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Edited By Adam Rizvi, The India observer, TIO, NJ: Fear has been a predominant emotion in Gujarat, since 2002. Corporate houses, small time traders, businesses, government officials, media, professionals all were silenced for years, to keep criticism at bay for the then chief minister Narendra Modi. Since Modi became the prime minister in 2014, the fear in the state has only become more and more pervasive. The local police and central agencies, like the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate are being used to amplify that fear.
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So all pervading was the fear that until a couple of months ago, voters in Gujarat were reluctant to reveal who they wanted to even vote for in the all important Gujarat polls on December 1 and 5. It was obvious that there was sufficient curiosity among them about the Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, his Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and his brand of politics, based on a strong welfare model. Something they had never seen or experienced before, but which they now had a chance to experience, if only they acceded to Kejriwal’s request for one chance at the polls, to ring in the change.
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Slowly but steadily over the last six months, voters were drawn to the narrative of ‘parivartan’ (change), that Kejriwal and his band of very young, dedicated and determined local leaders including the 33 year old state president Gopal Italia, and the 39 year old general secretary Manoj Sorathiya were advocating. Both were earlier admirers of Modi, but like the rest of the state, got disillusioned by the lack of development in the state, rising unemployment and skyrocketing corruption and inflation. These local leaders were instrumental in bagging 28 corporation seats in Surat and one in Gandhinagar, last year, giving AAP a very firm foothold in the state.
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They have only grown rapidly in the state since then, considered an impossible feat on Modi’s turf. Gopal Italia is representing the Katargam constituency in Surat for AAP now while Manoj Sorathiya is representing the Karanj constituency, also in Surat.
To this heady mix of young warriors, entered a 40 year old rockstar television anchor and editor in chief of the Gujarati television channel VTV, Isudan Gadhvi. He was declared the chief minister face for Aam Aadmi Party in Gujarat, a month before Gujarat goes to polls. And suddenly the party which was full of fire and passion but lacked a credible, trustworthy and acceptable face to lead them, got the much desired leadership in time for the last leg of the campaign.
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The battle against BJP for AAP is akin to a fight between David and Goliath, totally unmatched, with all resources stacked against AAP. Despite the challenges and obstacles, AAP with its young, inexperienced leaders continued to march confidently to the finish line, concluding months of long electrifying campaigns, under constant attacks by the BJP, and the local administration.
Isudan Gadhvi’s face is one which voters easily identify with and trust him to lead them out of fear, inflation, joblessness and a general apathy which has seized the state over more than a decade. Neither the BJP nor the Congress have a credible face to match that of Gadhvi.
At the peak of his career and popularity, he quit VTV on June 1, discussed with the viewers in a facebook live, watched by 40,000 of them, on what he should do next, now that he has quit ? He asked if he should join politics, since he was feeling the limitations of his career and had a strong desire to be part of the solution, not just speak of the problem.
He was approached by BJP and Congress but one call from Kejriwal, where he invited Gadhvi to visit the Delhi government schools and mohalla clinics which he accepted, cemented his future in AAP. Not only was he impressed by the work done in Delhi, he was also inspired by Kejriwal’s own journey, where he as an activist had limited success. But once in power, he was able to not only transform the way politics was done, but also helped transform the lives of millions.
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Isudan Gadhvi, who has committed to take care of the lowest sections of society, has stated often that the lower income groups have very basic needs, which are still not getting fulfilled. The Gujarat model has proven to be a sham, with Gujarat having the highest malnutrition rates and incidences of anemia, especially in women and children.
The incident that triggered the severance with his earlier successful career was when his mother tested COVID positive and he himself survived the scare too. He saw people suffer, without any oxygen and hospital beds. There was a minimum of 48 hour wait for hospital beds and eight hour wait for oxygen. There was also a pointless government circular that the patient had to only arrive at the hospital in the ambulance after they dial 108. He saw a woman who brought her seriously ailing son in a private car and the hospital refused her admission only because she hadn’t arrived in the ambulance. She was forced to watch her son die in her arms.
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Isudan then called out the bureaucrat who issued the circular, on his television show, which blew up into a huge scandal. Since then there was tremendous political pressure, from the government already facing a lot of flak over COVID mismanagement. He chose to then resign and put to better use the next 20 years of his life. He desperately wanted to set right a situation where there are 50 lakh unemployed youth in the state and 53 lakh farmers fighting for something as basic as Minimum Support Price (MSP). The farmers only got false promises from both Congress and BJP for decades. Corporates are given preference over farmers for basic resources like water and electricity. Farmers get it only at night. His concern is also with the 53 lakh students denied a decent education, due to appalling conditions in existing government schools.
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A journalist for 16 years, he did not just dismiss stories of the farmers distress in single columns, somewhere in the inside pages, as has been the trend for decades. Instead he ran entire shows dedicated to just farmers. He was determined to expose the rotten political system which hurt the people and is now determined to create a system which would benefit the people. He has promised to build good schools, within a four km radius, which have well equipped clinics, with qualified doctors in all the 18,000 villages. He wants to ensure that the only task a farmer has is to tend to the fields. The rest including paying the right price for his produce would be the responsibility of the government formed by AAP.
