The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has made an impressive performance in the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC), where it is set to become the main opposition party. Gujarat AAP president Gopal Italia said that his party’s positive and honest campaigning has fetched results, busting the illusion that there is no space for a third force in Gujarat politics.
Speaking with The Indian Express, Italia said, “Our strategy was just positive campaigning. Instead of crticising existing political parties and their leaders, we spoke about the works done by our party where it is in power (Delhi). We spoke about works that we intend to do if voted to power… So, people got faith in us that these people are here to do something instead of just mudslinging.”
“We reached out to the voters through door-to-door campaigning, through pamphlets, through public meetings, through social media. We declared our candidates nearly two months before the elections and told the people that these are our candidates. The candidates also got time mentally, physically and financially to prepare for the elections… BJP and Congress did not declare their candidates till last day…,” Italia added.
According to Italia, the key factor of AAP’s victory was that they never allowed their confidence to go down. “We fought confidently. We never gave an impression that we are fighting just for the sake of it. Those observing us could sense that we were fighting to win,” Italia said.
A Leuva Patidar from Timbi village from Umrala tehsil of Bhavnagar district, Gopal Italia (32) is a graduate in political science. He came into limelight in 2017 when as a clerk with the revenue department posted in Dhandhuka of Saurashtra, he called up Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel, complaining about the inefficient prohibition law in the state.
The phone call went viral on social media, following which Italia also faced a criminal case of impersonation. Before this, Italia was also a Lok RakshakDal (an equivalent of police constable) in Gujarat police.
Later that year, he hurled a shoe at Minister of State for Home Pradeepsinh Jadeja purportedly in protest against rampant corruption in Gujarat. The incident happened outside the Gujarat assembly where Jadeja was about to address media persons. Following the incident, Italia was dismissed from service for violation of service rules.
After this, Italia became active in public life while being vocal against the ruling BJP on social media. He also joined the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), a social organisation led by Hardik Patel and worked with it for around two years.
In June 2020, Italia joined AAP and was appointed its vice-president. Later,he was made the president of the party’s Gujarat unit.
AAP has fielded its candidates in almost all the local bodies in Gujarat. Asked why the party could not win in other cities than Surat, Italia said, “It could be because we do not have veteran leadership in other cities. Also, the party has been constantly active in Surat and because of that we have veteran leaders there who understand political perceptions… Some deficiency remained in other places where we could not get expert advise of veteran leaders.”
Claiming that the perception created by Congress that AAP will come and damage their votes was negated, Italia said, “Congress candidates damaged AAP’s votes because of which BJP won. In Surat, wards where our candidates have not won, we have got more votes than Congress. Meaning, we are in second position in Surat. In Ahmedabad and Rajkot too, in many wards, we are in second position. In short, our performance was better than Congress.”
Asked if estranged relationship between Congress and PAAS could have benefited AAP in Surat, Italia said that AAP has won in areas that are not Patidar dominated.
On future plans of AAP in Gujarat, Italia said, “Current results are the result of our hard work of just four months. Whatever deficiencies have been left, we will correct it. And we believe that now we have time of close to two years for (next) assembly elections for which we are going to put in all efforts… All future elections are on our target and we are going to defeat BJP for sure.”
Italia said that the election results have busted certain illusions created by the BJP and Congress in Gujarat.
“BJP had created an illusion that no third force can succeed in Gujarat; it has been completely busted… Second, Congress had spread a rumours about EVM. That rumour has also been busted… people have busted rumours spread by BJP and Congress,” Italia said, adding, “People have given a message that if you work hard with honesty and aggressively, people are with you irrespective of the fact whether you have money and star campaigners or not.”