Two states went to the polls. But the public’s attention was focused almost exclusively on Gujarat. There was a reason for this. The so-called Gujarat model of development was the vehicle that propelled Narendra Modi to the supreme leadership of the BJP, peremptorily pushing aside the claims of a handful of former BJP presidents. It endowed Modi with a charisma not seen in India since Indira Gandhi won the 1971 war.
Leaders like Rajiv Gandhi and Atal Behari Vajpayee were very popular leaders, but to be charismatic is being more than that. To be that one needs to display a personal magic that commands intense loyalty and devotion. The Gujarat model was the basis for that charisma. Narendra Modi also demonstrated that people were willing to shed blood for him, theirs and others. The Congress boldly challenged that story and dented what had becoming an enduring myth that Gujarat was the best performing state in India during the Modi tenure. The question posed before the electorate was whether that was true and the country waited with bated breath to find out if was dented enough to make a hole in the bottom?
At the time of writing it does seem that the BJP has been dented badly losing about a dozen and a half seats and the Congress gaining around twenty. Amit Shah’s extravagant claim of winning 150 of the 180 seats seems to fallen short by about half. Except for Republic TV’s poll all other media commissioned polls also fell well behind predictions. The BJP lost seats in every region while the Congress gained in every region.
Despite the results, the shrill communal campaigning by the Prime Minister by stating that there was a Pakistani conspiracy underway to make Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary, Ahmed Patel, the Chief Minister of Gujarat. The BJP made this a sectarian campaign by not fielding a single Muslim. Instead of challenging this the Congress responded by having its main campaigner making well publicized visit to prominent temples and then flaunting his janaeu. What are our minorities who don’t wear janaeu’s to think of this?
A BJP spokesman refused to accept the Gujarat trends as a setback. In his definition a setback is a defeat and he rhetorically answered by asking: “how can an electoral victory be a setback?” Actually a setback is a blow taken in the course of seeking a larger objective. In this case the closeness of the margin in the Prime Minister’s home state, the scene of his experiments with truth, so to say, is indeed a setback on the road to a victory in 2019.
Was this then a Pyrrhic victory, which is defined by the dictionaries as a victory that is not worth winning because the winner has lost so much in winning it? There is no doubt Modi invested hugely in winning Gujarat. He held thirty-four public meetings, setting aside many larger governance issues pertaining to the country. But Modi expended such monies and times in other state elections as well. But more costly than anything was that he chose to take the low road by distorting meanings of words and seeing sinister meanings in social discourse with visiting Pakistanis. Anything seems fair to him in elections, and I am not referring to mushrooms?
This then takes us to the question whether we have had a Prime Minister or leader like this in this country, in an almost a perpetual electioneering mode? No state or no level has been unimportant for him. He campaigns as hard and as intensively in every state and any level of elections. In a first we saw a Prime Minister campaign in municipal elections and gain victory for his party. The streets of Delhi nevertheless remain as garbage laden and the stagnant waters as dengue and chikungunya laden as before. So is his tenure all about just winning elections?
If that is so, Gujarat should make him take pause and reconsider. He lost Bihar in the hustling’s and regained it by political perfidy. He lost Goa and Manipur in the hustings and gained them by political chicanery. He lost Punjab convincingly. He hopes to win Karnataka by entrusting the local party to a leader with the unenviable reputation of being one of the most corrupt Chief Ministers that state has had. Not only is he considered corrupt by a Lok Ayukta, he is also known to blatantly casteist and associations of suspicious deaths also plague him.
Narendra Modi’s Gujarat model was to be a model of a new style of governance and way of conducting politics. We are still awaiting that. Gujarat has just shown its impatience.
By Mohan Guruswamy