Wednesday, November 30th, 2022 20:43:44

Gujarat: Pro-incumbency of Modi or anti-incumbency of BJP after 27 years of rule?

By Shekhar Iyer
Updated: November 25, 2022 8:28 am

What is going to ultimately count for Gujarat’s voters? Is it their lack of enthusiasm for local BJP ministers and MLAs or their continued support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.In other words, Gujarat is witnessing a pro-incumbency wave for Modi  as before–but there is also a sort of resentment and deep undercurrent against the  current lot of BJP establishment, represented by its ministers, former ministers and MLAs.

Modi remains a popular figure among the people of Gujarat because of the impression he had left behind as their chief minister between 2001 and 2014 Yet, the slide in the quality of governance ever since Modi left Gujarat to become prime minister of India That is why Modi, in his first election rally in poll-bound Gujarat on November 6, coined a new slogan: “Aa Gujarat, maibnavyuchhe (I have made this Gujarat).”He predicted a massive victory for the BJP as he launched a veiled attack on the opposition, saying that the forces spreading hatred and defaming Gujarat will be swept out of the state.

As in Himachal Pradesh, and also in Gujarat, Modi has not minced words in stating that “Remember, who is the BJP candidate? You don’t have to remember anyone. Simply remember the lotus… If you see ‘kamalkaphool’ while casting your vote, understand that this is the BJP, this is Modi who has come to you. Your every vote for ‘kamalkaphool’ will come directly to Modi’s account as a blessing.”

As Gujarat votes on December 1 and 5 and the counting is taken up on December 8, along with Himachal Pradesh, it will be the enduring image of Modi that will be playing on everyone’s mind. There is no doubt that BJP leaders are facing anti-incumbency.  They have to rely on Modi’s traction among the voters to bail them out. When they see Modi and hear his words, reminding crowds that he is there for them in New Delhi, their angst with local BJP wallahs subsides. No doubt, the people of Gujarat say the credit for BJP’s 27-year uninterrupted rule in the state goes a lot to Modi’s tenure as chief minister from 2001 to 2014. After the 2001 earthquake rocked Gujarat’s Kutch region, Modi ensured redevelopment of the region within the next decade.

He also set up financial and technological parks and started the Vibrant Gujarat Summit, which eventually attracted  investment growth in the state. In fact, the GDP growth rate of the state was more than that of the country and the state topped ‘ease of business’ rankings among Indian states during his tenure.

Modi is himself very confident that the people of Gujarat will not let him down. If BJP wins again, it will create history.  It has won six consecutive assembly elections in the state since 1995. The BJP had won the assembly elections of 1995, 1998, 2002, 2007, 2012, and 2017. The BJP’s peak performance was in the December 2002 elections under Modi, when the party had bagged 127 of the total 182 seats. In 2017, its tally shrunk to 99, while the Congress got 77.

Some pundits and punters believe that the BJP should win comfortably for the seventh time in Gujarat. The people of Gujarat still look  up to Modi. He is the icon of the soil who has to be supported in every assembly or Lok Sabha election. That is how they believe they can safeguard Gujarat’s “asmita.”

In other words, not even his opponents think that Modi-driven BJP can actually lose Gujarat easily in the two-phase assembly polls on December 1 and 5. Political experts believe the drop in BJP’s seat share was due to the Patidar quota stir in the state, which was then led by community leader Hardik Patel, who has now joined the BJP.

In 2017, the BJP retained power despite the anger among sections over Modi’s demonetisation move and decision to implement GST. Of course, the entry of the AamAadmi Party (AAP) is seeking to change the nature and course of the fight. That means, there is no longer a  bilateral contest between the BJP and the Congress.  True, in 2017, Kejriwal’s party had contested 29 out of the 182 Assembly seats and forfeited its deposit on all. Even today, after a big start, the AAP appears to have lost steam though one does not know how it will damage BJP or the Congress. Gujarat watcherws say a third force cannot succeed in Gujarat –even if the AAP is offering itself as an alternative to the BJP. The Congress appears to be far from a fighting mood to challenge the BJP.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s campaign is a vote for Congress candidates could well be a vote for the BJP because ultimately many Congress MLAs may switch to the BJP. But, there is a sense of palpitation among local BJP leaders as to how the anti-incumbency factors could damage their prospects in certain areas. After being in power for 27 years, the BJP is plagued by charges of inept governance and irregularities at all levels.

Look at the Morbi tragedy!

Around 500 people were on a suspension bridge in Morbi when the cables supporting it snapped, sending people crashing into the Machchhu river below last week.

With 140 lives lost, innumerable people still feared missing and 180 people rescued after the collapse of a British-era bridge, the mishap damaged the Gujarat model. Modi was very upset that local BJP leaders in Gujarat had let him down by their style of functioning when he is doing all he can to get the BJP elected for the seventh time.  Every time he has gone to the state, Modi’s campaign has focused on his own leadership and the drive it has provided for the BJP government, which has been in power since 1995. Modi feels the BJP has to brace up for the damage done by local leaders.

Modi knows the extent of corruption in Gujarat since he shifted to Delhi to become PM in 2014. That is why the Vijay Rupani ministry had to be replaced by a ministry of new faces led by Bhupendra Patel. The disaster in Morbi has only exposed the level of rampant nexus and negligence and the propensity of local leaders to commit irregularities in civic bodies, which have been under the BJP’s rule for more than 15 years.

