Is the Bharatiya Janata Party jittery in Gujarat?
DECEMBER 15, 2017 00:15 IST
UPDATED: DECEMBER 15, 2017 00:58 IST




 Narendra Modi and Amit Shah can neither tap into anti-incumbency nor play victim

Pawan Khera


Elections are a contest between perception and reality. In Gujarat, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have struggled with both the content of their narrative and its packaging. The 2014 campaign was built on the perception of the Gujarat model, which had takers because of the anger — justified or not — against the incumbent UPA government. With his oratorical skills, Mr. Modi successfully packaged the dream of a better India, while marketing the fallacy of a vibrant Gujarat.

As Prime Minister, Mr. Modi has started believing in both the belief and the model that he packaged. This is not unusual for those who lock themselves up in echo chambers, except that he finds himself more and more lonely in his belief.


Gujarat is a test

As Prime Minister, Mr. Modi may have wrested States from the Congress and other regional parties. However, the BJP under him has not retained a single State where the party was already in power, unless it considers Goa a victory. Anti-incumbency and victimhood have been the go-to cards for Mr. Modi and Mr. Shah in every election. Gujarat is the first test for them where they can neither tap into anti-incumbency nor play victim.

When your party has been in power for 22 years, who do you blame for all the questions hurled at you? Mr. Modi and his party are not accustomed to answering questions. And Gujarat has asked tough, embarrassing and disconcerting questions in the last one month.

Rahul Gandhi kept his campaign focussed on the ground reality of Gujarat. The condition of groundnut, potato, and cotton farmers; the problems faced by students on account of high fees in self-financed educational institutions; the double whammy of demonetisation and the goods and services tax and their impact on traders and medium and small-scale enterprises; the gaping social inequalities that led to growing demands for reservations — all of these expose the government’s skewed development model. Mr. Gandhi tweeted one question a day. Instead of responding to these uncomfortable questions, Mr. Modi attempted to take cover behind distortions of history or out-of-context remarks by mythical Congress workers.

The alacrity with which Mr. Gandhi suspended Mani Shankar Aiyar for an uncalled-for remark on Mr. Modi brought the focus of the campaign back to real issues. Mr. Modi went a little too far in attributing bizarre motives to a dinner attended by Dr. Manmohan Singh, distinguished diplomats, journalists, and former Army chief Deepak Kapoor, among others. Dr. Singh’s sharp reaction took Mr. Modi and his party by surprise and made Mr. Modi realise that he had gone too far in his attempt to escape scrutiny on the myths of the Gujarat model.

 BJP versus Congress

Mr. Gandhi held a press conference on the last day of campaigning and took difficult questions with sincerity and ease. The Congress narrative was consistent and stayed on course, while the BJP kept fumbling for a foothold. There are genuine concerns over knee-jerk decisions in the name of economic policies. The restlessness of the youth is understandable. The farmer is justifiably angry. Gujarat is rightly restless. It has witnessed the outcome of growth without development, consistent low per capita expenditure on social sectors, and the government’s obsession with visible physical infrastructure rather than actual investment in human capital.

Gujarat is a pragmatic, innovative and progressive State. No one should try and fool a Gujarati through symbolism and optics. Gujarat has often shown how to get rid of the status quo.

Pawan Khera is the national spokesperson of the Indian National Congress


 To expect the BJP’s wings to be clipped in Gujarat is wishful thinking

Vinay Sahasrabuddhe


While there is nothing extraordinary about these elections, there are people desperate to see the BJP’s wings clipped. This is wishful thinking. They are oblivious to the fact that the Indian polity is undergoing a transformation. Traditional factors that shape voting decisions are changing. Hence, Gujarat is unlikely to fulfill the expectations of those basing their predictions on traditional psephological calculations.

 Road to success

There are four distinct factors behind the BJP’s confidence about its success. First, the unparalleled quality of development governance in the State. Greater participation of people in development governance, centrality of the common man in policies and programmes, and an innovative approach to finding enduring solutions are the three principal factors giving an undisputed edge to governance in Gujarat. From the days of his chief ministership, Mr. Modi has been stressing on development as a popular movement and not just a government scheme or a programme. Village water distribution bodies, governed majorly by women, have remained a key to judicious and frictionless distribution of water to farm fields across the State. This has greatly contributed to agricultural development. Janmarg, the famous Bus Rapid Transport System in Ahmedabad, and the modern, well equipped bus port in Vadodara are testimony to how the common man has always remained central to the governance philosophy of successive BJP governments. Much before the dawn of the Metro era in Delhi, Ahmedabad established that BRTS also could be made a success. Till date, the Janmarg of Ahmedabad is the only successful BRTS in India. While police reforms continue to wait in many States, Gujarat has adopted a policy of ensuring that all new police stations will now house a library, a crèche and a gymnasium, and they will also draw their own energy from solar panels on their roofs. Would people not support those who have taken such commendable initiatives?

