When newly-elected Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel and 16 other MLAs took their oath as ministers on Monday after the BJP’s humongous 156 out of 182-seat victory, it was in the backdrop of the prospects of three out of five first-time Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) legislators embracing the saffron party. This may well take the BJP’s number to at least 159 MLAs.
It has only been four days since the 2022 Gujarat assembly verdict on December 8 and AAP’s five-MLA-and-13-percent-vote-share-strong fledgling dispensation is already tottering. If three of its MLAs join the BJP, they won’t attract anti-defection laws and there are intense speculations that the number has already been achieved. There are unconfirmed claims that all five AAP legislators would sooner or later join the BJP.
This development may well deliver an embarrassing blow to AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal and his claims of providing an alternative to the BJP and replacing the Congress party at the national level, but more than that lends credence to the Congress allegation of it being a BJP’s B-team.
In the process, while gaining for itself the vote percentage to be recognised as a national party, the AAP has proved instrumental in almost reducing Gujarat’s one and only oldest opposition party to rubble. But this is one part of the story, another bigger story is that the Congress’ central leadership deserves the complete blame for such a humiliating fall of the party from 77 seats in December 2017 to 17 in December 2022.
How The AAP Killed The Congress
It is an inescapable fact that the AAP has achieved little for itself but was largely responsible for the BJP getting a mystical majority of 156 when its government has been facing a series of issues in Gujarat. The Congress’ 41.4% vote share in 2017 dropped to an all-time low of 27.3% and the difference was eaten up by the AAP.
As a result, the BJP’s vote share increased from 49.05% in 2017 to 52.2% in 2022 and the AAP registered a share of 12.9% (13% rounded off) in the votes polled.
Former BJP veteran Jay Narayan Vyas, who recently joined the Congress party, points out: “There are as many as 33 seats where the Congress votes combined with those polled by the AAP are much more than the BJP. This clearly shows where the Congress would have been had it not been for the AAP. Thirty-three plus 17 equals 50.”
Another startling statistic is that as many as 44 Congress candidates forfeited their deposits and in a majority of these seats the AAP was the first runner-up ahead of the Congress. The 33 seats where the combined total of Congress and AAP is more than that of the BJP are separate from these 44 where the party candidates lost their deposits. “With this, the AAP has clearly dented 77 seats,” says Congress candidate from Botad Manhar Patel, who experienced it first hand with his defeat to the extent of forfeiting his deposit.
If numbers are the final arbiters, the AAP has straightaway hit the Congress on a mindboggling 77 seats while the latter on its own has won 17 seats. “Add these and you have the winner with 94 seats (92 is the minimum number needed for a majority in a 182-member House,” adds Gujarat Congress chief spokesperson Manish Doshi.
Congress Leadership Shirks Responsibility
While the statistics are out there in the public domain, that doesn’t take away from the fact that starting from the Congress’ high command and down to the state leadership of the party, they simply didn’t fight the Gujarat elections. They allowed a free run to the AAP in the party’s pocketboroughs and potentially advantageous regions across the state.
One instance is sufficient. With the BJP having managed only 9 out of 27 seats reserved for the Scheduled Tribes in 2017, the Congress was the strongest in these seats ranging right from north to south but it won only three seats of Vansda in South Gujarat’s Valsad district, Lunawada in Central Gujarat’s Panchmahals (Godhra) district and Khedbrahma in North Gujarat’s Sabarkantha district.
In a majority of the tribal seats, the BJP directly gained by the split of the opposition votes while the AAP has no roots nor any leaders worth their salt and it didn’t focus much on these areas either. The AAP is seen as a party for the urban poor with nothing to do with the Adivasi regions. It has little idea of the issues facing the tribals. According to Jay Narayan Vyas, “The AAP fooled the tribals by distributing their guarantee cards, which meant nothing more than a piece of paper and promising free electricity to cash sops to the women.”
