Both the BJP and the Congress are locked in a do or die battle for Gujarat Assembly polls that many see as a runup to 2019.
Abdul Hafiz Lakhani | Caravan Daily
AHMEDABAD — With December setting in all eyes are set on Gujarat as it readies itself for the state Assembly election which will be held in two phases. All eyes are now set on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home turf Gujarat where both the ruling BJP party and the Opposition Congress readies themselves for the the biggest face off.
The election result will have repercussions far beyond its borders. It’s a battle of prestige for the BJP, which has ruled Gujarat for the past 22 years, while Congress is fighting this time for a mega comeback after having faced defeat poll after poll since 1995. A strong performance in this election could set the tone for crucial state polls next year and, ultimately, for the 2019 general elections, for the grand old party.
Gujarati Muslims comprise nine per cent of the total population which is of about 6.76 crores. With 182 assembly seats, ideally 16 MLAs should be representing the community at the state Assembly. But in reality only two MLAs have represented the community in 2012, indicating a decrease in number from 2007’s seven and 2002’s three representatives of the community.
The decreasing trend in the community’s representation is a classic case of Muslims not willing to vote for the elections and political parties not being interested in seeking their votes because they hardly come out to practice their political right.
Emboldened by a string of state victories and Modi’s soaring popularity, the BJP has set an ambitious target of winning over 150 out of the 182 seats. Most political observers feel the party will regain power in its citadel after December 18. But this may not be an easy task for the BJP. It’s not just anti-incumbency that the party is battling, but it also has to make up for the absence of Modi, from his home turf.
Gujarat is where Modi honed his skills as a politician and administrator. He first came to power in Gujarat in 2001, and swept elections in 2002, 2007 and 2012. He inspired euphoric support for Gujarat’s high growth and his own personality. He still does. But his rise to the country’s top job in 2014 also meant his absence from Gujarat’s politics, and that has taken a toll to a certain extent.
Banking on Modi
Modi was succeeded by Anandiben Patel when he became the Prime Minister. Vijay Rupani took over as Chief Minister after Anandiben’s abrupt resignation in August last year. The BJP, however, believes that he is more than just making up for the loss by making multiple trips to the state, announcing and inaugurating public projects and of course by making consistent scathing attacks on the Congress. To attract voters soon BJP will unleash Modi’s 30-odd rallies in the state.
Another worry for the BJP is the unrest in various communities. Patidars have been the BJP’s strongest supporter over the decades. They have been vociferously pressing for reservation in education and government jobs. Many feel the BJP government has been unjust in denying them quota benefits. This time a section of Dalits also seem to be disenchanted. The Karadiya Rajputs also seem to be unhappy. In 2007 and 2012, the Congress did not have a strong state leader to take on Modi. It still does not have one. But the troika of caste leaders — Hardik Patel (Patidar), Alpesh Thakore (OBC Kshatriya) and Jignesh Mevani (Dalit) — have become a cause of concern for the BJP.
BJP has called over 200 leaders from backward caste and Dalit community from across the states to boost its Gujarat campaign. They have been asked to reach out to their respective communities and explain how Hardik, Alpesh and Jignesh are diametrically opposite to each other in terms of their castes but have come to the Congress fold for personal gains.
“The public now understands how the limit of reservation cannot be increased and how the provision of 10 per cent reservation for EBCs (economically backward communities) was stopped by Congress,” said BJP Gujarat spokesperson, Bharat Pandya.
Demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax (GST), dubbed by the Modi government as accomplishments, has been dismissed by the Opposition as a twin blow on India’s economy. Congress vice president, Rahul Gandhi, who has spent over 15 days in Gujarat in the past two months, has launched blistering attacks on Modi on both issues, putting the ruling party on a defensive mode. The critique has even forced the Central government to lower the GST rates on various goods.
The BJP has also been seen raking up the issue of differences between Congress leaders. BJP chief, Amit Shah has been asking the Opposition party to name its CM candidate. Gujarat Congress leaders, however, say it is a diversionary tactic. “BJP has been in power in Gujarat for 22 years but it still blames Congress governments of the past for the state’s problems. BJP continues to play the victim because it has failed to deliver, and has nothing to show,” said senior Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil. He also said, “While Rahul criticised the BJP over issues such as demonetisation, GST, farmers’ problems and rising unemployment, the ruling party has responded by targeting his temple visits.” Chief Minister Rupani clarified that the BJP has no problem with anyone visiting temples, but “the visits should not be just before the elections”.
A rejuvenated Congress, however, sounds confident in Gujarat. “In the past many elections a divided Congress made the BJP’s task easier, but our leaders are working together, and we have a good chance this time,” said a party insider.
Poll war on social media
Reflecting the significance of social media in our daily lives the Gujarat battle is being fought as much in the virtual world. Both the parties have launched several social media campaigns to impress voters. The Opposition took the first strike at the BJP with the Vikas Gando Thayo Chhe (Development has gone crazy) campaign which caught the imagination of many and inspired several memes and spoofs. Unfazed, the ruling party responded with the Hu Chhu Vikas, Hu Chhu Gujarat (I am development, I am Gujarat) campaign, reiterating that it would contest the polls on issue of development.
According to sources, BJP is also trying to woo the Muslims via the Rashtriya Muslim Manch, an arm of the RSS. An assortment of nearly 50 Muslim clergy had arrived in Gujarat from various BJP-ruled States in the run-up to the polls. Muslims have largely kept aloof from the BJP in Gujarat particularly after the 2002 riots.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi who was then State chief minister and “Hindu Hriday Samrat”, had famously refused to wear a skull cap from a Muslim delegation during his three-day “Sadbhavna” fast in Ahmedabad in 2011. The BJP has not fielded a Muslim candidate for years in many States.
Traditionally, 6-8 per cent Muslims in Gujarat had always voted for the BJP before and in immediate years after 2002. For long, a sizeable number of Shia Muslim sects engaged in mercantile occupations like Dawoodi Bohra have also voted for the BJP. Similarly, Sunni Muslims have also given their tacit support to BJP candidates in many Assembly constituencies. The 2012 elections already witnessed a visible upsurge in Muslim support for the BJP in Gujarat, even when none of the 182 candidates was a Muslim.