New Delhi: Freshly victorious in Punjab, the AAP appears to have left the BJP worried about the fledgling party finding a foothold in their bastion of Gujarat — a state the BJP has held for 25 years.
The BJP’s main concern is Arvind Kejriwal’s party building upon its ‘Delhi model’ in Gujarat, which is headed for elections later this year. According to sources in the BJP, local party leaders are concerned this may “impact its chances in many urban seats”, and the worries in this regard have been conveyed to the BJP’s Gujarat in-charge Bhupender Yadav.
Gujarat is among the states on the AAP’s agenda as it pursues its ambitions to go national. Earlier this month, AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal visited Gujarat to kickstart the party’s poll campaign. In Ahmedabad, he asked the people to give “one chance” to his party.
Last year, the AAP won 27 of 120 seats in the Surat municipal polls to emerge as the main Opposition to the BJP.
Yadav held a two-day exchange with the BJP core group in Gujarat while on a short tour of the state last week, to take note of the political atmosphere and plan how the state unit and government could be fine-tuned to ensure victory in the assembly polls.
He held discussions with CM Bhupendra Patel and ministers, besides the party general secretary, vice-president, functionaries and spokespersons.
“Some leaders raised the issue of AAP rising as a challenge and mentioned how Kejriwal’s state visit has started a debate on the performance of his ‘Delhi model’. He seized public attention and occupied media space in a big way, which is unusual in Gujarat,” a leader present at the meeting told ThePrint.
Yadav, sources said, has so far dismissed the concerns. “The atmosphere is in the BJP’s favour and there is no need to take the AAP too seriously,” he was quoted as having said. “The need is to focus on the state organisation’s strengths and reach out to beneficiary voters to highlight the work done by PM Narendra Modi and the Gujarat government.”
AAP builds the narrative
In Gujarat, the AAP is highlighting the issues of education, high school fees, unemployment and last year’s Gujarat Subordinate Service Selection Board (GSSSB) exam paper leak to draw the attention of jobless youth.
Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal, along with his Punjab counterpart Bhagwant Mann, also took up the issue of corruption during his Gujarat visit, saying that “the AAP would eliminate corruption the way it did in Delhi and Punjab”.
The two leaders held a roadshow in Ahmedabad, met with the party’s core group in the city, and visited the Swami Narayan Temple and the Gandhi Ashram.
An AAP leader told ThePrint: “There is huge discontentment among the youth — there is no employment and exam papers are getting leaked. The youth waste many years appearing for these exams. Their future is at stake.”
This, the AAP leader said, “has been the development model of the BJP in the last 25 years”. “We are asking parents to give one chance to the AAP in Gujarat if they want the education and employment issue to be addressed like it was in Delhi,” the leader added.
On the exam paper leak, the AAP has demanded the resignation of GSSSB Chairman Asit Vora, who is a former Ahmedabad mayor and a BJP leader. Last year, when the paper leak made news, the AAP also staged a dharna at the BJP office in Gandhinagar and announced an indefinite fast over the issue.
Police in Gujarat have lodged an FIR in the matter and arrested eight people who allegedly got the exam paper from a staff member of an Ahmedabad printing press.
Meanwhile, YouTuber and AAP youth wing leader Yuvrajsinh Jadeja has been active exposing alleged irregularities in government recruitment exams in Gujarat, which resulted in the cancellation of two exams for recruitment of clerks over the past few months.
He has also alleged that the question paper of the forest guards’ exam was leaked — a charge denied by the Gujarat government. This month, Jadeja was arrested in Gujarat on charges of trying to run over a policeman.
On Monday, AAP general secretary Manoj Sorathiya led a protest outside the Gujarat assembly against fees hike in the state’s private schools.
The party is buoyed by its success in the Surat municipal polls of 2021, in which it won 27 seats, leaving behind the Congress, which drew a blank. The AAP also drew a 28 per cent voteshare in Surat, and a 21 per cent voteshare in the Gandhinagar municipal polls, although it won only one seat in the latter.
‘AAP can only damage Congress, not BJP’
When asked about the AAP challenge, a BJP leader pointed out that the former has “deployed professionals in cities to strengthen its base, and while it may not succeed in the rural belt, the party can have an impact in towns and attract the youth”.
Other party leaders lamented that the Gujarat BJP government had “failed to market its own ‘model school’ success story to people and now the AAP has raced ahead with its school model”.
“We have 42,000 schools where more than one crore students study, while in Delhi there are 1,600 schools, of which not more than 20 would be ‘model schools’. But they (AAP) are marketing their work as a success story in every state,” said Gujarat BJP General Secretary Bhargav Bhatt.
A party functionary suggested at the BJP meeting last week that “it’s not too late to market our school model”.
Yadav, after listening to the concerns of some of the leaders about AAP, told them not to “take Kejriwal’s party too seriously in this election as it does not have a state leader or a robust organisation to fight the BJP with”.
“The BJP can win the election handsomely if we complete our organisational work at the booth-level in due time,” he is said to have told them.
Another BJP functionary brought up the issue of inflation, saying: “We have given him (Yadav) feedback from the ground that people are complaining about inflation, and this needs to be addressed at the earliest as the elections are approaching.”
The functionary told ThePrint that Yadav assured the leaders at the meeting that the state and central government were making efforts to contain inflation.
“The best thing in our favour is that the Opposition is not serious about raising this issue,” the functionary added.
Yamal Vyas, chief spokesperson of the state BJP, told ThePrint that there “are two big differences in the AAP’s journey in Gujarat”.
“Firstly, the state’s people are not so fond of freebies, which is the USP of AAP’s politics in Delhi or Punjab. The Gujarati are business-oriented people who need an environment for their business to grow,” he added.
“The PM has a solid record in making Gujarat a hub of investment and growth. Secondly, the AAP does not have a solid leadership in Gujarat unlike in Punjab. So, they can only damage the Congress in a few pockets of the state, but not the BJP.”
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)