Dial 6357000360 and you will hear a recorded message in Gujarati asking an open question: “Who should be the chief ministerial face of AAP? Please leave the name after the beep”.
This is part of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)’s latest strategy — earlier seen in Punjab — to allow the people to choose their chief minister. For Gujarat, phone lines were open till 5pm on November 3 and on Friday, party boss Arvind Kejriwal will announce the winner.
Kejriwal will be in Gujarat for the next five days and will announce AAP’s CM face on Friday at 2pm. He will lead 11 road shows over these five days.
Whatever may be the party’s blueprint, the battle for AAP’s chief ministerial face has narrowed down to one between Isudan Gadhvi, national joint secretary, and Gopal Italia, Gujarat president. Though the party is open to a third option — provided the person gets an overwhelming mandate — it seems a distant possibility as less than 6 hours are left before the lines close.
In his previous role, Gadhvi has been one of Gujarat’s most popular TV journalists and anchors. His show ‘Mahamanthan’ on VTV News would run from 8-9pm but was stretched to 9.30pm on popular demand, with the ratings remaining as high.
“The show had lakhs of viewers. People gave a lot of love and when the show shifted outdoors from the studio, hundreds of people would gather. Farmers, particularly, saw a messiah in me,” says Gadhvi, who often describes himself as a ‘Nayak’ holding the promise of hope and justice for people. Apart from that one show, Gadhvi also did a weekly programme on Sunday to ‘preserve Dharmik Sanskriti’.
The 40-year-old Gadhvi hails from an economically sound farmers’ family in Dwarka district’s Pipaliya village 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 per cent of the population in Gujarat. It is this factor, apart from Gadhvi’s own popularity and clean image, that may tilt the scales in his favour.
Gadhvi has studied in Khambaliya, Jamnagar and Ahmedabad. A commerce graduate, he did his masters in journalism and mass communication from Gujarat Vidyapeeth in Ahmedabad in 2005. From a trainee journalist, he quickly rose to be the editor of VTV News at just the age of 32. As his shows focussed on the common man’s issues, he started getting a lot of requests for solving people’s problems, and these peaked during the Covid-19 years.
“It was then that I had a feeling that I cannot just speak and get away, I have to do something more for people. I took care of my mother who tested positive for Covid-19 and soon was down with Covid-19 myself. But even then, people continued to message me, asking about my well-being and for help. When I re-joined, I questioned the process of admission into hospitals. It was the pain of the people that I witnessed in the hospitals that perhaps was 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 the Congress, BJP and AAP. In fact, it was Gopal Italia — the other candidate in the running for the CM’s chair — and AAP’s Gujarat in-charge Gulab Singh Yadav who reached out to Gadhvi, which in turn led to a conversation with Kejriwal and him joining the party.
Recalling the conversation, Gadhvi says: “I asked him why I should join politics and he replied that had he not done the same after the Anna Andolan, there would not have been any outstanding schools or hospitals for people.”
Gadhvi joined AAP on June 14, 2021, in Ahmedabad in the presence of Kejriwal. Since then, the TV anchor, who lived a ‘life of luxury’, has traded the comfort of the studio and hit the road. Criss-crossing Gujarat, Gadhvi claims to have travelled more than 1,00,000 kilometers.
“I have to do something for the people of Gujarat, that is all I want to do,” he stresses. Asked about Gopal Italia’s projects, Gadhvi replies: “We two are one. My aim is to see the party win and I will work for the people of Gujarat in whatever role the party trusts me with.”
The AAP is in the process of finalising a seat for Gadhvi to contest from and he is likely to be fielded from Saurashtra where he is hugely popular, particularly among the farmers.
Meanwhile, Italia, AAP’s 33-year-old state convenor, has been in national news recently for his old videos where he has allegedly used derogatory language against Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Summoned by the NCW, Italia reached their office in Delhi with a clutch of AAP supporters and was subsequently detained by the police. The AAP, however, 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 labourer to feed the family of five. Italia did his primary education in Timbi village in Bhavnagar district, secondary education from Dhola village and higher education from Umarala. After completing his Class 12, he started working in diamond factories — earning Rs 1,200-1,500 a month — to held the family tide over the financial crunch.
“From 2006 till 2011, I worked as a labourer in diamond factories, textile mills, farmlands. I realised that this is not taking me anywhere. I had to look for something stable. I started preparing and applying for government jobs, got through for the post of a constable in 2012 and started working with Ahmedabad city police,” says Italia.
Italia confesses he resigned in 2015 due to ‘dissatisfaction’ with the position and ambition for something ‘bigger’. On the controversy over his impersonation and call to the chief minister’s office, Italia says, “I don’t want to comment on that, the matter is sub-judice.”
He then got through another competitive exam for a clerical job in the revenue department and was posted in the Ahmedabad collectorate in 2016, only to quit after a year. Italia explains that growing up in poverty without the presence of a father was double-blow — in the village, it was a taboo and he yearned for the security and stability of a government job.
However, once he had that opportunity, he wanted others in similar positions also to have them, and thus 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 government job. 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 he quit his government job, he joined the Patidar Andolan, which was then two years old.
“The Patidar Andolan was established by the time I joined. From the cadre and local-level leadership to systems, everything was established. I got involved as a volunteer, participated as audience, and slowly got opportunities to speak. Soon, I carved out an identity for myself due to my oratory skills despite not holding any post officially,” says Italia.
After the stir ended, many of its established leaders subsequently joined political parties. Italia, meanwhile, took to social media and launched a programme ‘Kaida Katha’ where he used his experience of six years of working within the government to help people negotiate the intricacies of law and government to write applications, file RTIs, explains rights of a person who is arrested, the process of obtaining bail, dealing with banks etc.
After getting a good response from people, he held gatherings in public places like bus stands and markets. With time, people who reached out for support swelled from hundreds to thousands and Italia was soon traveling across Gujarat. It was during this time that Manoj Sorathia, AAP’s general secretary in Gujarat who has been with the party since inception, contacted Italia. “I joined AAP though a video call with Gopal Rai in July 2020 and worked my way up to becoming the party’s president.”
Italia is also set to contest polls, likely from a constituency in Surat. Responding to the possibility of Gadhvi being chosen the CM face, Italia says: “That will be more beautiful. He is a straight and honest person. Does anyone leave his career at its peak and choose a life of uncertainty in politics? Apart from his sacrifice, he has worked really hard for the party.”
Gulab Singh Yadav, AAP’s Gujarat in-charge who has been camping in the state post 2020 elections in Delhi, is confident about the party’s prospects.
“We are denting the Congress as well as 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 finished,” he says, adding that AAP has succeeded in providing an option to the people of Gujarat.
“We have got phenomenal response to our campaign for CM face, many names are being suggested but no doubt that these two (Gadhvi and Italia) are getting more support. It is up to the people of Gujarat to decide,” says Yadav.
Read all the Latest Politics News here