Brand Modi Will Deliver Gujarat to the BJP
BJP in a comfortable position
With less than five months to go for the Gujarat Assembly elections, it is certain by now that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will fight in the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In the state that is often termed as the 'laboratory of Hindutva', it will be Modi versus the rest. In his earlier role as Gujarat Chief Minister, Modi had led the party to landslide Assembly Poll victories in 2002, 2007 and 2012. He then moved to the national capital as the Prime Minister. Gujarat is also the home turf of his confidant, the Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
The BJP's game plan to make it a 'Modi versus the rest' poll battle became evident the day after the results to the recent polls in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur, Goa and Punjab were being declared. He had then announced a road show in his poll bound home state, not even allowing a breather to the BJP's political rivals.
Even before that it was pretty obvious that the BJP's campaign would revolve around Modi, when the then Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and his cabinet were replaced with Bhupendra Patel, a surprise candidate.
Ever since the results of recent state polls were announced in March, Modi has been constantly visiting Gujarat making tall announcements as he visits one region after the other.
In the process all the other leaders in the party have faded away as Modi continues to get the limelight. Chief Minister Patel has been quietly going about his business while the party has been spinning narratives around Modi. Visits by both the Prime Minister and Home Minister are only expected to increase as the polls near.
An example to the BJP's poll strategy is the two week long 'Vande Gujarat Vikas Yatra' that began on July 5. The campaign revolves around the state's 20 year journey, after Modi emerged on the political horizon. Observers have pointed out that this campaign does not even touch the tenures of former CMs Keshubhai Patel and Suresh Mehta.
The first BJP government in the state had been formed under Keshubhai Patel in 1995. Gujarat became one of the larger states to come under the BJP rule, after Kalyan Singh and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat had formed governments in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Keshubhai Patel remains one of the tallest leaders from Saurashtra. He had laid the foundations of the party in the state that later became the cradle of the saffron party.
The BJP's 2022 Gujarat campaign does include ongoing works under the current CM. The work done under ex-CMs Anandiben Patel and Vijay Rupani, who were anointed after Modi's departure to Delhi were also underplayed.
The BJP leaders in the state have been reportedly defending the 'Modi era campaign' saying that it has been under his leadership that the uninterrupted development picked up pace. They said that Annadiben Patel and Vijay Rupani functioned under the "larger leadership of Modi" even if he was in a different role in Delhi.
Observers said that the BJP probably avoided the Keshubhai Patel period as it was marked by the unsavoury rebellion led by Shankersinh Vaghela. This had led to the subsequent change of guard. Keshubhai Patel was replaced by Narendra Modi in 2001, after the BJP's political fortunes were on the downslide following the Bhuj earthquake of 2001. The party had seen reversals in some of the local bodies.
But then at the end of the day it is 'brand Modi' that sells, and the BJP is encashing that. There is a video being promoted under the campaign that goes with the slogan "'Gujarat icche ver var, Banti rahe Bhajap sarkar' (Gujarat wants to repeat the BJP government again and again)". The video talks about making basics like water and power available to the masses under the BJP rule.
However, the campaign seems to have been ill timed, as the state has been lashed with heavy rains. The rival Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are going hammer and tongs at the 'Gujarat model' of development as several parts have witnessed flooding and water logging.
"But natural calamities have never had a political bearing in the last few decades, except for the Bhuj earthquake when the BJP's tally in Kutch had come down substantially in 2002 Assembly polls," said an observer.
Apart from the development narrative, another one is being built around the Congress, while taking the electorate back to the 2002 communal riots. The arrest of activist Teesta Setalvad, along with police officers RB Sreekumar and Sanjiv Bhatt following the Supreme Court judgement in Zakia Jafri case is now playing out in the political domain.
An affidavit filed in the Sessions court in Ahmedabad by the Special Investigation Team recently pointed towards a "conspiracy by the accused to destabilise the Gujarat government in 2002 at the behest of senior Congress leader late Ahmed Patel". The BJP and its well oiled political machinery were quick to give various spins to this submission.
There have been reports of the BJP accusing Congress president Sonia Gandhi "acting through Ahmed Patel to target Modi" at that point of time. The Congress' senior leader Jairam Ramesh categorically refuted the allegations. "This part of the Prime Minister's systematic strategy to absolve himself of any responsibility for the communal carnage unleashed when he was the chief minister of Gujarat in 2002," he said.
Jairam Ramesh added, "The Prime Minister's political vendetta machine clearly does not even spare the departed who were his political adversaries. This SIT is dancing to the tune of its political master and will sit wherever it is told to."
Political accusations and counter accusations apart, the question is how it is playing out among the electorate. "The BJP is once again trying to assert that Modi is still the poster boy of Hindutva and is unassailable. The strong Supreme Court judgement in the Zakia Jafri case is being construed and projected by certain elements that Modi and the State are synonymous and questioning one is questioning the other," said an observer in Ahmedabad.
"It is a clever ploy to put the Congress on the defensive, by levelling such strong allegations. The party will have to defend its leaders, and will not be able to raise real issues over a long period of time. By then the polls will be over," said another observer.
This is not the first time that the BJP has targeted Ahmed Patel. The party tried its best to deny Ahmed Patel a re-election to Rajya Sabha in 2017, but its efforts eventually proved futile. There were attempts to convey that "forces in Pakistan were very keen about the outcome of Gujarat elections".
There were anonymous posters that had come up at various places saying that if the Congress was elected to power in Gujarat, Ahmed Patel would be made CM. The apparent idea was to play up his religious identity and give a communal touch to the polls.
"The people see Ahmed Patel as a good man, but fall for the political narrative against him. This has been happening for a long time now," disclosed an observer from Bharuch which was the home turf of the Congress leader. He added, "BJP is running the poll campaign in a corporate office mode. From senior leaders to those at the hyper local level, everyone is in the campaign mode."
The 2022 campaign is expected to go shrill by the day, despite the fact that the BJP is in a comfortable position. The BJP is probably going the extra mile hoping to breach the record made by former Congress Chief Minister Madhavsinh Solanki. Under his leadership the Congress had won 149 of the 182 assembly seats in 1985.