Kejriwal Rattles Saffron Brigade in Gujarat
Will AAP's broom sweep BJP's Lotus into a corner?
Love him or hate him, call his party the 'B' team of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), or blame him for 'revadi' (freebie) politics. The fact on the ground today is that Delhi Chief Minister and national convener of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Arvind Kejriwal has managed to unsettle the saffron brigade in its stronghold of Gujarat.
With just three months to go for the forthcoming assembly polls in the state, AAP has brought the electoral battle to the point that its leaders, particularly Kejriwal, are indulging in cheeky game play. Sample the recent message given by him to the workers and 'panna pramukhs' of the BJP. He said, "We do not have money. You take the money from the BJP but work for us. When the AAP government comes to power, you will get free power, good schools and free medical treatment."
This reporter is yet to come across a cheekier attack on the BJP in its stronghold of Gujarat in over the last two and a half decades. Whether Kejriwal manages to convert the ground support into seats is to be seen later but even the most sceptical of political observers agree to the fact that AAP has made Gujarat elections something to watch out for. The political performance here would have a strong bearing on the parliamentary polls of 2024.
What has left the observers confused is that why is the BJP with heavyweights like Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah leading the charge getting 'unsettled' by a rookie AAP. Why is the BJP resorting to knee jerk responses?
The AAP has been making clever moves on the political turf of Gujarat. A major contribution is of its local leadership that includes experienced activists. They know what the pulse of the people is when it comes to real issues.
"People like Sagar Rabari, Gopal Italia and several others are intelligent people who are good orators. They are able to establish a direct connection with the masses and initiate dialogue. The Congress has failed to do so in the last three decades. With people opening up to them, the AAP leaders are offering solutions to the problems. It remains to be seen how things unfold when Narendra Modi starts his politically laden speeches here," pointed an observer based in Ahmedabad.
"Things have changed a lot in the last fortnight. Kejriwal has forged ahead in the game of narrative and perception. He has managed to capture the sentiment and imagination of the urban youth during his visit to cities of Saurashtra.
"The AAP is moving fast to capture the ground largely held by the Congress and the floating voter," veteran Rajkot based political analyst Suresh Samani told this reporter.
Saurashtra and Kutch send almost one-third of the legislators to the 182-member Gujarat Assembly. This region was targeted by Kejriwal in his recent visit. Sources say that he is scheduled to return here next week and address a congregation of the Koli community at Chotila. This Kolis play a major role in every election when it comes to caste based votes.
The BJP too has chosen to launch a counter attack on AAP from Kutch. Its leaders have been playing up the supply of Narmada waters to this parched region under Modi's tenure as Gujarat Chief Minister. They are also citing activist Medha Patkar's earlier association with AAP to attack the party.
Medha Patkar has always been projected as 'anti Gujarat' for her role in the Narmada Bachao Andolan. Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel called her an 'urban naxal' during Modi's visit to Kutch.
Amit Shah took the attack to the next level during his recent visit to Ahmedabad. "Had Modi not come as Bhagirath to Gujarat and brought Narmada waters to Kutch this development would not have been possible. But these days some people have started something new. They have made a beginning towards a backdoor entry into Gujarat politics of Medha Patkar who was opposing Narmada (project). I want to ask the youth of Gujarat will you allow the entry of those who opposed the Narmada scheme, those who opposed Gujarat's development?" said Shah.
"One fails to understand why they are dragging Medha Patkar's name into the poll narrative. She has been away from AAP for quite some time now. The younger generation in Gujarat is not even aware of the NBA. Resorting to such attacks simply shows how unsettled the BJP is," said another political observer.
Coming back to the AAP going on an offensive, Kejriwal visited small residential areas of Rajkot launching AAP's door-to-door campaign to register people for certain "guarantees" when AAP forms the government in the state.
Kejriwal said, "AAP is an honest party. If we work honestly, a lot of money will be saved for the government and we will be able to provide many facilities to the public. After the formation of the AAP government, we will give employment to every unemployed person and till the time employment is not available, we will give Rs 3000 as unemployment allowance.
"We will create 10, 00,000 new government jobs. Just like electricity is available free of cost in Delhi and now electricity bills in Punjab are also coming down to zero, similarly in Gujarat also 300 units of electricity will be given free every month and all old bills will be waived off.
"Every woman above the age of 18 years will be given Rs 1000 as Samman Rashi every month. Just like government schools in Delhi have been made better than private ones, in the same way, we will build excellent government schools in Gujarat so that the expenditure of people on education will end.