Many ex-ministers feared that Modi and Shah would certainly go for a surgical solution.  That is what has exactly happened. The BJP declared nearly 166 candidates in which as many as 40 sitting legislators have been dropped including several top ministers in a bid to bring in new faces to cut down anti incumbency factor in the state.

The exercise to bring in new faces and also rope in a large number of Congress MLAs as BJP nominees has riled its own cadres and leaders. Many have  held protests in their local areas, rushed to the party headquarters in Gandhinagar, and even went to the media publicly venting their anger towards the party leadership.

Outgoing party MLA MadhuSrivastav from Vaghodia in Vadodara has resigned from the party after he was denied a ticket from his pocket borough from where he has won six times. He is now set to contest the Gujarat Assembly polls as an independent candidate. He even refused to meet Harsh Sanghavi, Minister of the State for Home, who has been asked to manage Mr. Srivastav and two other leaders who have also been denied tickets and are now on warpath with the party.

In Saurashtra, former legislator Arvind Ladani has resigned from the party after he failed to get the party’s nomination from Keshod seat. He was MLA from the seat 2012-2017. The party has repeated its sitting MLA Devabhai Malam; who is also a minister in the government. In fact, Ladani was dropped in 2017 to bring in Malam, who won the seat during the anti BJP wave in Saurashtra.

Maybe, a list of new faces, coupled with Modi’s aggressive campaign, can help the BJP tide over this gap.

But then, Modi has had a deep desire that the BJP must better the record of the Congress of 1985 when it won 149 of the total 182 assembly seats in Gujarat.

The Congress had made a record haul of 149 under the leadership of Madhavsinh Solanki in that year. He succeeded in cobbling together a social-political alliance referred to as KHAM (representing the communities of Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim). Of course, since then, the politics of Gujarat has undergone several changes, particularly after 2001 when Modi became chief minister and the state witnessed horrible riots of 2002 . This has left a deep divide among the Hindus and Muslims.

Subsequently, Modi worked on what he called the “Gujarat model” of governance even as the BJP worked on the lacuna of the  KHAM alliance.  This alliance had excluded the Patidars or Patels, whom the BJP began to woo as a counter to KHAM and it rode to power on the support of this community, which is spread across the state.

In the 2017 polls, it was the lack of the Patel community’s support for the BJP on the issue of quota that cost it dearly.

Its tally of seats plummeted to 99.

Modi’s calculation is that, along with his appeal and a younger and a fresh lot of BJP candidates, the BJP can usher in fresh choices for the voters.

Seen in this context, the BJP’s best hope may be to win 122 seats, which will still be a big improvement over the 2017 tally though not close to what Modi desires.  In 2017, all the 29 candidates fielded by AAP had also lost their deposits as the Congress’ tally surged to 77. This time, in the absence of strategists like Ahmed Patel, a long-time aide of the Gandhi family, the Congress may win only between 15 and 30.

In the 2017 assembly polls, the BJP got nearly 49.05 per cent while the Congress ended with 41.44 per cent of the votes. It was also the first election since Modi shifted to Delhi as PM after serving as CM for 13 years.

In 2012, when Modi was still CM, the BJP had won 115 seats, securing  47.85 per cent of votes. The Congress won 61 seats with 38.93% votes in its favour. In the  Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won 60.1 per cent of the votes, winning all 26 seats in 2014 and 2019. Congress got 32.6% votes.

Nevertheless, as a political observer underlined how the emergence of AAP is significant. All former third forces in Gujarat were born out of either the Congress or the BJP. But the AAP has come to the state as “a brand-new idea”, at a time when at least a third of its voters are below 40 years of age and presumably more receptive to change.

Gujarat is supposed to be BJP’s Hindutva laboratory. The BJP first came to power on its full strength in Gujarat in 1995 after ShankersinhVaghela rebelled against the Keshubhai Patel government. Eventually, Vaghela’s rebellion lost steam and Keshubhai returned to power.  Modi replaced Keshubhai after the Kutch earthquake left a trail of destruction and a litany of complaints in 2001.

An incident of arson in the Sabarmati Express, followed by communal riots, changed the BJP’s fortunes in Gujarat. The BJP won the 2002 Assembly elections, with 127 of the total 182 seats in its kitty. it secured 49.8% votes. The Congress was reduced to 51 seats. This was the highest number of seats won by the BJP.

In 2007, the BJP under Modi returned to power with a tally that fell to 117 seats (49.12% votes), against the Congress’s 59. The 2012 elections saw the BJP hold on to its lead, with 115 seats, with the Congress climbing just two more, to 61.

In 2014, when Modi shifted to Delhi as PM, he chose his confidante Anandiben Patel as his successor. After the agitation for quota by the Patidars, Anandiben was replaced with Vijay Rupani as CM. The BJP went to the assembly polls with Rupani as its face but the tally came down to 99. In 2017, the Congress did very well with 77 seats.

The BJP is counting on the Modi government’s schemes at the centre to help the party. “Till 2014, the narrative was that the Centre was being unfair to Gujarat, but now the mega projects that have been launched will bring in employment. These people (AAP and Congress) may talk about unemployment, but the Supreme Court clearing the EWS quota has made the Patidars happy. They are more concerned about higher education opportunities, which is now a given,” says a BJP leader.


By Shekhar Iyer

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