Changing Optics of Gujarat Politics
Campaigns are set to intensify as Aam Aadmi Party, All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen have made it a multi cornered contest
With the Navratri over, politics is all set to get into top gear in the poll bound state of Gujarat. It is not that politics took a back seat during the nine-day festival. Politicians used the festive occasion for optics and as expected drama followed.
The Garba was performed by Punjab Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Bhagwant Mann on one hand, and there were videos of Prime Minister Narendra Modi performing Puja at Ambaji temple being circulated with zest by the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) foot soldiers. As expected it is Modi once again leading the charge for the BJP in the elections expected to take place in December.
Muslims were tied to a pole and publicly beaten, allegedly because they had participated in Garba. Videos of this hideous act were also were made viral.
Apart from the political parties carrying out their routine campaign exercises, there have been developments on the sidelines that have added new dimensions to the Gujarat polls. These developments mark the advent of a paradigm shift in state politics that is being witnessed after a long time.
For observers, and journalists reporting elections, it is time to visit issues and details of an area that may otherwise remain hidden as they were not considered to be 'of much consequence in the larger scheme of things'. Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections are the starting block of the race for the Lok Sabha polls in 2024.
To start with, after almost three decades, Gujarat is deviating from the era of a bipolar contest between the traditional rivals, the BJP and the Congress. The entry of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) across the state, along with All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) that is expected to contest some of the seats with substantial Muslim population, makes it a multi cornered contest.
How this plays out in terms of changes in vote shares or deciding winners and losers is to be left to those who will perform the post polls analysis.
The second important aspect of these polls is the rise of fresh narratives in the poll arena. The AAP is taking on the BJP on the issue of governance while promising better education and health facilities along with free power. It has been successful in setting the narrative while the BJP is being compelled to respond.
But more important is the return of narratives such as the concerns of Anganwadi workers, ex-servicemen, Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA workers), Police constabulary, farmers, Lok Rakshak Dal aspirants, village computer entrepreneurs, forest guards, kin of those killed on duty and other such smaller constituents that have made a comeback to the centre stage. Observers claim that the state has witnessed 21 agitations from such categories in the last couple of months. They say that the BJP led state government has buckled under pressure in some cases.
The AAP and the Congress extending support to the agitations added to the ruling party's troubles. The government had reportedly constituted a five-member panel to "curb stirs". Sources on the ground say that these agitating segments have come to realise that it is only around the polls that the governments are vulnerable, and they can extract something out of it. "The rise of a multiparty scenario is also responsible for this phenomenon taking centre stage this time," said an observer.
A major turmoil has been witnessed in the state on the issue of stray cattle. The BJP for a change was at the receiving end of the bovine politics that has otherwise been its strength. The state government, facing massive protests by cattle rearing communities had to recently withdraw the Gujarat Cattle Control (Keeping and Moving) in Urban Areas Bill that had been earlier passed in the budget session of the state assembly earlier this year.
The Bill called for cattle rearing populace in urban areas to obtain a licence for keeping stray bovines and get them tagged, besides preventing their movement in public spaces failing which they could face police action. This withdrawal came amidst the state High Court adopting a stringent stance on the issue of stray cattle menace in the urban areas.
Then there were the bizarre protests by those managing cow shelter homes called Panjrapole at various places including Banaskantha, Patan and Rajkot. The protestors had let loose hundreds of cattle on the roads, and also at some government office premises, demanding release of funds earmarked in the state budget for managing these Panjrapoles. In Kutch, the protestors had reportedly handed over the keys of the Panjrapoles to the officials threatening to vote against the ruling dispensation.
This is seen to have led to Modi reportedly launching the Rs 500 crore Mukhyamantri Gau Mata Poshan Yojana of the Gujarat government at Ambaji. He handed over cheques to five shelter homes of Banaskantha district that had been the centre of such protests against the non implementation of the scheme announced earlier.
Why is the BJP jittery in a state that has been its coveted stronghold for decades? The state that is represented by the two most powerful politicians in the country: PM Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah. The state is cited as a 'model in governance', and also referred to as a laboratory of Hindutva.
"What is making the party shaky is the disillusionment amongst its dedicated workers who have got tired of waiting for the fruits of power. The BJP style of governance, marked by centralisation of everything and diversion towards corporatisation, is the main reason for this.