Private schools will not be allowed to increase fees arbitrarily.We will provide all the medical treatment, medicines, all the tests and operations free of cost, be it any disease."
He later addressed a Sarpanch Conference in Surendranagar and said, "I understand that if the Sarpanch and village computer entrepreneurs (VCEs) of the whole of Gujarat get together, BJP will not get a single seat.
"Today, I have come from Delhi to Gujarat to talk to Sarpanches and VCEs. But, has the BJP ever called a meeting of Sarpanches and VCEs till today? They don't want your votes, I want them. I want your votes, I want your time, and I want your support too."
He also promised a monthly remuneration of Rs 10,000 every month for the sarpanches, Rs 20,000 to VCEs and a fund of Rs 10, 00,000 to every panchayat directly from the state government. "There are 18,000 panchayats in Gujarat, schools will be opened in every panchayat. It's my dream. I think our India cannot progress unless our children get a good education.
"Mohalla clinics will be opened in every panchayat. If you have any minor disease, you go to the Mohalla Clinic and get yourself treated for free," he promised.
Apart from the promises to the electorate, Kejriwal has also upped the ante against the BJP, "It is also written in the Gita that when injustice increases, then God intervenes, and this time God is using the broom to clean the mess.
"So all of you people come together. Then we all will together make a new Gujarat. We will build the Gujarat of Sardar Patel's dreams, the Gujarat of the dreams of the people of Gujarat."
He attacked the BJP governments in the state and the Centre for anti people economic policies. "These people have also imposed tax on essential things like bread, rice, milk, buttermilk, curd, honey. Now only the air that we breathe in is tax free, maybe after a few days they will tax air as well.
"And after levying so much tax, the money that is accumulated is not being used for basic facilities like electricity, water and roads, but that money is being used to buy MLAs and bring down the governments of other states. These people have bought MLAs in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Goa, Manipur, Assam, Bihar and in Jharkhand also. These people had also come to Delhi a few days ago to buy AAP MLAs," he charged.
"The politics of AAP is marked by aggression and a tinge of Hindutva as well. Kejriwal has no qualms visiting religious shrines or attending religious events in this festive season.
"At the same time he is keeping away from issues of caste and communal conflicts. His announcements are surely making an impact. This is reflected in the announcements being made by the state government day after day extending various sops to the population of the state," said the Ahmedabad based observer.
Bhupendra Patel too has been attending 'Sneh Milan' programmes of various communities regularly. He is trying to play up the upgradation of infrastructure in rural as well as urban areas under the BJP rule in the state as he goes around dedicating new projects to the public.
Patel's office went ahead clearing five town planning schemes for the Municipal Corporations in Ahmedabad and Surat under which public amenities will be developed, housing given to economically weaker sections (EWS), and land sold for other purposes.
Meanwhile, the Congress too has launched its poll campaign in the state. On Monday, senior party leader Rahul Gandhi addressed an impressive gathering in Ahmedabad where he invoked the ideals of Sardar Patel.
Gandhi too announced a series of poll promises. These included waiving off agriculture loans up to Rs 3 lakh, compensation of Rs 4 lakh each to the families of those who perished during the Covid-19 waves. He also promised an unemployment allowance of Rs 3000 to the youth besides opening of English medium schools.
He attacked the BJP government for erecting a 182-metre statue of Patel while not adhering to what the Iron Man stood for. "They made a statue of his body, but never followed his soul and pro-farmer principles," said Rahul Gandhi. He also promised 10 lakh regular jobs and an end to contractual employment.
The 'Parivartan Sankalp Sammelan' organised by the Congress, reportedly was also addressed by Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot who is the party observer in the poll bound state.
Sources said that the Congress' discomfort with AAP was evident from the party leaders of the state cautioning party workers of the 'B' team of BJP. The biggest challenge before the Congress at present is to keep its flock together on one hand to keep its vote share on various seats intact.
Observers are already pointing towards how AAP has eaten into the party's vote share in states such as Delhi and later Punjab. "In Delhi the Congress' vote share has slid drastically from its one time high of 48 %. The AAP has managed to increase its base at their cost. In Gujarat too there is a little chance of loyal BJP voters shifting base. But the same cannot be said about the Congress," pointed Samani.
Sources point out that Gujarat's poll battle has just begun. There will be a lot of political drama forthcoming as the days pass. The observers are now looking forward to seeing how Modi and Shah will save the saffron lotus from being swept away by Kejriwal's broom.