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As a television anchor, he consistently raised the issues of papers leaking, just before crucial entrance tests for government jobs. And has promised to investigate all the leaks since 2015 and punish the culprits, which has never happened before. He has promised that as soon as they come to power, the talathis (village accountant) exams due in February will be completed in March and all appointments made. He has also promised all other pending exams to be concluded by December.
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Isudan Gadhvi’s entry in the Gujarat assembly will be through the Khambhalia constituency, an earlier BJP stronghold, later captured by Congress in 2017. In the last one and half years since he joined politics, he has spent only a month at home. The rest of the time he has traveled a total of 1,10,000 kms, twice across Gujarat. In the first three months itself, he covered 600 villages and addressed a meeting in each one of them. Khambhalia seat is an interesting choice of seat for Isudan, where he claims that both Congress and BJP supporters are interested in voting for him, as he is not only a popular figure with a clean image, but also for the first time there would be a chief minister from this town.
Gujarat AAP has been stating from the very beginning that it’s a fallacy that BJP, riding on the face of Modi, is an invincible force in the state. They have maintained that the people had no real choice till now and hence kept the same party in power for 27 years. This was further reinforced by Isudan, who as a journalist has not exposed Modi as the chief minister, but also the three other chief ministers who followed him. He exposed the Rs 150 crore limestone scam and a scam involving illegal deforestation in Dang and Kaprada talukas of Gujarat, when Modi was the chief minister. on his shows.
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Isudan himself believes that when people make up their minds for a change, even giant kingdoms stumble and fall.
AAP insists that its fight in Gujarat is to make the people win and not necessarily
to make bjp lose. This injected a sense of hope in the voters who had been voting in the last couple of elections without any excitement. Even those who had voted for NOTA want to give Gadhvi a chance today.
As a son of a farmer, who had never left his village, he was well aware of the problems that farmers faced for decades. When he was just in class 11 and a journalist visited his school, he decided this would be his chosen career too with which he would address the issues of the people.
He has hosted a program Mahamanthan since 2016, to raise awareness about pressing issues of the day, including paper leaks, farmer issues, COVID mismanagement, rampant corruption in the government among others. The shows rated very high on TRP’s in Gujarat, because of the content he chose and the channel itself was number one for years. His program started with an hour, then extended to an hour and a half and later moved outdoors and started resembling political rallies.
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After the shows, the people started coming to the studios, so hopeful were they that he would solve their problems. This became another major reason for him to leave behind a luxurious life, with a fixed time table, enough free time for the family and a big salary, to join politics and embrace an uncertain life, just to be able to make a difference to the lives of the people.
In his speeches today, he speaks of how the papers will continue to leak and bridges will continue to fall, if the people continue to vote for the same system, despite its failures. He points to the Morbi bridge collapse, which cost the lives of over 135 people, many of whom were children, the 22 students who were killed in Takshila coaching class in Surat, for whom their parents are still fighting a legal battle in court, while the government dilly dallies on the arrest of the real criminals behind the incidents He constantly reminds them to vote for better futures for their children, not that of politicians.
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The national joint secretary of the party was chosen as the chief ministerial candidate, after the party released a telephone number for people to call in and express their choice and 73% of 16 lakh plus callers chose Isudan Gadhvi.
At just 32, Isudan Gadhvi was one of the youngest channel heads in the country, with VTV television. His program Mahamanthan, which he ran successfully for five years, became the only real opposition in the state. He was treated like a rockstar leader rather than a journalist. His viewers would gather to watch his shows even in villages, like they would gather to watch Ramayan, Mahabharata serials, to the exclusion of everything else.
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In one of the episodes, he spoke of high fees being charged by schools, during COVID, when students were not attending regular classes and many parents were out of employment and struggling financially. After that episode, the schools were forced to reduce the fees by 25%, a total of Rs 120 crores.
He got several offers to travel abroad and speak, but he has never even got a passport made. He is determined to remain in his home state and work towards bringing about a transformation in his state. “My people do not have food to eat twice a day. I have received 1000’s of calls of distress every day. People found the address of the studio and visited me there. How could I resolve all their issues just by being a journalist, when the government was so thick skinned. I have to work to bring the change”, says Isudan from various platforms.
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He survived several threats to his life. Once his car was attacked and when he got out of the car, there was a pile of glass pieces in his lap, but nothing that pierced him.
Within a few days of his joining politics, AAP agitated near Kamalam, BJP’s headquarters, after yet another paper leak. The BJP ecosystem then tried to discredit him by branding him as an alcoholic, when he has been a teetotaler all his life, also accusing him of misbehaving with the BJP women leaders. It is because of this filth, that decent folks hesitate to join the party, he had said then. He has also expressed his displeasure with the media, which he believes should show a mirror to the corrupt, compromised political system. Instead the media themselves became a business model, which they had to protect by cozying up to the government of the day.
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He believes that Modi and his cronies are only looking at short term loot, thinking they will get away with it, by staying in power forever. However he often says, “even though evil has more resources and looks invincible, truth will always win”.
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