Campaign Trail - Battle of Contrasts in Gujarat Campaigns
This election will go down as one of the dullest and colourless ones
The ongoing battle for Gujarat assembly polls, the results to which will be declared on December 8, will go down as a battle of contrasts when it comes to campaigning. It remains to be seen whether the same contrasts will follow in the polls to follow. These reflect who has the resources, grassroots links and the differences in the issues being raised as well.
The Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) campaign has been loud and shrill, while that of its traditional rival, the Congress, has been a muted one. The new entrant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has tried to introduce the mode of campaign that it has tried and tested in Delhi and Punjab.
A common refrain that one gets to hear from political observers and also the common man is that this election will go down as one of the dullest and colourless ones and the contrasts in campaigning have a role to play in that. Talking from the viewpoint of voters, they have not been showing much interest and taking everything as a matter of routine.
"What can I say? I just know that anyone who gets elected will first fill his or her own coffers. Do you think they give a damn to how the common man is reeling under inflation and economic insecurity?" said an autorickshaw driver as he took this reporter around the old city of Ahmedabad which the BJP leaders refer to as Karnawati.
The cacophony that one gets to enjoy in the other parts of the country particularly in the plains of the Hindi heartland and also the southern states is not visible in Gujarat.
For the BJP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home minister Amit Shah taking the reins into their hands right from the beginning simply translated into raising an emotional pitch laced with communal undertones.
So it was not a surprise when the talk has all been about abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya, construction of Narmada dam, bomb blasts in the past, 'teaching a lesson' to those responsible for Godhra train burning etc.
PM Modi has added the element of him being targeted and making the campaign all about himself when he has been asking people to not bother about the candidate but vote for him. He has once again raked up the tried and tested tact of playing on Gujarati 'Asmita' (pride).
He has been involving the people in saying 'I have made this Gujarat' thus giving them a sense of belonging and pride at the same time. He has taken to the road show mode demonstrating and also building up on his popularity with Gujaratis.
"You need to understand how it has been Modi who gave metro rail to Ahmedabad, developed Sabarmati river front, brought Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) and other development projects. Do you think he has done this all for himself? Do you think he will be travelling in the Metro or BRTS? No, he has done this for us," pointed a resident of Gomtipur.
Interestingly, one gets to hear loud songs reminding one of the pre-Babri demolition days when the BJP was climbing the political ladder when one visits the downtown localities of cities like Ahmedabad or mofussil towns like Godhra, Tankara etc. These songs have a chorus like 'Bharat mein jo rehna hoga Vande Matram kehna hoga' (You will have to chant Vande Matram) if you want to live in India).
The BJP's mobile campaign vans that have been travelling in the hinterland of the state simply exude affluence. The party has flooded the state with its chief ministers and leaders from other states and central units.
In sheer contrast, the Congress campaign has been muffled. In fact, it was Modi who drew public attention to the 'Khatla Baithaks' (cot meetings) being organised by the Congress leaders in the villages. Till then even the local media was unaware of what was going on and there were stories going around that the Congress campaign was a nonstarter and an unimaginative one.
PM Modi had gone a step ahead to provoke the Congress saying that it had sublet the task of abusing him (in an apparent reference to AAP). This has been another aspect of the Congress campaign wherein the leadership, the state leaders in particular, has not targeted Modi personally and focused mainly on attacking his model instead.
Senior party leader Shaktisinh Gohil said in an interaction, "Modi model is not Gujarat model. It is Mahatma Gandhi's model of compassion and nonviolence which is the real Gujarat model."
An interesting aspect of the Congress campaign is that it is the leadership from Delhi that has taken up the task of media interactions in Ahmedabad while the state leadership has been pushed out in the field. "It is a good thing as the state leaders just sat in their air conditioned chambers and made sweeping statements with no connection with the ground," said a reporter with a local newspaper.
The Congress has been countering BJP's development plank by trying to convey to the people that it was the grand old party's leadership that conceived and executed Narmada project, brought institutions like National Institute of Design, Centre for Environment Planning and Technology (CEPT) and Indian Institute of Management (IIM) besides developing the milk cooperatives under Operation Flood.
The campaigners have been reaching out through videos to tell that it was the Congress that had initiated the majority of the things for which Modi and his party are now taking credit. The party's tagline encapsulates everything as it reads 'Congress nu kaam bole che' (Congress' work speaks for itself).
Party leader Raghu Sharma said, "Our workers have concentrated on booth management and reached out to 1.5 crore families. Everyone knows the Congress that has taken up the people's issues of inflation, unemployment and social security."
On the other hand, AAP has been banking heavily on its hyper local mode of campaign, reaching out to the people through roadshows while raking up the issues of governance. There are constituencies where people are largely unaware of AAP candidates and then there are constituencies where the party has been drawing huge crowds that have surpassed even those coming to the events of its rivals.
Its promises on power, education and health facilities have clicked with the people. "I want my expenses to come down. The government has people's money that is meant to be spent on the people, not for the air travel and luxuries of those in power," is a sentiment that one gets to hear all over."But the issue that still remains is whether AAP workers manage to bring these crowds to the polling booths," observed veteran political observer Kaushik Mehta in Rajkot.
The fourth player All India Majlis-e-Ittihadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) has been confined to Muslim pockets with its leader Asaduddin Owaisi having made multiple forays into the state over the last several months. But it is yet to gain the confidence of its core constituency of Muslims. Political analysts from the community view it as 'Leela Kamal' (Green lotus) with lotus being the poll symbol of the BJP.
A large section of the community sees AIMIM as a polarising force that will cut the Congress votes. They say that the tone and tenor of the AIMIM leadership does not go to help the leadership in any way but only to help the saffron forces who already have a tight grip over the state.
All Photographs RAJEEV KHANNA