"An ordinary worker would want a contract for a small job, or want recognition at the lower rungs of administration and Police. But the contracts are given to corporations that disburse them further according to their own preferences. The centralisation of power within the party is now beginning to show," said an observer.
An interesting phenomenon being witnessed is that of some marginalised communities throwing their weight behind the rookie AAP. This includes the community of Denotified Tribes (DNTs) that are scattered across the state, and have never been consolidated as a single voting bloc till now. The Citizen reached out to Dakxin Bajrange to understand why the AAP has emerged as the first choice over the Congress if the marginalised communities are dissatisfied with the ruling dispensation.
"To begin with, the recommendations of the National Commission for Denotified, Nomadic and Semi-Nomadic Tribes constituted under Balkrishna Sidram Renke that submitted its report in July 2008 when the Congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was in power remained largely non implemented. One of the most important recommendations pertaining to reservation benefits was flatly ruled out. Only three to four recommendations were taken forward," said Bajrange.
The Renke Commission had underlined, "it is necessary that the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 be, mutatis mutandis, made applicable to DNTs, and the implementation of the same be reviewed and monitored from time to time.
"The Constitution may be amended to include 'Scheduled Communities' under Article 330 and Article 332 to enable these communities to be eligible for reservation of seats in the Houses of the People and in the Legislative Assemblies of the States. Seats may be reserved in Block/Taluka Panchayats and Zila Pandhayats/Zila Parishads, and the Urban Local Bodies for DNTs wherever their population is concentrated.
"To mobilise additional resources to improve the socio-economic conditions of DNTS, it is suggested that 10% of the funds earmarked for M.P. Local Area Development Fund. It is suggested that the DNTs be given 10% reservation in government jobs even if the total reservation exceeds 50%."
Bajrange added, "when we tried reaching out to the state Congress leader we found it to be a deeply divided house. Besides there was no understanding of the issues pertaining to the DNTs. On the other hand, the AAP leadership was all ears to our concerns and promised to take up our issues one by one when it comes to power."
He said the effort is to bring the 90 lakh DNT population together and make it realise that even if it cannot ensure someone's victory, it can definitely ensure someone's loss. Bajrange disclosed that till now 1.5 lakh people have registered for AAP's guarantee cards across 17 districts of the state. "Communities like the DNTs, Adivasis, Dalits and minorities need to come together to make a difference," he added.
Similarly, Muslims who have been on the sidelines of the political arena in Gujarat for a long time are trying to raise their concerns on the eve of the polls. Mujahid Nafees of Minority Co-ordination Committee that had organised a Bhagidari (Inclusion) Sammelan in Ahmedabad on Sunday told this reporter, "there are many pertinent questions that need to be answered. Why is it that there are just three Muslim MLAs in the house of 182 when the community accounts for almost 11 % of the total population in the state.
"Why is it that the community gets represented in only four per cent of the total government jobs that include the contractual ones as well? We will be mobilising the people residing in minority pockets across the states to ask these questions to those seeking our votes. There are 65 Assembly segments that have minority pockets with approximately 30,000 votes."
He added that 10.58 % Muslim girls drop out of school between classes 1 to 5 and yet there is no attempt to curtail this. This can be curtailed by opening schools offering education up to class 12 in minority dominated areas of the state.
Among the main demands aired at the Bhagidari Sammelan were constitution of a minority welfare ministry in the state government, appropriate budgetary allocation for development of minorities, constitution of a minorities' commission, special economic package for the minorities, a policy for the rehabilitation of the victims of communal riots and passing of a Minorities (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
Meanwhile, a proposed Yatra on the theme of 'Apologising to Bilkis Bano' that was to be carried out from Bilkis' native village of Randhikpur to Ahmedabad was thwarted by the authorities. The Yatra under the aegis of 'Hindu Muslim Ekta Samiti' was to be led by Ramon Magsaysay awardee Sandeep Pandey along with other activists.
They were detained even before the Yatra could take off. Their detention saw a protest from the people in Godhra. The participants said that all they wanted to convey was an apology to Bilkis for what happened to her and was not against the government.
Dalit leader and MLA Jignesh Mevani took on the establishment on the issue and tweeted, "First, let the rapist free & then detain those demanding justice for victims. That's the Gujarat model for us." Pandey went on to sit on a fast that was broken on October 2 at the Kochrab Ashram set up by Mahatma Gandhi.
