By Vijay Sanghvi
The most intriguing aspect of the stormy electoral battle in Gujarat is not the outcome but how Prime Minister Narendra Modi to suddenly deviate from economic issues and arouse the emotional sentiments of the people of Gujarat. Governor of Gujarat BK Nehru once described the ethos of people of Gujarat as, “Gujaratis are not ashamed of earning money but are shy of spending money on themselves their earnings.”
An astute politician, Modi would have normally ignored the abusive word used by a Tamilian Mani Shankar Aiyar, a second ranking opponent in the Congress party, yet he went out of his way to make it a mountain of molehill. It is really intriguing how Modi tried to encash the pride of Gujarat and sentiments of Gujaratis over insult to the state. It was a turning point in the campaign. Though the president designate of the Congress party Rahul Gandhi immediately directed the party to suspend Aiyar and even forced him to apologize for his bad translation, the BJP was forced to cling to it.
Normally the Prime Minister does not reveal the source of his information or intelligence network. But NaMo did not bother to maintain protocol in the presence of the high commissioner of Pakistan and talked of a conspiracy hatched at a dinner party hosted by Aiyar at his home. Addition of the Pakistan angle to the campaign helped convey a message to his opponents within the BJP that he was aware of moves and manipulations being hatched for the 2019 elections.
The logic of certain events made it clear that he did not need to have spies inside the Party to win over 150 seats in the state polls and deliver a miracle like he delivered in the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls. In UP the Bharatiya Janata party leaders had virtually written off the state and were hoping to gain second position to displace Mayavati even a week before. NaMo’s main achievement how he managed to break the hold of the Other Backward Classes on the power levers for two decades. It suggested that he had shifted the base from the middle class to the deprived classes. He was told that any number less would not be considered as his victory.
Second indication was rushing the BJP chief ministers, particularly the UP chief minister Yogi to campaign in Gujarat even before the Election Commission had declared the election schedule for the state. It was to establish that the party won not over the economic agenda of NaMo but on the old BJP agenda. To hammer the perception it was claimed that there was a popular demand in Gujarat for Yogi, who played no role in the polls in his home state. After elevation as the Prime Minister, NaMo did not need clutches to be flown even before the dates were announced. It can explain why the Election commission delayed announcement on excuse of floods in the state. May be NaMO spurred a need for a different strategy by his detractors in the party with his refusal to share his platform with any leader from the party. Even the chief minister was not given a place in his vehicle in both road shows, Surat and Rajkot after the UP victory.
Massive demonstrations in major cities of Gujarat in the midst of the election campaign express dissatisfaction over the central government’s GST scheme. The massive demonstration needed expert hands and the Congress did no own up hand. It is inconceivable that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not to know who was pulling the strings from behind for huge assemblage of small traders. Gujarat is more sensitive to the economic issues than UP as the state and UP election did not register evil effects of demonetization but Gujarat resents the bludgeon wielded by the Prime Minister.
The developments loudly conveyed to the Prime Minister that his economic theme would not be allowed to work in Gujarat to compel him to switch over to emphasize the emotional issues. The lack of enthusiasm displayed by the young in voting as the drop of two per cent in total voting suggested can be seen as yet another sign to suggest that three years of Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister failed to impress youth of Gujarat.
Perhaps it was also assumed that Rahul Gandhi with his new combination of caste politics and his winning over Hardik Patel with a vague promise of reservations to Patidars was a winner combination. But it failed even to enthuse the young Patidars to participate in large numbers in voting. But Patels also stayed away from the BJP as the study in heavy drop in voting in five assembly segments in Surat reveiled. Rahul Gandhi was misled in believing that the two diametrically opposite forces in his camp were the winning combination. Instead it was like snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Patidar young did not come forward but promise for reservations affected other beneficiaries like the Bakshi and the Dalits. They constitute 58 percent in the electorate. With isolated Muslims left no avenue to behave differently, Hardik Patel was left to fend for himself as the third force. The outcome suggests that caste equations do not work anymore in the Indian electoral battles. They failed in UP and now in Gujarat.