The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has a lot of "hype" but will remain a "marginal player" in the Gujarat assembly elections, Congress leader Milind Deora said on Friday and asserted that his party would belie predictions to spring a surprise in the polls.
Mr Deora, who is a Congress party observer for the Gujarat polls, said there is a "strong undercurrent" of anti-incumbency against the BJP government in the state and the Congress has opted for a very localised campaign that is different from the 2017 elections.
In an interview with PTI, the leader from Maharashtra said the Bharat Jodo Yatra will have a positive impact on the polls and though Rahul Gandhi was busy with it, he would make more visits to the state for campaigning.
Asked about the low-key campaign of the Congress in the state, the former Union minister said, "I would not agree that we are not putting our best effort. It is a very different type of campaign from the last time." In the 2017 polls, there were issues such as the Patidar agitation, demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax, which led to public demonstrations against the government, he said.
This time, there is a very "strong undercurrent" of anti-incumbency against the state government and the Congress is carrying out a very localised, personalised and orthodox campaign, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi alluded to, Mr Deora said.
"The prime minister himself told the (BJP) workers that the Congress has a very localised campaign. So, I think the strategy is different, it is not something as visible as last time because of the events preceding that election but the party is on the ground, exposing the government and taking advantage of anti-incumbency," he asserted.
On the entry of the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP and if it will dent Congress' chances in Gujarat, he said the AAP was also cutting into the BJP's votes and so he does not think that it was a spoiler only for one party.
"I think it (AAP) is cutting into the votes of the BJP as well. So, in that sense the AAP will have a neutralising effect on both the main parties," he said.
He asserted that the Congress still has a "very strong presence" in Gujarat and the voters who want to defeat the BJP understand that it is the "only option".
"AAP definitely has a lot of hype, lot of media (attention), but on the ground the voters are still familiar with the Congress, we have a local rung of leaders cutting across regions and different communities that the public is familiar with," he said.
Deora said he believes that the AAP will remain a "marginal player" and the real contest would be between the BJP and the Congress.
Asked why the Congress was not able to capitalise on anti-incumbency in previous polls, Deora said there were many reasons for that and there were emotive issues that gave the BJP an advantage.
"Purely on development issues, there is certainly anti-incumbency, but in elections sometimes there are many emotive issues," he said.
For instance, for several years now the fact that the prime minister hails from Gujarat certainly gives the BJP an advantage, he added.
"There are emotive issues that give the BJP an advantage but from a purely developmental standpoint, Gujarat is a state, the Congress has a base in Gujarat. We may not have come to power in a long time but it is different from a state such as Uttar Pradesh where we are a marginal player," he said.
Noting that in the 2017 assembly polls, the Congress came extremely close to winning the election, Mr Deora said people should think several times before ruling out or writing off the party in Gujarat.
"I believe that the Congress will certainly surprise critics and political pundits," he said.
The Congress still has a presence in Gujarat, it is popular among its core voters, there are regions such as Saurashtra where it is very strong, he said. "I do believe that there will be surprises in this election," Deora said.
Asked if the Asaduddin Owaisi-led All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) would split the anti-BJP vote, Mr Deora said parties such as the AIMIM and the AAP were all "marginal players" in the Gujarat polls and have different agendas.
"But I think the voters in states such as Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are different from West Bengal or Uttar Pradesh where voters against the BJP may rally behind a regional party. I think in states such as Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the people see the Congress as an alternative to the BJP," he said.
On Gandhi having just held two election rallies till now, Deora said the former Congress chief has chosen to take out the yatra but has campaigned on more than one occasion.
Gandhi had held two poll rallies in Gujarat earlier this week and had also participated in an event before the yatra.
"In India, every six months there are elections, so by that rationale you can never take out a Yatra. There will always be a state election that will coincide with a five-month-long yatra," he said.
Gandhi is campaigning and he will make more visits, Mr Deora added.
He stressed that even though the Yatra is not passing through Gujarat, people are paying attention to it.
"People and workers of the party across the country are motivated by it. I think that it will have a positive impact (on the Gujarat polls) for sure," he said.
"As I said, our campaign has been a very different campaign for a long time. There is anti-incumbency which is not manifesting in an agitation by a community or an event such as demonetisation," Deora said.
Voting to elect a new 182-member Gujarat Assembly will be held in two phases -- December 1 (89 seats) and 5 (93 seats) -- and ballots will be counted on December 8.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)