It isn’t often that India is witness to political spaces opening up. Arvind Kejriwal’s announcement that Aam Aadmi Party will contest all 182 seats in the 2022 Gujarat assembly election comes amid such a possibility, howsoever remote, in Gujarat. AAP has spied a break after it won 27 wards becoming the sole opposition to BJP in the Surat municipal corporation elections. BJP snapped up the remaining 93 wards. The Congress, predictably, drew a blank.
AAP sees quite a bit going for it. Now the Patidars have grievances with BJP too, apart from the longstanding antagonism towards Congress ever since Madhavsinh Solanki’s rise and his failed KHAM social engineering attempt. A Patidar leader hasn’t risen in BJP ever since Keshubhai Patel’s eclipse. Finance and health minister Nitin Patel enjoys great clout but the chief minister’s post has eluded him. Another rising star Jitu Vaghani was replaced by CR Patil as state party president.
The top Patidars in Congress have also had a rough ride. Leader of Opposition Paresh Dhanani remains a political lightweight. Hardik Patel, despite elevation to working president, remains at the margins of the party. A track record as a weak opposition coupled with frequent defections and inability to highlight government failures during the second wave, which required high court intervention, make the Congress’s pitch for regime change in 2022 rather weak.
AAP may sniff a chance, given that both BJP and Congress are in no position to claim public approval for their actions at this moment. But its own government in Delhi failed to improve health infrastructure, especially in setting up oxygen plants at hospitals. This will increasingly be held against it as AAP attempts to push a national alternative in states that currently see a BJP-Congress bipolarity.
Moreover, Kejriwal’s personality cult in AAP militates against the party’s growth in other states. Strong state leaderships have never cropped up in supremo-led regional parties. Several AAP leaders in Punjab, apart from Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan in Delhi have fallen out with Kejriwal. Moreover, the combined firepower of Gujarat’s dominant Hindutva credo and the Narendra Modi factor had blunted the Patidar resentment at its peak between 2015 and 2017. So AAP will need more talking points than just caste calculus.
The other tantalising poser lingers: Whose votes will AAP steal, even if only to play spoiler? Congress’s or BJP’s? If Delhi is any pointer, both national parties must watch out.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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