Noorjahan Dewan who was one of the participants in the Yatra and a protestor against it being thwarted told this reporter, "they were scared of being exposed in the public of what they had done. Their misdeeds would have been spread both by those who would have attended the programmes enroute the Yatra and also by the media coverage. This would have defamed them. We are not scared and will continue to fight against the wrong."
Sources on the ground say that there iss a lot of anger against those convicted for raping Bilkis walking out of jail and being accorded a hero's welcome. At the same time the people are scared to express their sentiment openly lest they be targeted.
During Navratri, the state was once again visited by the AAP's national convener Arvind Kejriwal and Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann. This time the two chose to target Kutch and Saurashtra. Kejriwal indulged in bovine politics promising Rs 40 per day per cow if the AAP forms government in Gujarat. "We will make Panjrapole in every district of Gujarat and take good care of cows," he said.
He repeated the pol formula adopted by the party in Punjab and said, "Congress is not getting more than 10 seats in Gujarat. The BJP and the Congress have united to defeat the AAP. The BJP and the Congress call the AAP bad in the same language. The BJP is trying its best to strengthen the Congress so that whatever votes are against the BJP get divided".
The AAP leadership has been trying to project itself as an 'honest' alternative to the BJP in the state. "Earlier, the people of Gujarat had no option. There was only one button but now if the button is changed, the fate will change. Right now the atmosphere in Gujarat is exactly the same as it was in Punjab a month before the elections, that is, the people of Gujarat are now ready to write a new story," said Mann.
On the other hand the state continues to witness an increase in the frequency of visits by PM Modi to his home turf along with the visits of other central leaders. Simply put, Modi is the BJP's poster boy for the polls. This can be seen from the video Modi Vahla released by the party. It showcases the development in the state ever since Modi emerged on the scene first as the Chief Minister and later as the Prime Minister.
Observers say that the political barometer will show the correct reading the day Modi the BJP politician, takes over from Modi the Prime Minister. Nevertheless, he has been playing the development card during his visits till now despite his detractors leaving no opportunity to attack him.
During his last visit he laid the foundation stone and dedicated various projects worth more than Rs 7200 crores in Ambaji. This included laying the foundation stones of over 45,000 houses built under Prime Minister Awas Yojana and the Taranga Hill – Ambaji – Abu Road new broad gauge line besides development of pilgrimage facilities at Ambaji temple.
In his address he played up the steps taken by his government to ensure women empowerment and stressed upon the work done in terms of construction of toilets, providing cooking gas connections, Har Ghar Jal, Jan Dhan accounts or loans without guarantee under the Mudra scheme.
"When mother is happy the family is happy, when family is happy society is happy and when society is happy the nation is happy. This is the right kind of development for which we are working relentlessly, '' Modi remarked.
In Ahmedabad he inaugurated Phase-I of Ahmedabad Metro project at a public function. He also flagged off Gandhinagar- Mumbai Vande Bharat Express at Gandhinagar station and travelled on the train from there to Kalupur Railway Station in Ahmedabad.
In his public address in Ahmedabad he said, "With the changing times, it is necessary to continuously modernise our cities with the changing needs."
Citing the success of Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar, Modi elaborated on the success of twin-city development concept and said that many twin cities like Anand-Nadiad, Bharuch-Ankleshwar, Valsad-Vapi, Surat-Navsari, Vadodara-Halol Kalol, Morbi-Wankaner and Mehsana-Kadi are going to further strengthen Gujarat's identity.
Calling out the central governments of the past, Modi pointed out the "negligent work" done to clear out the traffic jams in the cities.
"In the last eight years, we have linked infrastructure with people's aspirations. There was a time when announcements regarding infrastructure were made keeping in mind the electoral gains and losses only. The income of the taxpayer was used only for political interests. The double engine government has changed this thinking," he claimed.
The BJP leaders are also persistently attacking the Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for not including Gujarat in his Bharat Jodo Yatra. The state Congress unit has been attacking the BJP led state government while also training its guns at Modi off and on. But as of now its voices are getting drowned in the cacophony of the AAP and the counters of the BJP. It remains to be seen what the grand old party does in the final leg of the campaign.