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Can Isudan Gadhvi Swing It For AAP?

By Aditi Phadnis
November 16, 2022 09:52 IST
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IMAGE: Isudan Gadhvi, the Aam Aadmi Party's chief ministerial candidate for the Gujarat assembly election. Photograph: ANI Photo

Naming leaders not known outside Gujarat as chief ministers is becoming a tradition of sorts for political parties in the state.

The Bharatiya Janata Party made Bhupendra Patel, a first time MLA who had no experience of running a government, CM earlier this year.

Patel's claim to fame was as a protégé of former chief minister Anandiben Patel (he served as her campaign manager and later contested the seat she vacated when she became governor) and the support of Union Home Minister Amit Shah (his assembly seat, Ghatlodia, is one of the segments of the Gandhinagar Lok Sabha constituency that Shah represents).

But Isudan Gadhvi, 40, who has been named the chief minister candidate by the Aam Aadmi Party if it comes to power, is a face recognised in Gujarat even if those outside might never had heard of him. He has been a television anchor.

"His greatest asset was his style of presentation," says a local reporter. "He used to tell a story effortlessly."

 

Gadhvi is rooted in rural Gujarat. He studied in Saurashtra's Khambaliya and Jamnagar and later Ahmedabad. A commerce graduate, he did a master's in journalism and mass communication from Gujarat Vidyapeeth in Ahmedabad in 2005.

He began his career with Doordarshan's well-known show Yojana. From 2007 until 2011, he worked as an on-field journalist for ETV Gujarati in Porbandar. In 2015, he was appointed editor of VTV's 24 hour Gujarati news channel, promoted by the Sambhaav group. At 32 he became the youngest editor of a television channel in the state.

In a sense, that's when his career took off. Gadhvi belongs to the Other Backward Classes (OBC) which account for nearly 48 per cent of Gujarat's population.

But what is not so well known is that he belongs to the Chaaran community from Saurashtra: The legendary court poets or bards.

Because of their ability to compose poems instantaneously, a popular way of addressing members of the Chaaran caste is 'Kaviraj', which literally means 'king among poets'.

In a sense, Chaarans have poetry in their blood.

Isudan Gadhvi's programmes and his communication style appealed to rural areas.

He claims to have telecast an investigation into illegal deforestation in Dang and Kaparada talukas of Gujarat that amounted to a Rs 150 crore (Rs 1.5 billion) scam. The government is also supposed to have launched an enquiry.

While no details are available about the scam or the enquiry, his programmes on the problems of farmers and government employees struck a chord.

"VTV's editorial philosophy was to be objective about news coverage but take a stance critical of the government in debates," says local journalist Ashish Amin. This was a tradition started by Sambhaav group founder Bhupat Vadodaria and later, his son and current promoter, Kiran.

Isudan Gadhvi's moment of epiphany came during Covid.

'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 and soon was down with Covid myself. But even then, people continued to message me, asking about my well-being and for help.' he told local television channels.

'When I re-joined work, 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 added.

He accepted an offer from the convenor of AAP's Gujarat unit, Gopal Italia, and left his job to join AAP in June 2021. There was no looking back after that.

Political observers believe the realistic chances of AAP coming to power in Gujarat and Gadhvi becoming chief minister in this election are on the low side.

They cite precedents: Keshubhai Patel, the strongman of the BJP, left the party and floated his own outfit. He managed to get just 2.75 per cent of the vote and win two seats.

The Nationalist Congress Party has been trying to make a dent in Gujarat, but in 2017 managed to get just one seat with its candidates losing their deposit in most seats.

In the essentially two-horse race in Gujarat, politics is not kind to a third, they say.

But the opposite is also true -- that in the 2017 assembly poll, in 57 seats, the Congress and the BJP managed to win by a victory margin that was less than 5 per cent of the total votes cast. As many as 35 seats were won by a margin of under 5,000 votes.

AAP could make its presence felt. But Gadhvi may have to wait for a chance to get the top job.

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Aditi Phadnis
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