New Delhi: Seven years after she resigned from the Aam Aadmi Party, social activist and Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) founder Medha Patkar’s ties with the AAP have become a political hot potato in poll-bound Gujarat.
While Patkar happened to be in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) line of sight, the real target is seemingly Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who has been working to expand AAP’s footprint in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Denouncing the movement which Patkar led against the Sardar Sarovar Dam, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been attacking the AAP over unconfirmed claims that she might be declared the party’s chief ministerial candidate. The claims, initially made by Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel, were amplified over the last week by BJP spokespersons and top leaders, including Union Home minister Amit Shah.
However, both Patkar and the AAP — which is a new entrant in Gujarat — have rubbished the possibility of her being the party’s chief ministerial face.
“Saying that the AAP is fielding Medha Patkar as chief ministerial candidate in Gujarat is like saying that the BJP is projecting Sonia Gandhi as its prime ministerial face,” AAP joint general secretary Isudan Gadhvi told ThePrint.
Another Gujarat AAP leader claimed that the BJP is sensing that the Congress is no more in a position to counter it and that the AAP’s narrative is gaining ground. “That is the reason why they [BJP leaders] are turning rumours into news with even the home minister commenting on it. This is hilarious,” he added.
Meanwhile, Gujarat BJP general secretary Bhargav Bhatt told ThePrint that if the AAP has no plans to project Patkar as its chief ministerial candidate, then it should deny such claims publicly.
“But there is no such denial. Gujaratis know how Patkar betrayed Gujarat over the last two decades by flagging the Narmada issue. It is the PM who made possible the availability of water in drought-prone areas of Kutch. Gujarat will never accept Medha Patkar,” he said.
Another Gujarat BJP leader, who did not wish to be named, told ThePrint: “AAP is trying to gain support in the tribal belt. That is why they have made alliance with the tribal party [Bharatiya Tribal Party]; they might consider getting a foothold in tribal areas where Patkar has worked, but this will backfire if they announce her candidature.”
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Roots of the grapevine
The claims about Medha Patkar’s ‘renewed ties’ with the AAP were first made by Gujarat CM Bhupendra Patel at a public meeting in Bhuj district on 28 August.
Sharing the state with Prime Minister Modi, Patel said in his speech that “we must remember the people who deprived Kutch of the water of Narmada for five decades”.
“We already know who the protesting urban naxals were. These people tried to deprive Gujarat and Kutch of development. One such person is Medha Patkar. They misled Gujarat and tried to bring naxalism to the state, but people of Gujarat and Kutch did not let their wishes come true.”
Referring to how Patkar unsuccessfully contested the 2014 general election on an AAP ticket from North-East Mumbai before quitting the party in 2015, the chief minister said: “Everyone knows which party a person like Medha Patkar belongs to, who gave her a ticket to contest parliamentary polls. They tried to mislead Gujarat but the intelligent people of Gujarat did not accept such folks.”
Two days later, on 29 August, Suresh Nakhua, official spokesperson of the Mumbai BJP, tweeted, “If what sources say is to be believed Anti India, anti-development, Anti Gujarat Medha Patkar to be announced as Kejriwal Lok Pal Dal’s CM face in Gujarat [sic].”
That same day, Delhi BJP leader Kapil Mishra, too, claimed that Patkar will be the AAP’s CM candidate in Gujarat. “Yes, the Medha Patkar who stopped the water, hatched a conspiracy against the dam, defamed Gujarat and runs a shop in the name of agitation [sic],” he tweeted.
Patkar, in a tweet on 30 August, denied the speculation and wrote: “I left the Party [AAP] within few months in 2014 itself and am not in party politics ever!!!How can Bjp supporters know the decision of AAP as false claims are made..!???”
Later that day, the Gujarat BJP launched a social media campaign with the theme “anti-Gujarat AAP”. Tweets on this theme, critical of the AAP and Patkar, were shared widely by BJP MPs, functionaries and leaders including Gujarat BJP IT cell convener Nikhil Patel and Gujarat BJP general secretary Pradipsinh Vaghela.
