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Top leaders descend on Gujarat as local polls near, Congress Calls AIMIM and AAP ‘B’ Team of BJP

Mahesh Trivedi | India Tomorrow

AHMEDABAD—With elections to the 323 local self-government institutions in Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled Gujarat just four weeks away, political parties of all hues are making frantic efforts to woo the 30 million voters.

National leaders have started descending on Gujarat to grab a sizable piece of the pie in six municipal corporations, 55 municipalities, 31 district panchayats and 231 taluka panchayats going to polls which are being seen as a litmus test for the Vijay Rupani regime ahead of the assembly elections next year.  

If recent visits by BJP’s top-drawer leaders like Union Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP national president J P Nadda have boosted the spirits of the workers of the saffron party, Rajya Sabha MP and Gujarat in-charge of the All-India Congress Committee Rajeev Satav was here on Monday to launch the grand old party’s ‘go-to-the-people’ mass contact programme.

Two senior leaders of the All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) party have been on a whistle-stop tour of the cities for the last four days what with AIMIM supremo Asaduddin Owaisi himself scheduled to visit the state next week. Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal is also arriving here soon.     

Imtiaz Jaleel, the party’s Aurangabad Lok Sabha MP and head of the Maharashtra unit, as well as Waris Pathan, a former Maharashtra legislator, have so far addressed meetings in Muslim-dominated localities in Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat and Bharuch to woo the minority community.

After AIMIM raised many eyebrows last week by striking a seat-sharing deal with the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) boasting two legislators in the 182-member Gujarat legislative assembly, the party duo has been rendezvousing with local intellectuals to chalk out a surefire barn-storming strategy before Owaisi lands in the state to propagandise its six million Muslims and finalise the short-listed candidates. The AIMIM leaders also visited the office of the influential Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) and sought its support.

But Vaseef Hussain, secretary of Gujarat JIH’s department of national affairs and community development,  told indiatomorrow.net that his organisation would back any secular-minded, pro-democracy candidate who would stand for protection and strengthening of Constitutional values, irrespective of his or her party affiliation.

Jaleel told a gathering of AIMIM supporters here that Gujarat had been dominated by BJP and the Congress but his party would not only prove to be the third force but would leave the rivals dumbstruck by emerging victorious in several seats in all civic and panchayat polls.  

Says former Congress councillor Iqbal Shaikh: “BJP has been ruling Gujarat’s six big municipal corporations for the past five years but has failed to solve the burning civic issues and citizens’ problems despite having a massive budget at its disposal.”

Indeed, the stage is set for a thrilling battle of ballots to capture local bodies with many other big and small parties also throwing their hats into the ring for the first time in the provincial polls. Former Gujarat Chief Minister Shankersinh Vaghela’s Praja Shakti Party, the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Bahujan Mukti Party (BMP) have also rolled up their sleeves to enter the local poll arena for leading BJP and the Congress a merry dance.

Kejriwal’s AAP has already appointed presidents of various districts and municipal corporations in the state and has become the first party to release the names of some 1,200 candidates so far for 145 wards in municipal corporations, 684 wards in municipalities, 1,096 district panchayat seats and 5,274 taluka panchayat seats with more names to be announced soon.

AAP’s national spokesperson Atishi Singh, who was here recently to make the announcement and meet ticket aspirants, said that BJP and the Congress were always hand-in-glove with each other during local elections but her party would present itself as an alternative because people of Gujarat want a change.

Interestingly, BJP and the Congress always declare their candidates for local polls at the eleventh hour but AAP has announced the names 45 days early “to allow voters to study the concerned candidates and take an informed decision before exercising their franchise.”

What’s more, SDPI, political outfit of the Popular Front of India, which had set up a base in Gujarat in 2018, has of late been hobnobbing with leaders of BSP and BMP to contest the local polls on a single platform. Gujarat SDPI secretary Ikramuddin Shaikh had recently accused the police of harassing party leaders in the name of surveillance.

Senior Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia told indiatomorrow.net that in the local bodies or the assembly in Gujarat, only the Congress and BJP ruled the roost and all attempts to form a third alternative had always fallen flat in the past.      

“Both AAP and AIMIM are B teams of the ruling BJP which is fast losing popularity and hence, the saffron party has invited the two parties to enter the local poll arena and divide the Congress votes,” said Modhwadia, former leader of the Opposition in the legislative assembly.

Congress legislator Gyasuddin Shaikh said that already the faulty delimitation of the municipal boundaries divided the Muslim votes but entry of AIMIM and other parties further ruined the winning prospects of Muslim candidates.

The Congress has launched a campaign to reach out to urban voters of six municipal corporations under which residents of Ahmedabad, Bhavnagar, Jamnagar, Rajkot, Surat and Vadodara can raise civic issues by calling up a dedicated number or sending messages on Whatsapp.

There are only three Muslim MLAs in the 182-member Gujarat assembly with only 20 councillors from the minority community in the civic body in Ahmedabad, four in Surat, three in Bhavnagar and just one in Vadodara.

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