Thursday, April 25, 2019
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Status quo, a tough ask

The BJP may not have as smooth a sailing as it had in 2014 when it rooted the Congress out from all 26 seats in the home state of the PM21 Apr 2019 | 7:03 AM[ + read story ]

Manas Dasgupta in Ahmedabad 

The Modi wave, which dominated the last General Election, is not seen this time. Since political positions seem virtually unchanged, it may not be that easy for the Congress to win 

The downhill slide of the Congress in Gujarat continues, especially as it has not been able to halt poaching of its rank and file by the rival BJP. This has considerably dampened the upbeat spirit of its partymen, who were hoping to repeat in the Lok Sabha the improved performance it had shown in the last state Assembly elections. Much has also changed since December 2017 when the Assembly elections were held and the BJP was able to resurrect some parts of rural Gujarat which it seemed to have considerably lost in 2017. But most importantly, the futures of two sons of the state, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP national president Amit Shah, are at stake in this election. 

Voters in Gujarat are bound to be carried away by the emotional appeal of Modi and Amit Shah, the two most powerful men in the country now. Modi has successfully imprinted this into minds of the voters in Gujarat that they are not just two individuals but they represent “the pride of Gujarat” in the rest of the country. “If you want to your son to continue to work for the betterment of India, vote for the BJP,” is the appeal Modi made in his election meetings in Gujarat. A similar appeal was made by Amit Shah.

And yet, the BJP may not have as smooth a sailing as it had in 2014 when it rooted out the Congress from all 26 seats in the state. There is nothing to indicate that the “Modi wave” has dissipated in his home state but the BJP is unnerved because of several factors, still in place. However, these factors have supposedly shrunk the BJP to its smallest size since the advent of the Modi era in 2001, are still in place.

Nothing more to lose 

Having reached the pinnacle by registering its best possible performance in 2014, the BJP is now faced with the daunting task of maintaining the status quo. With no seats in its kitty, the Congress has nothing more to lose. Victory, even on one seat, will mean cent per cent gain for the Congress and make the task of the BJP to win a clear majority in the Lok Sabha harder, besides causing loss of face to Modi and Shah. Thanks to Modi who did not allow anyone under his shadow to grow, his successors in Gujarat, Anandiben Patel and the incumbent Chief Minister Vijay Rupani have consistently failed to deliver and solve the problems of the farmers. The complaints include lack of support price, remunerative returns for their produces, payment of crop insurance, supply of irrigation water and many more. 

No efforts hasd been made till the last week to bridge the wedge that firebrand young leader Hardik Patel had created between the BJP and the ‘Patidars’ through his reservation agitation. 

The BJP left no stone unturned to try to discredit Hardik once he showed his inclination to join the Congress but did not succeed. The politically active Patidars constitute about 21 per cent of the total number of voters in the state and are a decisive factor in many of the seats in the Saurashtra and North Gujarat regions.

Enter parachute leaders

The BJP has adopted the easy way of damaging the Congress by luring away its elected members with lucrative offers. It has already taken away five of its MLAs with two of them already having been made ministers in the Rupani cabinet. Three others, including prominent OBC leader Alpesh Thakor, were made to quit the Congress. During the past couple of weeks, there has been a steady flow of Congressmen crossing over to the BJP. 

The Congress has been hit hard by defections but has kept its faith on the voters hoping that the defectors would be suitably dealt with in the elections. The large-scale defections from the Congress ranks has also been creating problems for the BJP as many of its sincere and dedicated workers were feeling hurt at the “parachute” leaders being given prominence and lucrative share of spoils at the cost of the party flag-bearers who have continued to suffer humiliation. 

Gujarat has been suffering from Modi ‘withdrawal’ symptoms ever since he left for Delhi though he keeps a hawk eye on the state through Shah and former bureaucrat KK Kailashnathan , chief principal secretary to the chief minister then when Modi was CM and even now. 

The 2017 state Assembly elections highlighted the loosening grip of the BJP. Amit Shah, who had boasted of bagging 150 of the total 182 seats to set a new record found that its tally had fallen to 99, the lowest ever since 2001. Meanwhile, the Congress had improved to best-ever tally of 77 during the same period. The results also brought out the near-total urban-rural divide — the urban areas remained with the BJP and the rural by and large veered towards the Congress. Of the 55 seats in and around the four key cities of Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Rajkot and Surat, the BJP bagged 44. The Congress got only 11. Out of 127 seats in the semi-urban and predominantly rural areas, the Congress mopped up 72 seats, leaving only 55 to the BJP.

An extrapolation of the Assembly results with the Lok Sabha seats would mean the Congress victory on at least eight of the 26 seats but the electioneering is no simple arithmetic. All indicators point out that the Congress has not been able to breach even an inch into the BJP urban bastion. Alarmed over its loss in the suburban and rural areas, the BJP took up in right earnest the work to soothe the hurt feelings of the voters. Anything more than one seat would be a creditable show for the Congress. For the BJP, any breach in the bund would be a body blow and bad for morale.

MODI: Strength or weakness?

The BJP’s biggest strength Modi is also its flawed weakness. Modi’s more than 13-year-rule in Gujarat saw his complete domination. He was the party and he was the government. A cadre-based party is a pyramidal structure with power flowing from the bottom to the top. Modi inverted this pyramid to turn it into a Congress-like structure where the power flows from the top to the bottom. It is the same ‘Gujarat model’ which has been replicated at the centre. Now it is the persona of Modi that rules with the BJP taking a backseat while Amit Shah is the face that ensures complete Modi control over the party set up.

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