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Gujarat: Cat out of the bag!

Thursday, November 30, 2017
By Bharatkumar Raut

It’s a straight fight between the Congress and BJP

Now the stance is open. The war in Gujarat is a straight fight between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party of Narendra Modi and the Congress, the party that has been dethroned by the people of Gujarat some 22 years ago. The predictions so far are that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that has captured Delhi with a mammoth margin and has made serious and deep inroads in Punjab would be a serious contender in Gujarat also. However, the party chief Arvind Kejriwal's message on Sunday, on  the fifth anniversary of the party, appeared circumspect.

Instead of just AAP, a party that no one sees as a serious challenger to the ruling BJP in Gujarat, his appeal at Delhi's Ramlila Maidan was - vote for whoever can beat the BJP. "Gujarat elections are up next. I appeal to the people of the state, please vote for a candidate that can defeat the BJP candidate. Our motto is to beat BJP. We are in need of a corruption-free government," the 49-year-old Delhi Chief Minister said while addressing a crowd of about 10,000, flanked by several senior leaders, including the party's Gujarat in-charge Gopal Rai.

AAP’s helping hand for Congress
It clearly means that the AAP now intends to help the Congress in the latter's attempt to wrest power from the BJP. Now that the cat is out of the bag, it remains to be seen as to how much influence the AAP would make in the shift of the traditional vote bank of the BJP to the Congress. It would be also worth investigating as to how the Congress could engineer such a major shift in the political philosophy and the ideology of the AAP. It may be recalled at this juncture how the AAP had decided to take the Congress on in its two elections in Delhi and the recent one in Punjab. Why this sudden change of mind?

Even though AAP declared it would be contesting Gujarat elections next month, so far it has announced candidates  who would contest just 20 out of 182 seats in the State Assembly. Mr Rai has admitted that the party lacks organisational strength at the grassroots level. AAP has also admitted that it could have been a viable alternative to the Congress in the state had it not "lost six crucial months" after the jolt it received in the Goa and Punjab polls. While it had started campaign early enough in Gujarat, riding on Patidar agitation and the atrocities of Dalits in Una, it lost momentum as the by-elections in Rajouri Garden and the civic elections in Delhi approached - and lost both.

In Gujarat, political experts feel a BJP victory is inevitable. But the Congress, led by Rahul Gandhi's hectic rallies and resurgent social media presence, has managed to latch onto points of resentment and is expected to put up a sizeable fight. The Congress and now AAP would leave no stone unturned to ensure that the number of seats of BJP in Gujarat is reduced sizably, say below the 100-mark. Now that the ruling side has as many as 116 seats, any reduction in two-digits would be seen as the 'defeat' of the BJP and the buck would stop at none else but the Prime Minster himself. Kejriwal's speech was well designed and performed. Being a shrewd politician and an able mass leader, Kejriwal surely knows what to show and what to hide. Though his fifth anniversary address included derogatory jabs at the Congress too, the AAP leader's sharpest attacks were reserved for the BJP-led central government.

Listing what he said were scams the BJP had failed to explain, he also chastised the Centre for moves like "snatching control" of Delhi's Anti-Corruption Bureau from the state government.

"But still we worked. No government has worked as much in 70 years as we did - this is my challenge. Delhi now has cheapest the electricity and free water. Delhi hospitals have free medicines and free medical tests. Public schools have been completely turned around," he said.

Considering that Kejriwal is essentially a Delhi leader and that is only state where his influence prevails across the caste and class of the masses, it was obvious that his speech would be more Delhi centric than the other parts of the nation. However, despite this, Kejriwal spent good amount of time on speaking in the Gujarat situation, where his party, at present, is in a hopeless situation. This is also a well thought out tactic.

Not that Kejriwal intends to win even a single of the 20 seats that his party is contesting, however, he wants to ensure that his presence would ruin the chances of the BJP is winning any of the 20 seats, which at present being held by the BJP. As per his calculations, whatever votes those his candidates would get would essentially come from the BJP. Thus his presence would be a fatal blow to the BJP. By doing this, if he manages to reduce the BJP tally by a dozen seats, he would be considered 'victorious' even after losing every seat.

This seems to be the joint 'game plan' of the Congress and the AAP.

Kejriwal sees BJP as bigger threat
The imminent and the most obvious question that arises is why does AAP fight this losing bout? Why does Kejriwal want to cut his own nose to ensure BJP's defeat? The answer is, he sees a bigger threat to his own kingdom in Delhi from the BJP than the Congress. He managed to wipe the Congress out in the Capital city.

However, the recent by-election in Rajouri Garden in Delhi proved that the BJP influence is on the rise and perhaps it would take a dangerous shape by the next State Assembly elections two years later. Thus, if that threat has been avoided, Kejriwal needs to fight against the BJP, and not against the Congress as for him the Congress is no more a threat to him, at least in Delhi.

Now it remains to be seen as how the BJP takes the AAP challenge. Modi has undertaken a three-day election tour to Gujarat, where he would be addressing series of meetings. If he manages to ensure that those 20 AAP candidates' performance remains below the mark of posing threat to the BJP candidates, he would win the game.

However, if the AAP candidates manage to win more votes than the margin between the BJP and the Congress, the Modi candidates and in turn his political future would be in a serious trouble.

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