Gujarat Election 2022: Political observers shed light on how Kejriwal turned narrative into AAP versus BJP
With polls nearing, political observers and pollsters working on the ground say Arvind Kejriwal has managed to turn the Gujarat elections into a BJP versus AAP narrative as the Congress, the principal opposition party, offers a "cold response".
A group of people greeted Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal with chants of 'Modi-Modi' outside Gujarat's Vadodara airport earlier this week when he landed for a day-long campaign for AAP in the BJP-ruled state where elections are due late this year. The chants were met with 'Kejriwal-Kejriwal' shouts by AAP supporters at the airport to receive the party's national convenor.
"It's obvious for the BJP to get people to chant slogans against me because they are going to suffer a lot this time," Kejriwal told a press conference later. "Interestingly, when Rahul Gandhi came, they didn't chant slogans against him."
As polling day draws near, political analysts and pollsters on the ground claim Kejriwal has succeeded in casting the Gujarat elections as a contest between the BJP and AAP while the Congress, the main opposition party, offers a "cold response."
But they don't think Kejriwal and the AAP will be able to use this narrative to their advantage when elections are held at the end of the year.
"An aggressive poll campaign of the AAP and the Congress's cold response so far has helped Kejriwal turn the Gujarat elections into BJP versus AAP narrative," a pollster collecting data for a survey agency told PTI, requesting anonymity.
He said the AAP is following the same "playbook" and deploying the same ecosystem" the BJP does during elections -- "picking up fights with rivals, launching counterattacks and sending out the desired message to the voters through aggressive poll campaigns, spokespersons and social media" -- to build the narrative in its favour.
Amid a heated debate with the BJP over several issues, including the alleged corruption in the Delhi excise policy, which the city's AAP government has since withdrawn, and the alleged abuse of central probe agencies by the Modi dispensation, the AAP appointed over 1,100 'social media warriors' last month to lead its election campaign.
Yashwant Deshmukh, the founder of the poll study agency C-Voter, said while Kejriwal is "working hard" and his party is campaigning "aggressively" in Gujarat, there is no clarity on the priority of the Congress as it is caught up in its 'Bharat Jodo Yatra'.
"They are engaged in such a huge activity and skipping the most important state, Gujarat, where they are out of power for 27 years and elections are to be held in the next few months," he said.
Since July, the AAP leader has made virtually weekly trips to Gujarat to oversee his party's campaign and assess and improve the setups.
Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the Congress, has only been here twice in the past five months.
In May, he made one trip to Gujarat to kick off the party's election campaign in the tribal-heavy Dahod area.
On September 5, he spoke at his party's 'Parivartan Sankalp Rally' in Ahmedabad. He made several election promises, some of which had already been made by Kejriwal — 300 units of free electricity for every household, 10 lakh jobs for young people, and the cancellation of farm loan — as the AAP's 'guarantee' to the state's residents.
Riding high on the AAP's stunning victory in Punjab, Kejriwal staged a roadshow in Ahmedabad on April 1, kicking off his party's election campaign there. He targeted nearly every voting group in the state during his subsequent visits, including youngsters, women, farmers, government workers, businesspeople, and auto-rickshaw drivers, and he made several 'guarantees' to the populace.
The Congress has not been able to unseat the BJP in 27 years.
Deshmukh said Kejriwal has found "a fertile ground" in Gujarat as almost "every fourth voter" in the state has never seen a Congress regime and, therefore, is open to welcome "a new campaign, suggestion and change" offered by a third party.
"Two generations in Gujarat have only seen the BJP regime and they are open to express their anger," he said
"But, the problem with the Congress is that it is unable to hold on to this 25 per cent block at the moment because of lack of imagination and aggression." he said.
Kejriwal is trying to fill the vacuum created by the absence of the Congress's national leadership in the state, he said, but added he felt the Congress is still "much ahead" of the AAP.
"It's rather the Congress versus the AAP," he said.
But, with the kind of attraction Kejriwal is getting currently, Gujarat may witness what Punjab saw five years ago when the AAP's efforts helped dethrone the BJP and its allies, but couldn't bring it to power.
The Congress had emerged victorious, while the AAP had to settle for the main Opposition status. Noted psephologist Sanjay Kumar, who is also the co-director of Lokniti-CSDS, said the Kejriwal-led party is getting "some attraction".
"But it is too early to say the Gujarat elections will be a fight between the AAP and the BJP. There is a (AAP's) buzz in some big cities and among some sections of the voters but it has not travelled to smaller towns and rural Gujarat," he said. "I am looking at a three-way contest in Gujarat."
But Gujarat-based independent journalist and political analyst Darshan Desai disagrees with this analysis. He said that the AAP has managed to expand its support base in rural Gujarat.
"In fact they started with rural Gujarat and then came to the cities."
In the 2017 polls, the BJP retained power by winning 99 of the total 182 seats, while the Congress bagged 77. Later, several Congress MLAs resigned and joined the BJP. The AAP, which had fielded its candidate on 29 seats in 2017 polls but could not open its account, is gearing up to contest all seats this time, hoping to dislodge the BJP from power.
(With inputs from PTI)