અર્બન નક્સલી અને આપના ઉમેદવાર મેધા પાટકરનું સત્ય. જેમણે ઈન્ટરવ્યૂમાં કહ્યું હતું કે, સરદાર સરોવર ડેમને ભૂલના સ્મારક તરીકે યાદ રખાશે અને આ પરિયોજના પૂર્ણ થાય તો પણ કચ્છ સુધી પાણી નહીં પહોંચે. મેધા પાટકરને જડબાતોડ જવાબરૂપે મળ્યો ભાજપ દ્વારા કરેલો કચ્છનો સર્વાંગી વિકાસ અને સમૃદ્ધિ. pic.twitter.com/pNKRUXzz3T
— BJP Gujarat (@BJP4Gujarat) August 30, 2022
Patel tweeted on 1 September that “13 declared candidates of AAP” led by former Congress MLA Indranil Rajguru have “refused” to contest elections over Patkar being the party’s CM face in Gujarat.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah, too, reiterated the claims about Patkar and the AAP, while addressing a curtain raiser event for the 36th National Games and the closing ceremony of Khel Mahakumbh in Ahmedabad on 4 September.
“These days, some people have made a new start to give Medha Patkar, who opposed the Narmada project, a backdoor entry into Gujarat politics. I would like to ask the youth of Gujarat if they will allow those who opposed the Narmada project, as well as the development of Gujarat, to enter the state,” Shah said, without naming the AAP.
Comparing the Prime Minister to Bhagirath, a mythological character credited with bringing the Ganga to the Earth, Shah said: “This all happened because Modi ji took Narmada water till Khavda in Kutch. Had Modi ji not come to Gujarat as Bhagirath and not carried Narmada water till Kutch, this development would not have been possible.”
During that trip to Gujarat, Shah also took aim at AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal while inaugurating a school in Ahmedabad.
“There are two types of people. The ones who sweat and work in Kutch for five years and then contest elections via political parties and the second, who buy new clothes just five months before the election and start making promises for votes. But the people of Gujarat know the second kind of people very well,” he said.
AAP vs BJP in Gujarat
With Congress slowly receding in the background in Gujarat, AAP’s growing popularity in the state’s Saurashtra region has made the ruling BJP nervous.
The party gained some ground in Gujarat, evident by its performance in the municipal elections last year when it secured 28 per cent of the votes in Surat, 21 per cent votes in Gandhinagar and 17 per cent votes in Rajkot.
AAP’s Gujarat in-charge Sandeep Pathak had claimed in April that a survey — by state intelligence agencies at the behest of the BJP government — had revealed that the AAP was winning 55 of Gujarat’s 182 assembly seats if elections were held at that time.
Kejriwal, just this week, claimed that the AAP is winning seven of the 12 assembly seats in Surat.
With the polls in Gujarat barely months away, the AAP chief has made several poll-promises during his trips to the state. Apart from 300 units of free electricity, a job for every youngster and Rs 3,000 monthly allowance for the unemployed till the time that they get jobs, Kejriwal has also announced that women will get Rs 1,000 each month if the AAP is voted into power.
The AAP is even emulating BJP’s strategy by announcing a ‘missed call’ campaign, allowing anyone who dials a number to register as a member of the party. Party leaders are also trying to boost the confidence of voters by repeatedly claiming that the AAP is on its way to win the elections — another pre-poll strategy to which the BJP is no stranger
In addition, the Kejriwal-led party conducted Tiranga Yatras across Gujarat to mark the 75th Independence Day last month.
Meanwhile, Delhi Deputy CM Manish Sisodia, who is facing a CBI probe in connection with the AAP government’s excise policy, has been attacking the BJP government in Gujarat – which is a ‘dry state’ — over hooch-related deaths. Kejriwal visited Bhavnagar in July to meet those who lost family members to illicit liquor and demanded compensation for them.
The issue was also raised by AAP MPs during the Monsoon Session of Parliament.
Taking on Kejriwal, Gujarat BJP chief C.R. Patil had told supporters during an inaugural ceremony in Surat last month that a “person visiting the state nowadays” has been offering poll promises that are like “Chinese products”.
(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)
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