Landslide Victory - Modi Delivers Gujarat to BJP
BJP sets a record
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has delivered Gujarat to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) once again. The saffron party has gone on to register a landslide victory in the cradle of its ideology. At the time of filing this report, the BJP was all set to break the record set by the Madhavsinh Solanki led Congress government in 1985 when it had won 149 of the total 182 assembly seats.
The Congress has come up with yet another dismal performance in stark contrast to what it had managed to achieve in 2017 when the results showed that election to be a close fight.
New entrant, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has announced its arrival on the political scene of Gujarat, a state that has assumed immense significance with both the Prime Minister Modi and his man Friday union Home Minister Amit Shah representing it. Another new entry, the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) has failed to make a mark.
That this Gujarat election would be Modi's show was pointed out by The Citizen when the campaign began. The message going out from the state ahead of the 2024 parliamentary polls is that Modi remains Gujarat's hero. He has proved it once again by a tireless campaign for his party spending a lot of time and effort in his home turf. After coming to power in UP last year, Modi had shifted almost immediately to Gujarat with a road show the very next. And from then on the BJP and Gujarat have been in poll mode.
Beating anti-incumbency and real issues that were posing a challenge to the BJP's poll narrative, Modi once again emerged as a dream seller mixing his narrative with emotive issues like the Narmada project and also internal security with the party raking up the communal past.
Modi made himself the selling point through the campaign, often portraying himself as a victim of opposition abuses and assaults. He managed to engage the electorate with the slogan 'I have made this Gujarat' thereby giving them a sense of belonging while also playing up the element of Gujarati 'Asmita' or pride, something that he has done in the past also.
It was interesting to see in the run up to the polls that a large number of people were not even aware of the name of the present chief minister of the state but were only talking about PM Modi.
Another interesting message from this election is that the BJP is not willing to drop even an inch of its Hindutva plank. This was underlined by the party when it fielded CK Raulji from the Godhra seat in Panchmahals and Payal Kukrani from the Naroda seat in Ahmedabad. The former had courted controversy in the matter pertaining to the release of the convicted rapists of Bilkis Bano and his comments that had followed the release, while the latter is the daughter of a convict in the Naroda Patiya massacre of 2002.
Modi's appeal also cut through the rebellious party dissidents, and the large import of Congress leaders into the BJP. Interestingly, while almost everyone this reporter spoke to during the past days raised the issues of price rise and unemployment, they also said that there was no other leader who matched the Prime Minister. And that he had no competition.
The Congress campaign was nowhere to be seen even as its leaders were claiming to have changed the strategy and gone to the grassroots working at the booth level. This has not yielded any results for the moment. Senior party leader Rahul Gandhi who is carrying out the Bharat Jodo Yatra at present had made a token appearance in the state in the run up to the polls. This time the party candidates had been left on their own to fend for themselves with barely a strategy in place.
Unlike the last election when Rahul Gandhi had managed to stitch together a powerful coalition with leaders like Jignesh Mevani who had emerged as the Dalit face, Hardik Patel who had emerged from the Patidar reservation stir and Alpesh Thakor of the other backward castes (OBC) segment, no such effort was evident this time. Hardik and Alpesh had gone on to join the saffron party while Jignesh contested once again from the Congress. At the time of filing of this report while Hardik and Alpesh were leading from their respective constituencies of Viramgam and Gandhinagar (South), Jignesh was finding the going tough in Viramgam.
The BJP decision to replace former chief minister Vijay Rupani and his entire cabinet with Bhupendra Patel and new faces a year ahead of the polls along with the Supreme Court's recent judgement on reservation for the economically weaker classes (EWS) has worked to the benefit of the saffron force.
The emergence of AAP as a new force in Gujarat is the only factor of interest in these polls. As this is the first time in almost three decades that a party, other than the BJP, has managed to set the narrative and provoked a response from the ruling party.
AAP's poll narrative on issues of governance, free power and education had caught the fancy of the people to some extent. Winning a state like Gujarat that has been a stronghold of the BJP for almost 30 years without a solid organizational structure in place was too big a dream for AAP to have realized. Yet its arrival on the scene is something that the BJP cannot take lightly as this would mean more forays by AAP's national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to the state in the days to come. And will raise the decibel levels on the issues that AAP has projected as its forte.
As the poll statistics will be deciphered in the days to come it will be interesting to note how AAP performed at the micro level, where it made a dent, how much and to whom. Meanwhile, AIMIM had restricted itself to the Muslim pockets only where too it drew major criticism from within the community itself with the people questioning large scale desertions by those that had joined the party in the last one year. A large number of voters have been referring to this party as "Leela Kamal' (Green Lotus) where Kamal is identified as a symbol of the BJP.
The results that are way above the 127 mark that the BJP had achieved at the height of communal polarization of 2002 go to point out that the real issues do not really matter. And the party has consolidated in the face of Covid mismanagement, the recent Morbi bridge collapse and other issues. PM Modi remains the mascot for the people of Gujarat who have reposed faith in him and the BJP yet again.