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BJP flustered as Kejriwal visits Patels, Dalits and Muslims in Gujarat

Rathin Das | Updated on: 18 October 2016, 17:13 IST

Aam Aadmi Party convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal's three-day visit to Gujarat has raised a political storm in the state.

However, it's much ado about nothing, since the visit is unlikely to lead to anything significant in the near future. All it'll do is make next year's Assembly elections a bit more complicated.

Kejriwal adopted a please-all attitude during his visit. He hailed the agitating Patel community, consoled the family members of the Patel youths killed during the agitation, praised Dalit uprising leader Jignesh Mevani and also visited a Muslim family whose son was killed in an attack by self-styled cow vigilantes.

All these came across as nice little gestures, but their impact can only be measured once the electronic voting machines are opened in December 2017. After all, the Patels, Dalits and Muslims put together constitute a major chunk of the state's electorate.

Ruffling feathers

What Kejriwal has managed to do, though, is ruffle the feathers of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

The huge crowd drawn by Kejriwal at the Patel-dominated Varacha area in Surat on Sunday has unnerved the BJP so much that all its important leaders chose to flay the AAP convener on some pretext or the other.

State BJP chief Jitubhai Vaghani called Kejriwal's visit a 'political stunt', while Chief Minister Vijay Rupani said the AAP leader's utterings were meaningless, as he had questioned the recent surgical strike on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

In an ideal scenario, a cadre-based nationally-established party like BJP need not be scared of a newly-emerged entity based elsewhere in the country. But the ruling party's discomfort stems from the fact that the people who thronged Kejriwal's rally in Varacha were the same who would swear by Modi just about three years back.

Even Kejriwal's announcement that the AAP would contest all 182 seats in the 2017 Assembly elections need not have perturbed the BJP too much, as it would only lead to a triangular contest, which would not necessarily damage the ruling party in Gujarat.

Analyst's view

Though it is too early to predict the impact of AAP's entry into Gujarat's electoral arena, eminent social scientist and author Achyut Yagnik said in the present scenario, it would be difficult for the BJP to win a clear majority, though it may still manage to be the single largest party due to the splitting of votes.

The Patel community, which constitutes nearly 15% of the population, remains divided, with some parting company with the BJP over the issue of reservation, while others are clinging on to it. A portion of this community may go with the AAP, making it a veritable third force in the hitherto bipolar electoral battle.

Yagnik feels that Patel votes will also get split on generational lines, with patriarchs still voting for the BJP but grandsons, more concerned with joblessness and quota issues, opting for AAP.

At best, Yagnik said, the AAP might win some seats in the Gujarat Assembly, and a clear majority may elude the BJP.

Fishing in troubled waters

But if AAP's entry is not a serious threat to it, then why is the BJP looking so scared? Is it mere 'shadow boxing'?

The answers to these questions are not readily available as the electoral matrix is not yet clear, even as the state Congress has called AAP the BJP's 'B team'. Really? Not quite.

But consider the scenario in Gujarat. The Patels are at loggerheads with their traditional party, the BJP. Dalits are standing up to the traditional tyranny of the upper castes. Muslims are eager to remain safe from attacks by cow vigilantes. Which politician would not like to fish in these troubled waters?

Kejriwal's three-day visit has touched all these communities, but that's about all. His gestures have to be weighed against the emergence of neo-nationalism, which may reach its peak before the Assembly elections next year.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 18 October 2016, 17:13 IST