On Monday, as Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national convenor and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal led a massive road show in Mehsana in north Gujarat, he promised to “uproot” the BJP that has been in power in Gujarat for three decades. While largely sparing Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel, Kejriwal focused his attacks on BJP Gujarat president C R Paatil, accusing him of running a dummy government.
“People tell me that Gujarat CM is Bhupendra Patel but the real CM is Paatil sahib and not Patel,” Kejriwal said in his fourth such public event in the state in two months – a sign of the AAP’s aggressive strategy for the state that’s headed to the Assembly elections in December.
Kejriwal’s attempt to show C M Patel as being remote-controlled by a ‘more powerful’ C R Paatil was not lost on many. After all, Mehsana, in north Gujarat, is the heart of Patidar country and the epicentre of the 2015 Hardik Patel-led reservation agitation. The powerful community has had two CMs – Anandiben Patel, Bhupendra Patel – and a deputy CM (Nitin Patel) in the past seven years.
The AAP realises that any inroad into Gujarat will have to factor in the Patidar vote. The community that makes up about 14 per cent of the state’s population is spread across North Gujarat, Saurashtra, Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar (central Gujarat) and Surat besides Mehsana.
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However, Mehsana, a BJP bastion, is as tough as it gets for the AAP. Of the seven constituencies in Mehsana — Kheralu, Unjha, Kadi (SC reserved), Visnagar, Becharaji, Vijapur and Mehsana – the BJP won five seats in the 2017 Assembly polls and the Congress two. Later, one of the Congress MLAs, Asha Patel from Unjha, resigned and joined the BJP. She, however, passed away last year of complications from dengue. As far back as in 1984, when the BJP had just two seats across India, one of them was Mehsana, represented by A K Patel.
But the AAP hopes to put up a fight nonetheless, and hopes to recreate in Mehsana its performance in the 2021 Surat civic polls. The party also realises that with Hardik now in the BJP, it can potentially move into the anti-BJP space vacated by him in Mehsana and other Patidar areas.
“The Surat Municipal Corporation is a Patidar belt and we won 27 seats in that election. The community is upset with the BJP and frustrated with the Congress. So we are hopeful that they will give us a chance,” said Vikram Patel, the AAP’s media in charge in the North Gujarat zone. “Mehsana is a frontier that we will have to cross if we are to win the Assembly polls,” he added.
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