 Caste and community

The second factor is the waning influence of the appeal of caste and community. A State that has seen rapid urbanisation and a remarkable spread of education need not continue to think along the lines of caste and community. Identity issues have some influence; one can’t expect these factors to disappear totally. But to believe that the next generation of Patidars will be sold to quota promises that cannot be implemented is an insult to their wisdom. Again, to think that communities will vote as a monolithic block is nothing but self-deception.

Third, the Opposition has made several self-goals that have inadvertently helped the BJP. It started with ridiculing development, forgetting the transformation that development has brought. With uninterrupted electricity supply, for instance, not only are farmers happy but the percentage of polio cases in rural Gujarat has seen a sharp decrease. This is because uninterrupted power supply has helped primary health centres allow their refrigerators work round the clock, thereby preventing the loss of potency of the anti-polio vaccine.

Third, the BJP has mastered the art of electioneering. In Gujarat, it is organisationally a hundred times more in better shape. Besides, people know that Narendra Modi, Amit Shah and Vijay Rupani have no personal agenda; all of them are motivated by their idealism and are passionately struggling to make India a developed nation. Spreading negativity is easy, but it may not always bring success. I am sure the Congress will learn this yet again.

Vinay Sahasrabuddhe is the national vice president of the Bharatiya Janata Party


 BJP hopes that Gujarati pride and Hindutva will sidetrack caste and economic interests

Ghanshyam Shah

Jittery? Yes, that is obvious. Anyone who saw the campaign would say that. But at the same time, this is perhaps the outcome of the inherent nature of the BJP: natural aggressive behavior and Islamophobia.

Let us say the BJP wins. That, however, will not make the party give up either its aggression or its Islamophobia. To explain the latter, let me give you an example. In 2007, in Ahmedabad, there was a Muslim mayor. Compared to today, the BJP was on sure ground then. Yet, the party referred to her as Begum Sahiba. The party was on sure ground, so there was no need to refer to her in code language. This was repeated in 2009. I consider this as a consequence of the ideology of a Hindu Rashtra and the party’s discomfort with Muslims. The BJP cannot be comfortable or at peace with itself without accusing Muslims and creating an imaginary fear. Somehow, it has to identify an enemy and that is the Muslim. The devout Hindu has to go to the temple every day. The devout BJP, in a similar fashion, has to begin the day by abusing the Muslim before commencing work or rituals.

 Rural unrest

In 2014, the BJP was elected and, particularly in Gujarat, swept the parliamentary seats. The reason was the various scams under the UPA, economic slowdown and how this was projected by the BJP. It promised that India would be different and become prosperous in no time. The younger generation was impatient to see the results, which were not forthcoming. Soon thereafter, in rural areas, in 2015, the BJP in Gujarat lost a majority in the local panchayat elections. Rural unrest and the promise made in 2014 were making people restless. The Narmada Dam assured waters to the industrialists but not the rural folk and farmers. The State gave the first waters to the industry, not the farmers. At the same time, the Patidar Andolan started. The younger generation of Patidars, including Hardik Patel, who was initially sympathetic to the Vishva Hindu Parishad, became quickly disenchanted. They do not get the kind of employment in the formal sector they desire. They found that they were not getting jobs because there was no reservation there.

 Patidar, OBC, and Dalit issues

The State government initially facilitated the mass meeting that Hardik held in August 2015. But the Patidars’ demands were unmet. Then followed firing, sedition charges, etc. That backfired. The concessions given later were viewed as a lollipop. The quest for decent jobs, OBC reservation, and the Dalit issue has become ground for contesting ideologies. The Dalit issue does not scare the BJP as much as the OBC issue (the OBCs are a large constituent). The BJP is unable to handle it because of the contradictions within society and the way in which BJP eulogies traditions, including the Varna system. Within this framework, hopes are raised on the basis of a primordial identity by invoking pride in one’s caste. In the process, the castes compete and contest with each other for economic interests and status, which invariably leads to a conflicting situation. The BJP is unable to handle this. In this situation, the party dreams that Gujarati pride, Hindutva and Pakistan phobia will sidetrack caste and economic interests and everyone will be united in favour of BJP.

Ghanshyam Shah is a political sociologist

As told to Anuradha Raman

Reproduced from: The Hindu:


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