November 20, 2022 11:56 pm | Updated November 21, 2022 09:28 am IST – Rajkot/Surat
Can the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) entice Gujarat, known for its mercantile culture, with the promise to replicate its “Delhi model” of administration and a slew of other incentives is a question bothering both its rivals, the Congress and the BJP, ahead of the upcoming Assembly elections in the State.
The AAP’s approach has broadly generated two kinds of responses among voters — one set finds these “guarantees” appealing but is not sure whether the AAP will be able to win to deliver them; the second section is viewing the promises with suspicion over the possibility of tax hikes to fund the social welfare schemes.
AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal has promised 300 units of electricity free, arguing that the Chief Minister himself gets 5,000 units of electricity free per month. He also promises better government schools, access to water, better healthcare, a monthly allowance of ₹1,000 to all women above the age of 18 years if they are willing to accept it, and ₹3,000 as unemployment allowance. The list also includes slashing the rate of LPG cylinders by at least ₹500 and farm loan waivers of up to ₹3 lakh. Mr. Kejriwal contends that “people’s money should go to the people and not in the Swiss bank”.
25-year-old Dhawal Devipujak, a scrap dealer from Gandhinagar, falls in the very vote bank the AAP is targeting. Mr. Devipujak has a basic question: “How exactly does he plan to fund all that he is promising? Does he print currency at home? They will increase taxes on everything to fulfil these promises. So, ultimately, the burden will be transferred to us,” he said. This is an argument that’s heard repeated frequently by several voters across constituencies.
Morji Samji Kothia, who runs a restaurant opposite the Kodaldham temple, a place of pilgrimage for the Leuva Patel community, is another such sceptic. The promise of free electricity is misleading, he said, adding, “In Gujarat, the cost per unit [of electricity] is ₹5.50 while in Delhi it is ₹10. I have heard that beyond the promised free units, people get exponential bills.”
More often than not, the AAP is finding support in the economically distressed classes. Raju Tajtin Keshani, a Khoja Muslim, runs a nashta (snack) stall at the Morbi market. The 25-year-old Mr. Keshani has never voted in his life though this time, he is enthusiastically looking forward to polling day. He is eager to validate news stories and the WhatsApp messages that he has read on the “Delhi model”. “Why shouldn’t we also have better schools and hospitals?” he asks.
There is a far smaller population among the affluent and upper middle class who equally find the AAP’s promises attractive. Subash Patel, who owns a wholesale textile shop at Surat, sees the AAP’s “Delhi model” as functional and viable. “We have been fooled by the BJP and Congress for far too long,” he said. But at the same time, he is not confident that AAP can dismantle the BJP, which has been at the helm in the State for 27 years.
Whether the AAP can ultimately tilt the scales in its favour or not is uncertain, but the party has successfully triggered a debate. Harshad Wagehla, who runs a photo studio at Ghoghadar village near Junagadh, waves off the AAP’s promises saying, “Gujarat mein free ka kuch nahi chahiye (we don’t need anything for free).” His neighbouring grocery shopkeeper Shailesh Patel steps in to say, “Didn’t the BJP promise ₹15 lakh in our accounts? And what about the ₹6,000 per annum [PM Kisan Samman Nidhi] that the Centre pays?”
( With inputs from Abhinay Deshpande.)