With a day to go for polling, there is a loose cannon out in the battlefield whose momentum and direction is emerging a mysterious threat to existing players. This is the Aam Aadmi Party with its 24 candidates on 26 seats.
Even as there appears to be a consensus that none of these candidates is likely to win a Lok Sabha seat, the jury is out on how many and whose votes they will slice in each seat. AAP doesn’t have a straightjacketed political ideology and they are not overtly contesting on caste lines. Traditional poll pundits are therefore perplexed about its impact.
Though a regional third alternative has never found reckoning with the Gujarat electorate, pundits feel this situation should be analysed with the perspective of changing demographic profile of voters. About 50% of Gujarat seats are believed to be urban. Of which 2.8% first-time voters (11.67 lakh) and 50.6% young voters (2.05 crore) can consequentially impact the outcome.
Veteran leaders in both the major parties — Congress and BJP — estimate about 2-3% of Gujarat’s voters are fence sitters, who are not wedded to a clear ideology or leader. AAP can potentially sway away these votes. Congress feels AAP will eat into BJP’s urban votes, while BJP hopes AAP will absorb the anti-incumbency votes that might have benefited Congress.
Besides, an emerging fear for both parties is AAP could wean away Muslim votes that are neglected by both parties. Courtesy the overwhelming reach of television and internet penetration, even the rural folk are aware of Arvind Kejriwal and AAP symbol broom (jhadu). However, candidates in most of the 24 seats have failed to make direct voter connect. Lack of funds and poll management experience are key reasons.
“Candidates of Mehsana, Bhavnagar, Ahmedabad East and West seats will draw votes in their own right, over and above the AAP goodwill. Otherwise, AAP candidates at best will get between 1,000 – 5,000 votes. AAP’s impact on urban fence sitters is difficult to gauge at this point. Nonetheless, we are keeping a close watch on them,” a senior leader said. A shocker came this week when Sindhi community met with Rajmohan Gandhi and Ahmedabad East candidate Dinesh Vaghela in Naroda. They are believed to be loyal to BJP and disgraced BJP leader Maya Kodnani. While internally, the BJP has no pretences of counting on Muslim votes, the Congress will be certainly dented if the votebank they take for granted is divided.
BJP has fielded no Muslim candidate and Congress’s singular Muslim candidate is from Navsari. AAP’s Delhi leaders Shazia Ilmi, Ashish Khetan and Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson Rajmohan Gandhi have made elaborate attempts to penetrate Muslim ghettos and reach out to voters there.
Besides Kejriwal’s visit to the state last month and his well-received public rally in Bapunagar gave sufficient pointers to incumbents that AAP cannot be taken for granted.
The low-profile and reticent Vaghela merely says, “We are getting a good response from people.”
A senior Congress leader claims 70% of AAP vote share will be borne by BJP and rest by Congress. A BJP veteran, however, brushes it off saying the “bite will be 50-50%”.