Manoj Sorathiya, the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) Gujarat State secretary, was attacked on August 30, 2022, by miscreants in Surat. The party blamed the local BJP unit for using brute force to intimidate it. The AAP believes its growing popularity in the Surat and Saurashtra regions has taken the BJP by surprise, hence the threatening attacks. Sorathiya spoke to Frontline about the incident and why the AAP will not back down. Excerpts:
The attack on you was violent and sudden. Could you speak about the incident?
Our volunteers had been planning Ganpati celebrations and I went to inspect the locations and event preparations in Surat. We knew the BJP was not comfortable with this event and we had a feeling it would be targeted, but we did not anticipate a physical attack on a senior leader.
They had sent policemen and local municipal corporation officers earlier in the day to intimidate and stop us. However, AAP workers said that they would not be threatened by the authorities and continued with the planning. When I got there a group of men rushed toward me and started hitting me. They used a metal rod to hit my head. The locals said that they were BJP men. They thought that by attacking me we would be scared and the event would be stopped. Needless to say, it went on and was very well-attended. After this incident, the BJP has faced a lot criticism from the people of Surat.
It is still early days in the campaign. Do incidents such as these indicate the tone of things to come?
They do not know any other way of fighting. They cannot stop us from being popular. They see our rallies and meetings becoming bigger and bigger. People have seen how we won Delhi and Punjab. They have seen how we delivered on our promises. Of course, they are feeling threatened. I hope they will not resort to this kind of violence and play fair.
You say your meetings are well-attended. Would you say you will benefit from an anti-incumbency wave?
We notice that the people of Gujarat come for our meetings because they are curious about who we are. The AAP’s credibility in winning Delhi and Punjab is endorsing us in Gujarat. I believe they also come because they want change. They have been ruled by a single party for 27 years. Education, health, [commodity] prices are all increasing day by day and it is proving to be difficult to earn one’s bread and butter in Gujarat. Perhaps they are seeing us as an alternative. Furthermore, the Congress has let them down.
AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal has been touring Gujarat frequently. What has the response been?
There has been a tremendous response from the people of Gujarat. Unfortunately, the response from the ruling party is one of poor sportsmanship. For instance, two hours after Arvind Kejriwal’s arrival in Ahmedabad, policemen went to the AAP data office and searched all our files and computers. Later they denied “raiding” our office. We know these are intimidation tactics.
To take on the BJP in Gujarat is a massive task. Given their reaction, are you feeling threatened?
We do not fear them. Such tactics will not work in Gujarat. I think the people of the State are intelligent and will not tolerate this kind of behaviour. We are seriously about contesting in Gujarat as we know there is a void we can fill. After the attack on me, I received huge support from the public. Our volunteers, in fact, came out on the roads in protest. They cannot stop us with physical force.
What about other approaches such as filing cases or sending the ED to your offices?
We are an honest party. We work for the people. We are definitely not scared and we are ready for anything.