Gujarat's Poll Campaign Moves on Familiar Track
Bharatiya Janata Party's leaders are raising the pitch on emotive issues
The poll campaign in Gujarat is moving on its expected trajectory with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) resorting once again to its tried and tested tactics of raking up emotive issues. The other two players, BJP's traditional rival the Congress and the rookie Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) are trying to wean away the public towards issues that concern their survival. These two parties are making fervent appeals to the people to give them a chance and put the brakes on the 27-year-old rule of the saffron party.
However, the common man on the streets of Ahmedabad stands disenchanted. The voters want the new government to check the spiralling prices, and let him or her earn their living in peace.
On the streets of Ahmedabad there is hardly any enthusiasm for the polls. But this has been the case on several previous occasions as well. It is only after some persuasion that people talk politics in resigned tones.
"I don't give a damn who wins or loses. I just want essentials to be within the reach of my pocket. My home in Vasna was burnt in 2002 riots and till today my family has been struggling to make ends meet. There has been no let up in the hate being peddled. We just want a peaceful existence so that we can manage our families without fear of any kind," said Hasnain Sheikh, an auto rickshaw driver from Makarba area of the city.
People are somehow resigned also to the fact that BJP, at least in public perception, has an edge. "I know that people suffered a lot during the second wave of Covid-19. Then there have been instances like the Morbi bridge disaster. The government made things more difficult by imposing goods and services tax (GST) even on edibles and stationery. Yet people will still vote for the BJP. As a Congress supporter I fail to understand why this happens," asked Ishwar Sinh, a resident of Ghatlodia in an interaction with this reporter.
Coming to the poll campaign tactics, the ruling BJP's poll assault is being led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and union home minister Amit Shah since Gujarat happens to be their home turf. People who understand the politics in the state are clear that this is a high-stakes battle, in context of the 2024 Parliamentary polls.
"A substantial increase in the BJP's tally would translate into Modi and Shah's stronghold continuing in the party towards 2024. If the results are otherwise and even though the party forms the government in Gujarat with lesser seats, there are chances of voices of discontent rising within the saffron fold. This looked an improbability till sometime back even in Gujarat but this time there has been vocal discontent over ticket distribution," said an Ahmedabad based political observer.
The BJP has started using its battery of central leaders to raise the pitch on emotive issues. So you have BJP leaders talking about Congress leader Rahul Gandhi's bearded look during the Bharat Jodo Yatra and comparing him to former Iraqi President Saddam Hussain, a remark that obviously has communal undertones.
PM Modi on his part has started pulling out Gujarat centric emotive issues out of his hat. Proving his reputation of being an excellent communicator, he has got the people chanting with him, "I made this Gujarat" thereby generating a sense of belonging and pride among his audience.
"This sense of pride, called 'Asmita' in Gujarati, however, automatically transforms into hatred for others who have thrown their hat in the electoral ring. He then uses this Asmita sentiment to attack his opponents accusing them of trying to destabilise and destroy Gujarat," pointed an observer.
The rest is done by foot soldiers particularly in the context of AAP as they try to paint it as a party that has come from Delhi. For the Congress, Modi is exploiting the Narmada Dam issue. After a photograph of Rahul Gandhi walking with Narmada Bachao Andolan activist Medha Patkar got circulated, Modi lost no time while addressing a rally in parched Saurashtra. He accused Rahul Gandhi of ganging up with the one who had blocked the Narmada project. Over the years, anti-dam activists have been painted as 'enemies' of Gujarat.
On Wednesday, Modi described the 'Congress model' as something that means casteism, division and vote bank politics that has 'ruined' Gujarat and the whole country. He said the BJP never favoured the policy of 'favouritism and discrimination' which is proved by the faith of youth in the party.
"They (Congress) always wanted to keep people poor so they remain dependent on the government," Modi said while addressing a rally in Mehsana in north Gujarat. He said the youth is unaware of the problems people faced in the past on account of water and power shortage.
"Droughts were also common in those days. We (BJP) had put Gujarat on the path of prosperity amid natural calamities and using limited resources. In the past, water and electricity used to be the major issues during polls. Today, the opposition can't speak on these issues because such issues are resolved by us," he claimed.
Addressing another rally in tribal dominated Dahod, Modi questioned why the Congress did not support Droupadi Murmu in the presidential election if it was so concerned about tribals. This was his response to Rahul's rally in tribal-dominated Mahuva village in Surat on Monday where he had accused the BJP of snatching away the rights of tribals.
"Why did Congress never think of making an Adivasi (tribal) our President? It was the BJP which made a tribal person, that too a woman, our country's President for the first time and sent a message to the world," Modi said.
Meanwhile, the Congress is downplaying the Medha Patkar barbs calling it a non-issue. Party leader Manish Tewari compared those drawing parallels between Rahul and Saddam with petty trolls.
"The BJP leaders have done a PhD in diverting attention of the people from real issues. Why don't you talk about development? Why don't you tell the people what you did in the last 27 years in Gujarat and eight years in the country? There is no reaction from the BJP on real issues," he said while responding to a query by The Citizen.
He was particularly aggressive on the recent Morbi bridge collapse in which 141 people died saying, "Can you imagine what would have happened if the tragedy had taken place elsewhere? But here there has been no resignation by anyone, no responsibility fixed. It is the ticket seller or a mechanic who have been arrested while there has been no action against real culprits. Why has no big fish been arrested? It is their arrogance as they think they can do whatever atrocity with the people thinking we will come back to power. We appeal to the people to demolish this arrogance."
Meanwhile it is AAP that continues to confuse observers as it moves on with its people outreach through road shows. Wednesday saw Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann participating in the road shows in tribal dominated Nizar, Vyara, Mandvi and Jhagadia.
"The people of Gujarat are fed up with the government that has been in power for 27 years. The government is a mill of corruption, the mill of unemployment, the mill of bad education, the mill of bad healthcare, and now the people of Gujarat will uproot this mill. We cleaned the mud in Delhi and in Punjab with a broom, because of which the lotus could not grow," he said.
Party's Rajya Sabha MP Raghav Chadha also participated in the roadshows at Modasa and Idar. "This time a storm of change is sweeping across Gujarat. Every person you talk to, there is only one word on their tongues and that is 'change'," he said.
He further said, "There are two models in this country, one in which a package of Rs 30,000 crore is given by the BJP, but only to industrialists and big contractors. And another, where Arvind Kejriwal will give a package of Rs 30,000 a month, which will be given to every family and common man of Gujarat. Every family of Gujarat will save Rs 30,000 per month (as per guarantees promised by AAP). BJP people say that Kejriwal is distributing Revdi.
"I want to tell the BJP people that, your Gujarat Chief Minister gets 5,000 units of electricity free, every minister gets all train travel free, every MP gets all medicine free of cost, but if Kejriwal wants to provide these facilities to every family in Gujarat, why does it bother BJP?"