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Gujarat Elections: AAP Loses Prestige Battle As Star Candidates Isudan Gadhvi, Gopal Italia Lose Key Seats

AAP's CM face, former journalist Isudan Gadhvi, has lost the Ahir-dominated Khambhalia while its Gujarat chief Gopal Italia who contested from Katargam in the Surat district lost to BJP's Vinoo Moradiya.

Aam Aadmi Party candidates Isudan Gadhvi and Gopal Italia
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In what is turning out to be a prestige battle for debutante Aam Aadmi Party and the incumbent Bhartiya Janata Party, the former is struggling to save face in Surat region where the party is said to be the strongest. With counting underway in Gujarat, trends and resuls show a thumping victory for the BJP with even key seats like Katargam and Khambhalia where AAP had fielded influential leaders taking a swing toward the BJP. 

Isudan Gadhvi, AAP's Chief Ministerial face, who was picked after the party conducted a state-wide survey asking people to choose their own candidate, has lost to the BJP's Mulubhai Bera in the Ahir-dominated Khambhalia seat. Meanwhile, AAP Gujarat president Gopal Italia also lost from the Katargam in the Surat district to BJP's Vinodbhai Amarshibhai Moradiya. The firebrand Patidar leader was one of the party's star candidates in the state.

Isudan Gadhvi Loses in Khambhalia

After taking an early lead in Khabhalia on Thursday, Isudan Gadhvi has lost to BJP's Ayar Mulubhai Hardasbhai Bera who Gadhvi, who contested from Khambhalia seat. Bera polled 77305 votes, 10 per cent more than the AAP leader as per the Election Commission tally. 

With 58,467 votes, Gadhvi has beaten the Congress party’s sitting MLA from Khambhalia, Vikram Madam, who has polled 44526 votes.

Khambhalia emerged as one of the more high-profile seats in the Gujarat assembly elections after the AAP picked Isudan Gadhvi to this politically high-profile constituency in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat.

Gadhvi, who has been a popular television news anchor before his foray into formal elections, chose to contest from Khambhalia where he was born and raised. But social equations of Ahir-dominated Khambhalia were not favourable to Gadhvi whose community is numerically not so significant.

The BJP had won the seat in 2007 and 2012 but lost to Congress in a bypoll in 2014. The Congress retained it in 2017.  No non-Ahir candidate has won from the seat in the last few decades.

A win for Gadhvi would have established him as a strong leader within AAP in Gujarat. 

Gopal Italia Loses in Katargam

Meanwhile, Gopal Italia, who has been AAP's Gujarat chief since 2020, has lost the high-profile "Diamond Constituency" in Katargam, where BJP's Vinod Moradiya has won. Moradiya, who is the state urban development minister, was leading with 43,874 votes whereas AAP's Italia is trailing and has secured 25,971 votes, as per early trends. Congress' Kalpesh Variya had secured 7,631 votes at the time of writing.

Following AAP's aggressive campaign in the run-up to the elections, the electoral performance of both Gadhvi and Italia was being closely watched. 

While Italia had claimed in an interview with Outlook ahead of polling that Gujarat was ready for "parivartan" (change), Gadhvi had predicted a comfortable win for the Arvind Kejriwal-led party in more than 100 of 182 seats in the state. However, early trends indicate that AAP is leading in less than ten seats. 

A prestige battle 

Following the announcement of exit polls which predicted a seventh consecutive victory for BJP, Gadhvi had said that it is "difficult to predict results through exit polls... (but) BJP won't form a government. We will win over 51 seats in phase 1 and over 52 in phase 2. Exit polls will be proved wrong... BJP is declining in the state". 

The BJP, however, had predicted victory in over 150 seats this time following a drop in its vote share in 2017 when the Patidar agitation led by leaders like Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakor is believed to have dealt a strong blow to the ruling party. 

