Gujarat elections: AAP fields prominent Patidar leaders in BJP bastion in Surat
AAP, which emerged as the main opposition replacing the Congress by winning 27 seats with a 28% vote share in the 2021 municipal elections in Surat, is banking heavily on the memories of the Patidar agitation
Ahead of the Gujarat state assembly elections, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has fielded some of the prominent faces and leaders associated with the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Surat.
The candidates include Gopal Italia, president of Gujarat AAP, Alpesh Kathiriya, Ram Dhaduk, and Dharmik Malaviya, all former PAAS leaders in the BJP bastions of Katargam, Varachha, Kamrej, and Olpad assembly constituencies in Surat.
AAP emerged as the main opposition replacing the Congress by winning 27 seats with a 28% vote share in the 2021 municipal elections in Surat and is banking heavily on the memories of the Patidar agitation, which is still fresh in the minds of the people ahead of the coming assembly polls.
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The Katargam assembly constituency, which is home to the world’s leading diamond crafting companies with about 2.77 lakh voters is dominated by Patidar voters. Katargam is in the spotlight with one of the AAP’s tallest leaders Gopal Italia, who is up against BJP’s sitting MLA and minister of state for urban development Vinu Moradiya.
Italia, 33, hailing from Surat, is a former police official and the face of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti along with Patidar leader and BJP candidate from Viramgam assembly constituency Hardik Patel.
He joined AAP as the state vice president of AAP in Gujarat in June 2020a and was appointed as the state president of the party on 12 December 2020.
AAP has fielded other prominent faces of the Patidar reservation agitation Alpesh Kathiriya from the Varachha assembly seat and Dharmik Malaviya from the Olpad assembly seat. Alpesh and Dharmik joined the AAP in the presence of AAP national convenor Arvind Kejriwal on October 31.
Alpesh Kathiriya has locked horns with the former state minister for health and sitting BJP MLA Kumar Kanani and former leader of opposition of Congress in Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) Praful Togadia in the Varachha assembly constituency.
Varachha has 1.98 lakh voters, with the majority of them being Patidars.
Speaking as the AAP candidate, Kathiriya said, “History of the 2021 municipal elections in Surat is going to repeat in the Patidar-dominated seats. In this election, I’ve noticed a renewed zeal among Patidar youth. They’re determined to make an actual difference in Gujarat politics by ensuring the AAP has as many seats in the assembly as possible.”
Alpesh and Dharmik also played a pivotal role in ensuring the victory of 27 AAP candidates from the Patidar-dominated areas in 2021 after they were rebuffed by Congress and refused to allot as many tickets demanded by them.
Another candidate, Dharmik Malaviya, is fielded in the Olpad assembly seat consisting of 3.59 lakh voters against two-term BJP MLA and state minister for energy Mukesh Patel. This time around, Congress has fielded a prominent farmer leader and former district panchayat member Darshan Naik to take on Malaviya and Mukesh Patel. Malaviya’s entry in Olpad is seen as a vote puller from the Patidar community that may damage the prospects of the BJP candidate.
In the Kamrej assembly seat, AAP has fielded former PAAS leader Ram Dhaduk against BJP’s Praful Panseria while Congress has also fielded former PAAS leader Nilesh Kumbhani.
Kumbhani was the key person during the Patidar reservation agitation and a prominent face among the Patidar community. All the PAAS activities in Gujarat were operated from Nilesh’s farmhouse in Kamrej and Surat during 2015.
“There is a three-cornered contest in Olpad, Katargam, Varachha and Kamrej assembly seats. The party has chosen candidates keeping in mind the caste and community factors in mind. All our candidates are strong enough to take on the AAP and BJP candidates,” Congress spokesperson Kiran Rayka said.
Meanwhile, BJP said it does not see a three-cornered contest on any of the 182 assembly segments in Gujarat.
“I see a bipolar contest between Congress and BJP, AAP is not in the picture. In the municipal elections, BJP secured 58% vote share, Congress 28% and AAP went home with a meagre 2.2%,” Zubin Ashara, BJP spokesperson said.