Demonstration of AAP and tribals in South Gujarat, what are the alarm bells for BJP

Gujarat Assembly Election 2022: A challenge from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the south Gujarat region and protests by local tribals against various government projects could spell trouble for the ruling BJP in the upcoming assembly elections. . Of the 89 seats going to polls in Gujarat in the first phase on December 1, 35 are spread across the southern districts of Bharuch, Narmada, Tapi, Dangs, Surat, Valsad and Navsari. 

The BJP had won 25 of these 35 seats in 2017, while the Congress and the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) won eight and two seats, respectively. But out of 14 seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes in the region, BJP could win only five. In the subsequent by-elections, it wrested two more seats from the Congress, Dang and Kaprada.

Tribal-dominated areas are still considered BJP’s weak link, while urban voters in South Gujarat rallied behind the party in 2017. In 2015, Surat was the epicenter of the Patidar quota agitation led by Hardik Patel and there was widespread violence.

Textile merchants in Surat were also against the imposition of the Goods and Services Tax, but despite all this, the BJP captured 15 of the 16 assembly seats in Surat district, including the Patidar-dominated Varachha, Kamrej and Katargam seats. It could not win only the tribal-dominated Mandvi (Scheduled Tribe).

The aggressive campaigning of the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP and its stupendous performance in last year’s Surat civic polls has made the contest interesting again this time. AAP had won 27 seats in the Surat Municipal Corporation elections while the Congress could not even open its account.

Congress has fielded Patidar leader Alpesh Kathiriya, who was once close to Hardik Patel, from Varachha seat. Another leader of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), Dharik Malviya, is contesting from Olpad on an AAP ticket. AAP’s Gujarat unit president Gopal Italia is contesting from Katargam.

AAP’s state vice-president Bhemabhai Chowdhary is confident that the support of the Patidar community will make a difference. Of the 14 seats reserved for tribals, the BJP has seven – Dang, Kaprada, Umargam, Dharampur, Gandvi, Mahuva and Mangrol. MLA Anant Patel, the young tribal face of the Congress, is leading protests in Navsari and Valsad districts against land acquisition for highway projects.

Congress claimed that tribal voters would never trust BJP. Senior Congress leader from South Gujarat, Tushar Chowdhary said, ‘‘I am sure Congress will win seats in tribal areas as the local people have always reposed faith in us. BJP is definitely losing and so is the Prime Minister Narendra Modi held two rallies in Valsad district within two weeks.’’ Meanwhile, BJP’s Mukesh Patel claimed that there is no resentment against his party among the tribal people.

Sitting MLA from Olpad and minister Patel said, ‘‘I am confident that BJP will win all 28 seats in Surat, Tapi, Dang, Navsari and Valsad districts. There is no resentment among the tribals, but the local people know that it was on their demand that the BJP government decided to implement the PESA (Extension of Panchayats to Scheduled Areas) Act.’’

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