Poll Bound Gujarat: A Challenge For Modi

The BJP has high stakes in the ensuing assembly elections in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s karmabhoomi– Gujarat. BJP president Amit Shah has set a target of over 150 seats in the 182-member assembly. By staging the roadshow along with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe, Modi has kickstarted his party’s election campaign. But will the Modi magic work in his home state this time too – that remains to be seen, writes VIDYARTHI KUMAR

Success is definitely not what one attains easily spoon-fed. Much tougher is to retain it. Narendra Modi has achieved success – in fact, a few spectacular glories and has retained them for the last decade. But at the top he is also a loner.
Hence in the run-up to the assembly elections in his home state Gujarat – politically considered a ‘pocket borough’ – Prime Minister Modi is under immense pressure to deliver. “As a chief minister if Vijay Rupani is keeping his fingers crossed, think about Modi,” says Yusufbhai Shaikh, a cloth merchant in Ahmedabad.
Even other sections among the citizenry – including Hindus – admit about this pressure factor. But it is more in the form of higher expectations, some say. According to Dinesh Soni, a resident of Navrangpura in Ahmedabad, “Politically, Mr Modi’s intent to showcase Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar – his one-time karmabhoomi – as the ‘neo-developmental face’ of India assumes significance in view of ensuing polls.” His reference is to the hyped roadshow undertaken by Modi alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Mrs Akie Abe on September 13.
True, the BJP and the Prime Minister Modi along with the party chief Amit Shah have high stakes in this year’s polls. Modi himself ruled the state from 2001 up to May 2014. The principal opposition Congress was in power last time in the state in 1995 when then popular Chhabildas Mehta was the chief minister.
“It’s true, BJP has a lot in stakes in this year’s elections,” says Yusufbhai Shaikh. Agree several BJP supporters among the gathering at Sabarmati Riverfront, who were waiting for PM Modi’s roadshow. According to many, this is why the BJP president Amit Shah has set a target of over 150 seats in the 182-member assembly.
“Under Mr Modi, BJP always polled around 120 or less…They will not tolerate anything less than this as Narendra Modi is now Prime Minister. Hence, a bigger target. It makes sense,” says BJP worker Naveen Kumar.

Although he is milking it for what it is worth, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s stand over Narmada is a saga of flip-flop and ever changing position; (Below Right):The work on Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s statue near Narmada front is going on with a breakneck speed

Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani endorses the views but he has his own analogy. “BJP chief Amit Shahji has set the target of 150 to 160 seats. This is not unrealistic. Remember the UP elections, Amitbhai had addressed a BJP core group meeting. He told us that BJP will win over 250 seats and form the government on its own. You all in the media and our opposition laughed at those figures. Media made lot of hype about Rahul Gandhi-Akhilesh Yadav alliance. But, see, the BJP got higher and same will be repeated in Gujarat,” Rupani told this writer. (See Interview box).
“The target can be achieved. In 2014 elections, we won 73 out of 80 seats in UP. In Gujarat, we won all the 26 Lok Sabha seats. My point is, we have been winning Gujarat assembly elections with Modi as chief minister. Now, he is our Prime Minister; we deserve to win more seats (smiles)”.

to highlight his well-crafted image – ‘a catalyst of change’, Pm lined uP other develoPmental agenda – most of it in common knowledge of gujarati voters.

Subsequently to highlight his well-crafted image – ‘a catalyst of change’, PM lined up other developmental agenda – most of it in common knowledge of Gujarati voters. Hence the high drama involving Japanese Prime Minister Abe for the ‘Groundbreaking ceremony’ for country’s first bullet train between traders’ paradise Ahmedabad and country’s commercial hub Mumbai.
Another highlight is Narmada Dam. The new gates of the Sardar Sarovar project would raise the height of the dam to 138.68 metres. From Kevadiya to Dabhoi – locals were involved, so were monks and sadhus. It may be mentioned here that the Narmada Control Authority in June this year granted permission to thestate government to close the gates, which will raise water level in the Sardar Sarovar reservoir.
“Raising the height of the dam will prove to be a boon for Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra.Its value would be more realised in times of water stress. Due to enhanced storage, the hydropower generation would be increased by about 40 per cent,” says PC Vyas, chief engineer, Sardar Sarovar project.
There are other few issues involved with Narmada project which BJP hopes to use effectively to score a point over Congress. The enhanced height would also mean 3.75 times increase in the live storage capacity of the project. So, more water means more relief to water-scarce areas of Saurashtra and adjoining areas.
Historically, the Congress could have claimed some credit as the work on Sardar Sarovar project had begun originally in 1961 under Prime Ministership of Pt Jawaharlal Nehru. However, after disputes and setting up of a tribunal, the contract was awarded only in 1987 with the proposal for work for 1,210-metrelong and 163-metre height.
But the dam construction work was stayed in 1995 and finally in October 2000 the Supreme Court gave its landmarkverdict and directed for expeditious completion of the project with stage-wise permission.
“The public image in Gujarat and parts of Rajasthan is while Congress soft-pedalled on anti-water protagonists like Medha Patkar and Arundhati Roy, the BJP insisted on water. Therefore, special arrangements for projecting Narmada project too as an achievement of saffron party,” says an official on the condition of anonymity.
In this context, one Vadodara-based Bharatiya Yuva Morach leader Santosh Jariwala says, “Prime Minister Modi is credited for clearing the way for installation of the gates of the dam. Till 1997, the Narmada project was moving at a snail’s pace, but Narendra Modi put it on a fast track.”

