators to the state assembly, roughly one third and agrarian issues also play a role in deciding the winners here since it is the cotton and groundnut producing hub of the state.

Reports say that though AAP did not secure a victory in other corporations, it registered around five per cent of the vote share in Ahmedabad and Rajkot.

The party’s national convener and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal is expected to visit Surat on February 26, that is today.

Coming to AIMIM’s performance in Ahmedabad, it is pertinent to point out that the party fought without any organizational structure in place.

Party’s Gujarat leader Shamshad Pathan told this reporter, “But things are going to take off from here. We are contesting the local polls in Modasa, Godhra and Bharuch. There will be a proper structure in place by the assembly polls that we will be contesting after expanding our working to the different corners of the state.”

AIMIM won seven seats in Jamalpur and Behrampura areas of the communally polarized city. Observers say that it would have won four more seats where the vote difference between the winner and loser was between 50 to 150 votes.

“Our tally would definitely have touched 15 had we not erred in choosing our candidates in areas like Gomtipur,” Pathan added.

Observers point out that AIMIM would have gathered much more traction had it fielded more contestants from its workers on the ground instead of leaders that had been imported from the Congress party.

AIMIM is seen as a primarily Muslim party and its detractors have already started a smear campaign saying that its emergence in Gujarat will lead to communal polarization in Gujarat.

“AIMIM’s emergence is in fact contrary to this perception as Muslims have come out to vote for a party other than the Congress which was till now being seen as the only choice for the community. Our campaign had centred on the failure of the Congress to act as an opposition party. Your strength in the assembly does not matter. Your willingness to stand up for the constitutional values and causes of the local community does and this is what the Congress has abandoned in Gujarat. There has been no voice of the opposition in the state,” Shamshad Pathan claimed.

Both AAP and AIMIM have gained at the cost of the Congress in the state. The old party has to pull up its socks if it wants to be in the reckoning for the forthcoming assembly polls.

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