Gujarat assembly polls: AAP pulls out all stops in Surat

Published on Nov 30, 2022 01:01 PM IST

The AAP hopes to replicate its successes in the 2021 civic polls in the city when it replaced Congress as the second-biggest party and secured about 28% of the vote share

Arvind Kejriwal during a roadshow in Surat. (Twitter)
Arvind Kejriwal during a roadshow in Surat. (Twitter)
ByMaulik Pathak and Melvyn Thomas

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is pulling out all the stops to make significant electoral gains in Surat with its chief Arvind Kejriwal claiming they will win seven to eight of the city’s 12 assembly seats even as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won all of them in 2017. The BJP lost just one of the 15 seats in the Surat district in the state’s Saurashtra region.

Surat has been a BJP stronghold. BJP’s state chief C R Paatil is from Surat and so are five ministers in the chief minister Bhupendra Patel government and one Rajya Sabha member. The AAP hopes to replicate its successes in the 2021 civic polls in the city when it replaced Congress as the second-biggest party and secured about 28% of the vote share.

The Saurashtra-Kutch region, which goes to the polls in the first phase of polling on Thursday, accounts for 54 of the 182 seats in the Gujarat assembly. The BJP won 22 seats in the region and the Congress 30 in 2017. The AAP is hoping to do well in the seats with at least 15% of Dalits and Muslims, which have traditionally voted for the Congress.

The AAP has fielded three of its top leaders, including state chief Gopal Italia, from Surat. Kejriwal has made the maximum visits to Surat in the last few months as AAP has sought to project itself as the main challenger to the BJP.

Jai Mrug of VotersMood Research said AAP’s campaign may have peaked a bit early in urban areas. “...in rural areas, it has started a little late and is yet to peak. There are about 40 seats, and the contest is triangular... There are close to 100 seats where AAP is a distant second or a close third as we see it. And in the remaining 40 odd seats, especially in north Gujarat, AAP is a non-factor.”

The AAP is seen to be following Congress’s soft Hindutva strategy and banking on its pledges like free electricity, a monthly stipend for the unemployed, and the implementation of the old pension scheme. It has taken up issues such as the death of 45 people after having hooch in Botad and the Morbi bridge collapse that left 135 people dead. But the top party leaders have chosen silence over the release of 11 men convicted of rape during the 2002 riots.

“If Congress built the KHAM [Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, and Muslim] social coalition in 1985 to get voters, the AAP is trying PHAM [Patidar, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim] coalition to make inroads into Gujarat,” said Mrug.

Kejriwal has urged the voters not to vote for Congress, claiming it will be a waste as its legislators will defect to the BJP.

In Surat, the party is particularly counting on the Patidars to win Katargam, Varachha, Karanj, Kamrej, and Olpad seats. All these seats have a sizable Patidar population, the majority of whom are with the diamond industry.

On July 21, Kejriwal promised up to 300 units of free electricity during a visit to Katargam. He called for awarding Bharat Ratna to diamond businessmen and jewellers of Surat for their contributions to the economy. “Surat manufactures and exports one-third of the world’s diamonds. You make diamonds, but in my opinion, all of you are diamonds,” Kejriwal said.

The Diamond Workers’ Union Gujarat has asked diamond workers to boycott the BJP and vote for parties that can fulfil their long-standing demands such as the implementation of labour laws.

Ghanshyam Gabani, a diamond worker, said there are over 500000 diamond workers in Surat, and the municipal corporation collects 200 professional tax from each worker monthly. “We have repeatedly raised the issue with the state government, but nothing has been done. The election is the time to respond appropriately to the ruling party.”

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