Dial 6357000360 and you will hear a recorded message in Gujarati with an open-ended question: “Who should be the chief ministerial face of AAP? Leave the name after the beep”.
This is part of the latest strategy of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) – seen before in Punjab – to enable the people to choose their prime minister. For Gujarat, the phone lines were open until 5 p.m. on November 3, and party boss Arvind Kejriwal will announce the winner on Friday.
Kejriwal will be in Gujarat for the next five days and will announce the CM face of AAP at 2 p.m. Friday. He will lead 11 roadshows during these five days.
Whatever the party’s blueprint, the battle for the chief ministerial face of AAP has been narrowed down to a battle between Isudan Gadhvi, the national joint secretary, and Gopal Italia, the president of Gujarat. While the party is open to a third option – provided the person is given an overwhelming mandate – it seems a distant possibility, given that there are less than 6 hours left before the lines close.
In his previous role, Gadhvi was one of Gujarat’s most popular TV journalists and anchors. His show ‘Mahamanthan’ on VTV News was supposed to run from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., but was extended to 9:30 p.m. by popular demand, while the ratings remained the same.
“The show had lakhs of viewers. People gave a lot of love and as the show shifted out of the studio, hundreds of people gathered. Farmers in particular saw a messiah in me,” says Gadhvi, who often describes himself as a ‘Nayak’ who holds the promise of hope and justice for the people. In addition to that one show, Gadhvi also did a weekly program on Sundays to ‘Preserve Dharmik Sanskriti’.
Gadhvi, 40, comes from an economically sound farming family in the village of Pipaliya in the Dwarka district and as his surname indicates, he belongs to the Gadhvi caste, which is included in the other backward castes of Gujarat. Incidentally, OBCs account for 48 percent of the population in Gujarat. It is this factor, apart from Gadhvi’s own popularity and clean image, that can tip the scales in his favor.
Gadhvi has studied in Khambaliya, Jamnagar and Ahmedabad. He graduated in commerce and completed his master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Gujarat Vidyapeeth in Ahmedabad in 2005. From a trainee journalist, he quickly grew up to become an editor of VTV News at the age of 32. people’s problems, he started getting a lot of requests to solve people’s problems, and these peaked during the Covid-19 years.
“It was then that I started to feel like I can’t just talk and get away, I need to do more for people. I took care of my mother who tested positive for Covid-19 and soon got Covid-19 herself. But even then, people continued to message me with questions about my well-being and for help. When I rejoined, I questioned the hospital admission process. It was the pain of the people I witnessed in the hospitals that was perhaps the turning point in my life,” he says.
Gadhvi quit his job at the peak of his career on June 1, 2021, and says offers came from Congress, the BJP and AAP. In fact, it was Gopal Italia – the other candidate in the running for the CM’s seat – and Gujarat, AAP’s Gujarat Gulab Singh Yadav, who contacted Gadhvi, which in turn led to a conversation with Kejriwal and he who joined the party.
Gadhvi recalls the conversation, saying, “I asked him why I had to go into politics and he replied that if he hadn’t done the same after the Anna Andolan, there wouldn’t have been any excellent schools or hospitals for people.”
Gadhvi joined AAP in Ahmedabad on June 14, 2021 in the presence of Kejriwal. Since then, the TV anchor, who lived a “luxury life,” has traded the comforts of the studio and hit the road. crisscrossing Gujarat, Gadhvi claims to have traveled more than 100,000 kilometers.
“I have to do something for the people of Gujarat, that’s all I want to do,” he insists. When asked about the projects of Gopal Italia, Gadhvi answers: “We two are one. My goal is to see the party win and I will work for the people of Gujarat in whatever role the party entrusts to me.”
The AAP is in the process of finalizing a seat for Gadhvi to fight and he is likely to be posted from Saurashtra where he is hugely popular, especially among the farmers.
Meanwhile, Italia, AAP’s 33-year-old state pactor, has recently been in the national news for his old videos in which he allegedly used derogatory language against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Called up by the NCW, Italia reached their Delhi office with a group of AAP supporters and was subsequently detained by the police. However, the AAP defended the young leader.
Born in Botad, Italia’s parents separated when he was just two, leaving his mother and three other siblings to fend for themselves. His mother worked as a laborer to feed the family of five. Italia did his primary education in Timbi village in Bhavnagar district, secondary education in Dhola village and higher education in Umarala. After completing his Class 12, he started working in diamond factories – earning Rs 1,200-1,500 per month – to keep the family afloat through the financial crisis.
“From 2006 to 2011, I worked as a laborer in diamond factories, textile factories, farmlands. I realized this isn’t taking me anywhere. I had to look for something stable. I started preparing for and applying for government jobs, passed the officer position in 2012 and started working in the Ahmedabad City Police Force,” says Italia.
Italia confesses that he resigned in 2015 due to ‘dissatisfaction’ with the position and ambition for something ‘bigger’. On the controversy over his impersonation and phone call to the prime minister’s office, Italia says: “I don’t want to comment on that, the case is in court.”
He then passed another competitive examination for an administrative job in the revenue department and was placed in the Ahmedabad assembly center in 2016, only to quit after a year. Italia explains that growing up in poverty without the presence of a father was double – it was taboo in the village and he longed for the security and stability of a government job.
But once he had that opportunity, he wanted others in similar roles as well, so decided to work for “bigger platforms” for more “impact.” “Garibi bhi dekh li, sarkaari naukri bhi dekh li, phir maine mann bana liya sabke liye kaam karna chahiye (I saw poverty and a job in the government. Then I decided to work for others),” he says.
Hailing from Gujarat’s powerful and influential Patidar community, Italia’s plunge into politics was gradual. In 2017, after quitting his government job, he joined the Patidar Andolan, who was then two years old.
“The Patidar Andolan had been established by the time I joined. From the local level framework and leadership to the systems, everything was set. I became involved as a volunteer, participated as an audience and gradually got the chance to speak. Soon I gained an identity for myself thanks to my oratory skills, despite not holding an official position,” Italia says.
After the turmoil ended, many of the established leaders subsequently joined political parties. Italia, meanwhile, took to social media and launched a program ‘Kaida Katha’ in which he used his experience of six years working in the government to help people negotiate the intricacies of the law and the government to write applications, submit RTIs , explains about the rights of a person who is arrested, the process of getting bail, dealing with banks etc.
After getting good reactions from people, he held meetings in public places such as bus stops and markets. Over time, the number of people seeking help grew from hundreds to thousands and Italia soon traveled through Gujarat. It was during this time that Manoj Sorathia, the general secretary of AAP in Gujarat, who has been with the party since its inception, contacted Italia. “I joined AAP through a video call with Gopal Rai in July 2020 and worked my way up to become president of the party.”
Italia also plans to contest polls, likely from a Surat constituency. Commenting on the possibility of Gadhvi becoming the CM face, Italia says: “It will be more beautiful. He is a sincere and honest person. Does someone leave their career at its peak and choose a life full of uncertainty in politics? Apart from his sacrifice, he has worked very hard for the party.”
Gulab Singh Yadav, AAP’s Gujarat in charge of post-2020 Delhi state elections, is confident in the party’s prospects.
“We are denting both Congress and the BJP. There is still some time to go for the polls. It will be a direct fight between the BJP and the AAP; Congress is over,” he says, adding that AAP has succeeded in giving the people of Gujarat an option.
“We’ve had phenomenal responses to our campaign for CM Face, lots of names have been suggested, but these two (Gadhvi and Italia) will undoubtedly get more support. It is up to the people of Gujarat to decide,” Yadav said.
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