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Is BJP mulling early polls in Gujarat to counter dissent?
RK Mishra | Saturday, 29 October 2016 AT 10:37 AM IST
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Cats stalk quietly and wolves prey in packs, but why is the behemoth of a BJP getting paranoid over ant-like Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)and barking up all manner of trees? Quite simply, because its iron clasp grip on Gujarat maybe slowly slipping and a queasy national party leadership is stuck for options to reverse the trend. AAP, analysts say, is set to make impressive gains in Punjab and Goa and this will impact election results in Gujarat which goes to polls in the last quarter of 2017. A mere foot-in-the-door is all that AAP needs in the prime minister’s home state to make ants crawl up the pants of the NDA government in the 2019 general elections.

A panic-stricken BJP is mulling early elections in Gujarat along with UP and Punjab, more to stretch AAP to oblivion than to run the Congress out of reckoning. While Amit Shah has asked the state party leadership to get into poll mode post haste, the Congress, marinated by Modi through three state Assembly elections still remains a pregnant hippopotamus in maternal recline, notwithstanding its significant gains in the December 2015 local self-government elections.

Grasping the opening, AAP has been more sprightly with Kejriwal making ‘surgical strikes’ in Gujarat to capitalise on the lapses of the BJP government before moving back to the safety of its stronghold. Four visits in equal months has helped Kejriwal consolidate his gains. AAP has truly become the bugbear of the BJP.

Even before he stepped on Gujarat soil on a three-day visit ending on October 16, posters appeared in the name of ‘unheard’ organisations equating him with terrorists like Osama bin Laden, Hafiz Saeed and Burhan Wani, a hero to Pakistan and traitor to India. The posters appeared in places where  Kejriwal was to meet family members of those killed during the
pro-reservation agitation by the upper caste Patels. Ever since Kejriwal came out in support of the Patidar and Dalit stirs in the state he has earned the ire of the BJP, but heightened his appeal among them.

Permission for the rally was not easy. The Surat police sat placid on the request made in August for a rally in mid-October and budged only after the High Court intervened with a show cause notice to the state government. Earlier in July, the South Gujarat University withdrew permission for a similar Kejriwal function and the trade body which had extended the invitation was forced to back down under pressure from the government.

Gujarat BJP spokesperson Bharat Pandya denies any role of his party though the sequence of events do not bear this out. The targeting of Kejriwal has been vicious in Gujarat after he brought the BJP to an auto-load in Delhi, an upgraded municipal corporation ‘packaged’ as a state government. And yet the might of the Centre runs in awe, slapping cases on AAP legislator after legislator, 14 of them, by last count.

As things stand, the BJP, its mint fresh Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and State Party Chief Jitu Vaghani are all at sea in their new roles. Rupani is a Shah appointee and Vaghani, a first timer to such a responsibility. Both novices fronting for Shah are poorly placed, stepping into Modi’s out-sized shoes in Gujarat, let alone helming the party into elections.

Even Shah with all his muscle and Modi support cuts a sorry figure, when his show of strength in Surat in September was sabotaged by the agitating Patels, who have been boycotting government functions and ministers with considerable success. Shah would find the going tough even if he himself takes over in Gujarat!

Survey the scenario. Patidars who comprise 15 per cent voters have been on the warpath since July 15, 2015 demanding reservation and their leader Hardik Patel is now a force to reckon with.

Close on their heels comes the OBC, who are nearly 45 per cent of the population and are opposing any possible cut in their quota. Led by Alpesh Thakore, they have threatened to show their worth to the rulers in the next elections.

Then follow the warring Dalits led by Jignesh Mewani, comprising 7 per cent who have already scalped a Chief minister (Anandiben Patel) and are still on the job.

All in all, not a re-assuring experience for the BJP to find 82 per cent of the state’s population up in arms against the government and Kejriwal wading into the turmoil, who is as aggressive as Modi used to be in attacking the Centre during his Gujarat days!
 
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