Mahesh Savani, a Surat-based businessman and philanthropist, joined the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on June 27 in presence of the party’s senior leader and Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi, Manish Sisodia.
Savani, a diamond merchant turned realtor, is known for his philanthropic work including organising mass weddings of orphaned girls. A Patidar (Patel) by caste, Savani’s advent in AAP is being seen as crucial to woo more people from the business community as well as Patidars. Savani, like most Patidars in the diamond community in Surat, is from the Saurashtra region of the state. He was reportedly said to be close to the BJP until the 2019 Lok Sabha elections but later distanced himself from the party after he was not given a ticket.
“The AAP is like a vacant plot in Gujarat, where a house of new and modern politics of the state can be built. In Gujarat, the AAP is growing day and night at a quadruple speed," said Manish Sisodia while welcoming Savani into the party fold.
Noticeably, this comes about a week after Isudan Gadvi, a popular local journalist of Gujarat, joined the AAP. Earlier this month, 35 BJP youth wing members also joined the AAP. Days later, on June 7 and 8, over 300 BJP workers joined the AAP, amongst which 200 BJP workers under the leadership of party’s youth wing leader Bhavesh Radadiya jumped ship.
“The BJP workers who worked hard in the party for the last 10-15 years, are feeling disgruntled by the decisions taken by the party leaders. Hence, they are leaving the party with their supporters and joining the AAP,” state AAP president Gopal Italia told the media after BJP and AAP in Surat went into a war of words over the latter’s claim of several BJP workers joining the party.
The move of the newest party in Gujarat politics has left its impact as a visibly rattled BJP held a press conference on June 21 to refute AAP’s claim. Surat city BJP president Niranjan Janjmera said, “Surat BJP unit has around 4.50 lakh prathmik sabhyo or primary members. The AAP Surat unit is falsely propagating that large numbers of BJP workers have left their party to join AAP. There might be a few workers who leave the party before and after the local and civic body elections. Apart from this, no other BJP worker had left the party.”
Noticeably, both Congress and the BJP have been accusing each other of being in tacit understanding with the AAP.
Downfall of Congress
Congress, which made a comeback by winning 77 seats in the last assembly election in 2017, lost all the momentum over the time. Not only did the party lose its MLAs to the BJP making its strength in the assembly at 65, the party’s vote share came down to 32% from 41.4% in 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The BJP won all the 26 Lok Sabha seats and its vote share rose from 49% in 2017 to 62% in 2019.
Congress also lost its AICC-in-charge of Gujarat and Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Satav and veteran leader and Rajya Sabha MP Ahmed Patel to Covid-19. Noticeably, the post of Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) president and that of Leader of Opposition in the Gujarat Assembly have been lying vacant for the past three months.
Amit Chavda, the interim president of GPCC, had submitted his resignation from the post owing to the poor performance of the party in local body polls. Chavda, a four-time MLA from Anklav, was appointed as GPCC president in early 2018, replacing veteran leader Bharatsinh Solanki. In July 2020, the AICC appointed Patidar leader Hardik Patel as the working president of GPCC while retaining Chavda as the president. However, Patel in an interview earlier this year said that he felt isolated within the party.
With Congress grappling with party issues inside, the political void led to the rise of AAP in the local body polls in February this year. The Delhi based party emerged as the opposition in the civic polls in Surat. Noticeably, AAP had only 0.1% vote share and had lost its deposit in almost all the seats in the Assembly elections of 2017 and did not contest the 2019 Lok Sabha election in Gujarat.
Turmoil within BJP
The BJP, that performed well in the local body and won all the seats in the civic body, has been at the receiving end of public ire due to mismanagement of the pandemic in the state. The party has also been in controversy due its party chief CR Patil who left the state leadership befuddled as he distributed Remdesivir, the drug used to treat COVID-19, at a time when the Gujarat government had run out of the drug.
The rift between Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and the party chief came to surface as Rupani passed the onus on Patil when the media demanded a response. “Ask CR Patil,” said Rupani.
Noticeably, BJP national secretary and Gujarat in-charge Bhupendra Yadav held a meeting in Gandhinagar last week with the party’s state unit’s core group. While the state cadre have been asked to gear up for the 2022 election, sources say there might be a reshuffle in the cabinet and fresh appointments in boards and corporations.
“A third political party other than Congress and BJP has never been a success in electoral politics of Gujarat. Adding to that, AAP, unlike other parties that have tried to make a third front before, is not based in Gujarat. So, one should not read too much into the advent of AAP in the Gujarat political scenario. Due to mismanagement on part of the government during the pandemic and especially, the second wave, the people may be looking up to the AAP. But this new found popularity of the party may be short lived and not last till state elections next year,” Gaurang Jani, an Ahmedabad based sociologist told the Newsclick.
The Aam Aadmi Party does not have a local political leader with prior experience or political background, Jani said, adding that most people joining the party were from different walks of life. “In the least, the party has to come with a chief ministerial candidate who is known and accepted across the state. The only place AAP seems to have recorded some success is in Surat as they have got the support of Patidars in the diamond and textile business who dominate the city. The Patidars in recent times have switched loyalties to put pressure on the BJP to give more tickets to the community. However, both Congress and BJP cannot do without the Patidar community who consists of 12% of the electoral population and eventually will cater to the respective Patidar leaders in their fold,” he added.
“Besides, the BJP has already begun its preparation for the upcoming elections. Keeping up with its Hindutva image and ideology, the ruling party has come up with the anti-love jihad law. Such moves by the BJP are expected to intensify as the election comes closer. The upper caste (Patidar, Kshatriyas, Jain and Brahmins) who essentially form the middle class in urban Gujarat, are the core vote bank of the BJP and agree with such a stand of the party. This vote bank will not trust Arvind Kejriwal to carry forward their electoral politics based on hardliner religious ideology,” said Jani.
However, the AAP has been working on the ground attempting to create a base ahead of the state elections. On June 26, ahead of Sisodia’s visit, the party announced a “Jan Samvedna Mulakaat” campaign to connect with the families of those who lost their loved ones during Covid-19. Earlier, AAP had demanded relief for the Ahmedabad-based business community that was sealed by Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation after a High Court order against market complexes and other buildings that were operating without Building Use (BU) certificate.