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AAP & turncoats from Congress on mind, Gujarat BJP to go into huddle

The Indian Express logo The Indian Express 14-05-2022 Parimal A Dabhi
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At a time Congress leaders have assembled in Udaipur for a “Chintan Shivir”, the Gujarat BJP, amid the Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP) entry into the state and in a bind over what it should do with Congress defectors, is set to organise its own brainstorming conclave at a golf resort on the outskirts of Ahmedabad on Sunday and Monday.

Union Minister for Home Affairs Amit Shah and Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Bhupender Yadav, who has been the party’s central leader in charge of Gujarat for the past six years, will be in attendance apart from a group of 35-40 senior state office-bearers, including its four general secretaries in Gujarat — Pradipsinh Vaghela, Bhargav Bhatt, Vinod Chavda, and Rajni Patel.

The ruling party's state president CR Paatil has set a target of winning all 182 seats but a functionary said that more than the Congress, which is bogged down with factionalism and defections, it is the AAP for which the BJP requires a counter-strategy. The Arvind Kejriwal-led party dented Paatil's bastion of Surat last year by winning 27 seats in the Surat Municipal Corporation elections and occupying the entire Opposition space, largely because Patidars voted in its favour.

Since that victory, Kejriwal, the chief minister of Delhi and AAP national convener, has visited the state at least five times and even announced an alliance with the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP). At a rally in Rajkot on Wednesday, Kejriwal promised free pilgrimage to Ayodhya for the elderly. The party's strategy is being devised by IIT professor Sandeep Pathak who has been credited for helping it win Punjab.

Also Read |Congress Chintan Shivir Sidelights: Leaders’ mobiles, PAs barred from venue

Sources in the BJP said the leadership had taken note of Kejriwal's focus on Gujarat. “The party is also very conscious of the attack launched by Kejriwal on Gujarat BJP Chief C R Paatil over his Marathi roots. So, that issue and party's strategy to deal with it could be one of the important agenda of the 'shivir',” said a BJP functionary.

The two, on May 2, engaged in a war of words on Twitter. Paatil in a tweet alleged that Kejriwal “... who gives responsibilities to people having Khalistani mentality in his party and believes that demand of Khalistan is a constitutional right, is a threat to the security of this country”.

In response, the Delhi CM said Paatil “... of Maharashtra is president of Gujarat BJP”. He added, “Didn’t BJP find a single Gujarati to be appointed as its president? People say that he (Paatil) is not only a party president, but that he runs the Gujarat government as well. He is the de facto CM. This is utter insult of people of Gujarat. People of BJP, give Gujarat a Gujarati president.”

What to do with Congress defectors?

The other issue the BJP is grappling with is the possibility of discontent in its rank and file over the Congress leaders it has poached in recent months, especially since it might have to field some of these defectors in the Assembly elections later this year. The BJP has taken in at least eight top Congress leaders, including MLA Ashwin Kotwal, former MLA Manibhai Vaghela, Pravin Maru, and Vasant Bhatol.

“Our party leaders must be thinking about how to deal with these leaders in the upcoming Assembly elections. If these leaders are given poll tickets, it may cause major disappointment among loyal party workers and the party needs to have some strategy to deal with it,” said a party functionary. In the initial days after his appointment, Paatil had said that the BJP did not "need the Congress" to win elections.

BJP functionaries said the party leadership was also concerned about the Opposition taking advantage of the disgruntlement among the ministers in the previous Vijay Rupani government who were ushered out during a wholesale change in the administration last year and "might work against the party" during the elections.

Also Read |Angry over 2017 ticket, ‘lack of vision’, former Gujarat Cong stalwarts jump ship

There is also a buzz in the political circles about the ruling party deciding to advance the elections though Paatil has said the polls will be held as scheduled. At least three Assembly seats are vacant at the moment and as per norms elections in these constituencies have to be held within six months, which means that these by-polls are scheduled to be held close to the Assembly elections. This, according to some political observers, may provoke a dissolution of the House.

However, a source in the BJP said there was a legal provision under which the Election Commission may decide not to hold by-polls if the Assembly elections are due in less than a year. With the summer setting in, followed by the monsoon, the chances of an early election were thin, the functionary added.

“The party certainly does not want a repeat of 2017 when it could not win even 100 seats and retained power with a thin margin. It is trading very cautiously and this 'Chintan Shivir' looks like a sign of that,” said another party insider.

Sources said Hardik Patel, who has given indications of quitting the Congress and joining the BJP, was also likely to be discussed at the conclave.

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