Take the Congress’ bastion Khedbrahma seat, which was indeed retained by the party with just about 2,000 votes while the AAP candidate bagged as many as 55,590 votes. Tushar Chaudhary, son of former chief minister the late Amarsinh Chaudhary, defeated Congress turncoat Ashwin Kotwal who contested on a BJP ticket. As against this, in the majority of other tribal seats, the AAP played a spoilsport and facilitated the BJP’s win.
While the AAP severely damaged the Congress, the party itself won only one tribal seat of Dediapada in Narmada district of South Gujarat. In this case, Chaitar Vasava, an understudy of veteran Adivasi leader Chhotubhai Vasava who runs the Bharatiya Tribal Party, had sought a Congress ticket after being denied one by the BTP but the Congress leadership and central observers were “too arrogant” to listen to him, says an insider. Vasava, a typical local Adivasi leader who stays in a thatched home, is the only one among the five AAP winners who may not join the BJP, sources claim.
It has startled many that out of 31 seats in South Gujarat, including 12 seats in Surat city, the Congress could win only one. But it is this one winner, Anant Patel from Vansda seat, who led a massive tribal agitation against the Narendra Modi government’s pet project Gujarat-Maharashtra Par-Tapi-Narmada Riverlinking Project announced in the Union Budget, and got the project scrapped. It was unprecedented in a long time in Gujarat that the Congress would lead an agitation and also be successful at it under the BJP regime, while this river-linking project is among the 33 planned across the country as part of its riverlinking plan.
There is already a huge tribal agitation going on against the Vedanta-Hindustan Zinc’s copper smelter plant in the Tapi district near Surat, while the issue of non-implementation of the Forest Rights Act and the PESA has been raging for a long time. Except the one by Anant Patel (tribal Dodia patel), for which he was rewarded with a victory, the Congress party as a collective did precious little about building even a strong agitation over these issues.
Rahul Gandhi did speak of a fight for “jal (water), jungle (forest) and zameen (land)” but came only twice to Gujarat while the AAP’s Arvind Kejriwal came calling almost every week from October and several times earlier.
Similarly, Congress’ leader of opposition Paresh Dhanani broke a huge Rs 4,000-crore groundnut procurement scam that even underwent an inquiry under the Commission of Inquiry Act in 2018. A year later, Hardik Patel (earlier Congress working president who just won his maiden election after joining the BJP) and newly-elected Congress MLA Jignesh Mevani in 2020 exposed a scam in the allotment of funds under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. But the agitations by Dhanani, Anant Patel and Jignesh Mevani, besides several others on such issues, remained restricted to their own one-man or two-men show and the Congress never picked them up as a collective agitation.
So, calling the AAP a B-team of the BJP, AICC media department in-charge Pawan Khera citing 6.5% “impossible” voting during the post-5 pm one-hour of polling at a presser on Monday evening, and alleging EVM “fraud” cannot absolve the Congress’ central leadership of the blame for pushing their best opposition state into the dumps. Best, because despite having no state-level face, the Congress in Gujarat never scored less than 50 seats and a vote-share of not less than 35% ever since Narendra Modi came to power in the state. In fact, even during Modi’s 2002 performance of 127 seats out of 182 seats, the Congress had won 51 seats with more than 38% vote share.
In 2022, the central leadership simply ignored Gujarat while its representative in the form of Rajasthan Chief Minister and senior leader Ashok Gehlot was too busy politicking in his own state to find time for the election-bound state. On the other hand, Rahul Gandhi who delivered his best stint in 2017-Gujarat was simply missing and away on his Bharat Jodo Yatra in 2022 like the proverbial Nero fiddling when Rome burnt!
The writer is a veteran journalist and Founder Editor of Development News Network [DNN), Gujarat.
(The opinions, beliefs, and views expressed by the various authors and forum participants on this website are personal and do not reflect the opinions, beliefs, and views of ABP News Network Pvt Ltd.)
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