In Surat, where AAP was relying on complicated caste math and discontentment against the BJP among the industrial working class, the party had fielded several former PAAS leaders from Surat district such as Italia, Alpesh Kathiriya and Dharmesh Malaviya among others. The party had also been pinning its hopes on discontentment among voters, especially those working in the diamond and textile factories in Katargam where ruling MLA Vinoo Moradiaya has been accused of addressing issues faced by the working class as well as turned a blind eye to complaints against illegal construction. 

According to Surat-based analyst and journalist Naresh Variya, Surat district politics is dominated by the Patidars, Prajapatis and Surashtrians. "AAP had 27 councillors in Surat. Their performance poor performance in Surat comes as a surprise to the many in the party as well as observers," Variya told Outlook. "It just confirms that voters in Gujarat are still voting on communal lines," Variya noted.

He also adds that the results reflect AAP's failure to reach the migrant populations from Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh who live in Surat and Saurashtra regions. "In the ed, Modi magic worked," Variya notes. He adds that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's final round of campaigning in Surat region days ahead of the first phase of voting did the trick.

In his previous analyses for Outlook, Variya had noted that while the Patidars formed the larger voter base, the Prajapatis who belong to the OBC community, also form an influential voter base. Traditionally, the Prajapatis have voted for BJP. 

Another factor that may have worked in favour of BJP was the fact that despite the AAP's overtures to the working class, be it through cash, job or electricity guarantees, the rich industrial class was with the BJP. 

Surat Diamond Association secretary Ramji Madani had previously told Outlook that while working-class vote might swing toward AAP, the affluent industrialists, manufacturers and diamond merchants were still with the BJP. 

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AAP wins and losses but Congress real loser

From key victories, AAP's Chaitar Vasava, a former Bhartiya Tribal Party leader and close aide of Mahesh Vasava, has been leading in Dediapada. Ravi Tadvi, a social activist from Narmada district had told Outlook prior to the first phase of polling that Dediapada was the only seat in the state that AAP was sure to win due to the popularity of Chaitar Vasava. The leader had been key in BTP President Mahesh Vasava's 2017 victory from the seat. This year, Mahesh Vasava decided to contest from Jhagadia, his father, and BTP founder Chhotu Vasava's seat. He later withdrew his candidacy from Jhagadia due to his father, even though Chhotu Vasava, a seven-time MLA from Jhagadia, contested as an independent this time. Chhotu Vasava has lost the legacy seat to BJP candidate Ritesh Vasava. 

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The gains made by AAP seem to have eaten into the Congress vote share.

As of 4 pm at the time of writing, BJP was winning/leading in 157 seats. Meanwhile, Congress was leading/winning in 16 seats while AAP was winning/leading in five. This is a massive reversal from 2017 when BJP had won with one of its lowest vote share since 2017 when Congress had won 77 seats.

In Congress bastions like Mandvi, analysts claim that the entry of AAP may have left the Congress in shambles. Mandvi, which has been a Congress stronghold, was won by the BJP'sI Narshinhbhai Halpati with a 39.3 percent vote margin while the Congress and AAP candidates polled 29.75 percent and 25.88 percent votes respectively. 

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The BJP has made considerable gains in the 27 tribal seats across where the Congress was ruling in 15. As per early trends, BJP was leading in 21 seats on Thursday. Local tribal activist from Dang district and former SUCI leader Laxman Bagul tells Outlook that in tribal areas, the Van Kalyan Parishad led by affiliates of the RSS have been campaigning tirelessly for the BJP. In Dangs, BJP's Vijaybhai Rameshbhai Patel is winning with over 47 percent votes while INC and AAP has secured just over 32 percent and 15 percent votes each. Dangs too was a Congress stronghold.

While the Congress was hurt by senior leaders like Mohansinh Rathva, Ashvin Kotwal, Jitu Chaudhary, and Mangal Gavit joining the BJP in the last few years, the emergence of AAP in the tribal seats has considerably cut Congress votes.

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(With inputs from PTI)

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