By Vijay Sanghvi
The Bharatiya Janata party won in the Gujarat assembly polls to form the government for the fifth time in a row though with a reduced majority. It cannot be called set back to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi but it cannot be hailed as his clear victory as he could not reach the target of 150 seats set for him by the BJP chief Amit Shah. The expectation was built around the unprecedented results in the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls only eight months earlier. NaMo was told to deliver the same miracle. He could not despite his best efforts to spin the emotional appeal over the above claims of achievements of his three-term rule of the state.
Gujarat – The Land of the Legends, stands bordered by Pakistan and Rajasthan in the northeast, Madhya Pradesh in the east, and Maharashtra and the Union territories of Diu, Daman, Dadra and Nagar Haveli in the south. The Arabian Sea borders the state both to the west and the south-west. The State took it’s name from the Gujjars, who ruled the area during the 700’s and 800’s.
The Bharatiya Janata Party was dreading the incumbency factor playing a negative role. The constant emphasis on demonstrable symbols of progress, roads and better agriculture inputs spoke of its fears heightened by the Congress leader Rahul Gandhi raising doubts about achievements through his questions. It may have prompted the Prime Minister to leave the emphasis on the economic issues and shift to emotional appeal over the blown up resentment at the use of words by the second-ranked Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar. Attempts were also made to raise doubts about the religion of Rahul Gandhi over the entry into the register of the Somnath temple.
Rahul Gandhi who got elevated in the party as heir to the Congress president Sonia Gandhi only four days before the first round of polling in the state polls, strived hard to make a dent in the BJP fortress but without anything substantial in hand to raise hopes of the younger generation in the state. His emphasis was mere to heighten the anti-incumbency factor against the BJP rule instead of telling the young what he would intend to do in Gujarat It was apparent that his advisers had not made efforts to understand changed aspirations, needs and demands of the youth in the state.
He attempted the caste combination by drawing in the Other Backward Classes and the Dalit in his camp by inducing their leaders to join his ranks. The combination of caste equations was difficult to work three decades after its success that had given the Congress two-thirds majority in 1985. Three decades have brought in two generations in the political play. However, even the glimmer of hope was extinguished by efforts to rope in Hardik Patel with his claims that his demand for inclusion of the Patidars in the category of reservations for education had consolidated his hold over the Patel community that constituted 18 percent of the total state population. The claim was not verifiable except by the voting. But poor performance of his party in south Gujarat with the larger number of seats that are prone to influence by the Dalit tells a story.
Rahul Gandhi held out a vague promise of meeting demands of Hardik Patel for reservations to Patidars to provide this opportunity to save face and join the Congress ranks. But it was a move that caused consternation among the OBCs and also the Dalit sections with fears that the Congress rule may be made eventually be pressurized to apply cut in their portion of reservations. It was the reason why the striving of Rahul Gandhi with coverage of 32000 km of Gujarat territory by roads for campaigns did not yield the commensurate results in his favour despite the misgivings entertained by the opposite camps.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was forced to change the strategy not only because he came under the pressure from outside but also from within. Despite the immediate impact of demonetization on the UP assembly polls, he could deliver unimaginable results for his party while demonetization was left behind by eleven months to reduce the intensity of its impact. He had even hurriedly corrected the GST scheme to allay fears of small traders over their increased entanglement with bureaucratic dealings. The high incidence of GST rate was not the issue to agitate traders but their increased harassment at hands of the tax bureaucracy that has a reputation for not being honest. The question remained unanswered as to who mobilized them to come to streets. It was a message delivered to Narendra Modi to shift away from the economic issues that affect the average Gujarati mind more than an emotional issue. The outcome shows it. His emotional appeal to reject the Congress for insulting him and thereby Gujarat went unheeded. The Congress, in fact, improved its tally.
It is difficult to predict whether the Congress had the capacity to defeat the BJP in any case. Rahul Gandhi dominated the campaign to exclusion of the leaders of the state unit. He gave importance to three new recruits to his camp and had thus nullified the work that the state unit had done in five years. The leader himself had created an impression that it did not matter in the electoral politics. In addition, he had not drawn up a programme to cause enthusiasm among young who constitute nearly half the electorate. Hardik Patel also could not deliver his promise and two other new recruits were in the process sidelined to be effective in delivering votes of their supporters to enable the Congress to even reach the halfway mark to cause terror in the opposite camp.
The next interesting act of the political drama is on the issue of the chief minister. In the entire campaign, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi avoided sharing platform with every state leader including the chief minister. H was kept out of even two earlier road shows. It indicates that the chief minister is not a favoured candidate. Even otherwise a story was floated in the midst of the campaign that the BJP may consider changing the occupant as Rupani has proved to be ineffective. The change seems inevitable. The direction of the politics will be indicated who gets his nominee to replace Rupani who had come to replace Anandi Ben Patel, a nominee of the Prime Minister to contribute more to fermenting anger among Patel community.