historically, the congress could have claimed credit as the work on sardar sarovar Project had begun originally in 1961 under Prime minister nehru

Echoing similar sentiment, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani says, “Sardar Sarovar project is considered as one of the largest human endeavours to transport 11.7 billion cubic metre of water every year to a distance up to 700 kilometres to quench the thirst of the water-scarce areas. It will be a miracle as during the Congress regime, people suffered even for ‘one ghara (earthen pot)’ of water.”
Caste arithmetic – agame of chess
But the caste factor and the anguish of one particular section – the Patidars – make BJP little nervous. The Patidars’ movement, which rocked 2015 politics, resulted in the ouster of Anandiben Patel. “My understanding about Patidar movement is that basically the people from upper castes complain that they have been deprived of medical or engineering seats while students with less marks from lower castes and reserve category have benefited,” says CM Rupani. But he claims the Patidar movement has “weakened” as the state government has set up the Rs 1,000-crore fund – Mukhyamantri Yuva Swavalamban Yojana – under which issues concerning youth from all communities including the Patidars will be addressed. “Number of engineering colleges would come up which will ensure admission of people from upper castes,” he says.
However, there are a few like Karsan Soneri, a local Congress leader, who says Patidars’ agitation still burns Gujarat. “Two buses were burnt in Surat on the eve of Japanese PM’s visit. The BJP has actually exploited the socio-religious polarisation cultivated by the ‘Gujarat model’. Modi was able to win elections three times because his politics was directed at Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis.”

“BJP always believes in good governance… PM Modi has led Gujarat onto the path of transformation”

Vijay Rupani is under immense pressure to deliver. But as chief minister his every action and achievements are compared to Narendra Modi. Here once underestimated Vijay Rupani speaks out articulating with confidence on the crucial works he has done and shared the roadmap on how his party will retain power:

What’s the ensuing election in Gujarat all about? The BJP is banking on ‘brand Moditva’ to win polls?
Vijay Rupani: BJP always believes in good governance. Gujarat has been a policy-driven state and under Narendrabhai the system was well institutionalised. Basic things about governance in Gujarat have not changed. After Modi moved as Prime Minister, we had been governing on the basis of the institutionalised system. The focus is on overall development and people’s welfare.
The question of ‘brand Moditva’ is not necessary because he is our party’s face and the Prime Minister of the country.
What is the roadmap like? Why this target of 150 in 182-member assembly? Why Prime Minister Modi is making repeated visits?
Vijay Rupani: Again see, talking about Modi-brand is nothing new. The BJP had approached the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections too under the leadership ofthe Prime Minister. BJP chief Amit Shah has his role. My point is PM Modi has led Gujarat onto the path of transformation. The BJP chief has set a target of 150 seats. I will explain it, in the 2014 elections, we won 73 out of 80 seats in UP. In Gujarat, we won all the 26 Lok Sabha seats. My point is, we have been winning Gujarat assembly elections with Modi as chief minister. Now, he is our Prime Minister; it’s simple, we deserve to win more seats (smiles).
But is it not an unrealistic target? Even under Narendra Modi and during the peak of his popularity, BJP did not win so many seats?
Vijay Rupani: Look, these are some of the issues where we as politicians and you all in the media differ. Remember the UP elections, Amit-bhai had told a BJP core group meeting. He told us that the BJP will win over 250 seats and form the government on its own. You all in the media and our opposition laughed at those figures. Media made lot of hype about Rahul Gandhi-Akhilesh Yadav alliance. But, see, the BJP got higher and same will be repeated in Gujarat.
You are facing anti-incumbency of last two decades. There is Patidar anguish. Your party also needs to win Muslim support?
Vijay Rupani: Politics is dynamics, but there are some rules and norms. Anti-incumbency can work onlywhen the government becomes distant to the people. This factor is missing in media debates. In Gujarat, Congress is away from people. We know politics from people’s point of view. That’s why Narendrabhai could win three elections. This happened in other states also. Our government has been pro-people. My government’s response system is very good. When Banaskantha was flooded, our government camped, undertook relief measures. We announced Rs 1,500-crore package. As for Muslim votes, after Triple Talaq I can tell you there will be Muslim women voting for us. 

Not many can dismiss the Congress allegation. Analysis of election results in 2002, 2007 and 2012 show it clearly that the BJP has benefited by winning over middle class and the neo-middle class who are highly aspirational.
“They represent Modi’s ‘New India’ vision component. That’s why Modi’s electoral machine is so lethal. It has a wholesome package of good caste management, religious polarisation and the pro-development tilt,” says Rupamkumar Goradia, a college faculty in Ahmedabad.
It is in this context, many say, by staging the eight-km stretch roadshow along with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie, and planning a visit to Masjid premises, Modi has kick-started his election campaign. “This is a well-orchestrated strategy and a political master stroke,” says Goradia.
Bringing in Japanese PM and business delegation for talks – ignoring country’s capital, was also Modi’s style of telling entrepreneur-minded Gujaratis that his home state and its people would always get priority.
The high drama also gives a right message to seek investment for the business-friendly community in a state – where people are waxing eloquently about joblessness. “Demonetisation resulting in sick units and joblessness is the main concern of Gujaratis this year and some of them are determined to punish BJP. PM Modi should be ready for this,” says Haren Bhakta, who lost his job in Surat.
But the BJP has well-crafted argument to counter these. The note-ban decision was taken as a harsh measure, they say adding as a whole this will show results in curbing terrorism and also putting the economy on the right track.

Daily labourers and hawkers wait for day-job;

Among a series of dos and don’ts as planned by BJP for poll campaign, the saffron party leaders would highlight in details and name terrorists – who were eliminated after demonetisation. “The kind of actions by military and NIA raids against Kashmir terrorists provide enough fodder to the BJP and the Bajrang Dal foot soldiers. A detailed campaign strategy has been planned on these lines to counter growth rate and job cut figures,” a key party insider told this magazine.
In fact, several women BJP volunteers who gathered near the Sabarmati Riverfront to welcome Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe endorse PM Modi as a great leader. “Aamro Modi ji great chhey (Our PM Modi is great),” said Alpana Palan.
The BJP’s continuous electoral success shows ‘social polarisation’ and the right kind of synthesis between effective caste and class management have helped Narendra Modi’s party. “The BJP was able to make inroads into the traditional OBC votebanks of the Congress and it has sustained that. Therefore, social engineering resulted in communities like Kshatriyas, Adivasis and Kolis backing the BJP in 2012 (up by 11 per cent) as the community deserted the Congress having backed Sonia Gandhi’s party in 2007,” says businessman Madhubhai Kapadia. Chief Minister Vijay Rupani rejects caste politics and says, “It suits us that the Congress has split. Gujarat never entertained any third front. Even in the past senior leaders like Chimanbhai Patel and Keshubhai Patel tried. Shankersinh Vaghela himself had launched his regional party RJP, but nothing moved. Therefore, despite all its weaknesses, our contest in Gujarat is against Congress,” says Rupani.
These remarks of Rupani also suggest that he is relieved as Congress is a “divided” house. “It was not the BJP which broke the Congress in Gujarat. Congress and its government at the Centre had been harming the development of Gujarat, which alienated leaders and people against the party,” he says.
Many BJP leaders also dismissCongress leader Ahmed Patel’s victory in Rajya Sabha polls as an individual case. “There will be no impact. Rather Ahmed is a liability for Congress in socio-political context,” says one BJP strategist.

Streets hardly reflect the much-talked about development in the state

But Ahmed Patel succeeded in giving a message that he is a fighter and he is ready to take on his competitors head on. This has definitely inspired many. “But more than the personal victory – his election has a wonderful political message. The message ought to be understood. Ahmed Patel now should focus on national politics and give a fresh lease of life to the Congress party’s revival campaign,” says GV Anshuman Rao ofProf GV Sudhaker Rao Foundation.
Hence, the stage is all set for an interesting electoral fray. Modi has so far been able to brave through various challenges, now he needs to win an election by assuring Gujaratis that he may be Prime Minister of India – but he remains ‘aamro Gujarati’.