Gujarat Files: Modi facing his own brand of confrontation on home turf
As things stand, opposition unity is the last thing on the mind of AAP which seeks relevance in Gujarat and is least bothered about the overall outcome
A sizzling summer and a boiling political cauldron seem all set to heat up the Gujarat polls well before time as Narendra Modi and Amit Shah move to defend their home turf and the Opposition readies to challenge them.
There is lots going on beneath the surface as the chessboard is being setfor the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh state assembly elections due later this year. For now, a triangular battle is in the offing as the Aam Aadmi Party(AAP) throws its hat into the ring to wrestle space for itself in a traditionally BJP-Congress confrontational format.
Gujarat acquires added importance for Prime Minister Modi when he seeks a third term for himself and his party at the Centre in the 2024 national elections. One can almost visualise him making a ‘son of the soil’ pitch when push comes to shove in the ensuing polls in the state.
However, it was inspite of this and assorted campaign theatrics that the Congress administered a fright to the BJP in the 2017 Assembly polls, bagging 77 seats and bringing the ruling party to below 100 in a House of 182. In the period thereafter, itused the by-now familiar carrot-stick (resign-reelect) policy to wean away legislators and bring it down to 64 while boosting its own numbers to 111.
Modi’s entire political persona is based on aggression and confrontation and the BJP, a far cry from the party of the Atal- Advani era, has now begun to reflect the same. Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP also strategises to use the politics of protests (aggression) to make forays into opponents’ territories. This has now led to a scenario where Modi’s party in power is at the moment faced with the very same strategy that he himself used to claw into and consolidate his hold. This time the similar challenge is from AAP and Congress but both working independently and sometime at cross-purposes.
Kejriwal’s first notable success in Gujarat was when his party managed to bag 27 seats in the Surat Municipal Corporation elections in February last year sending its hopes of making inroads in the statesoaring. It subsequently pitched inaggressively into the Municipal Corporation elections in the state capital of Gandhinagar in October last year with disastrous results for the opposition.
The BJP which had never been voted to power in the GMC swept the elections securing 41 of the total 44 seats. The first civic polls in Gandhinagar in 2011 were won by the Congress with 18 seats to the BJPs 15 but it came to power through the backdoor when three Congress corporators including the mayor defected. In 2016 both principal rivals came up equal with 16 seats each in a House of 32 but the BJP usurped power through a defector who was made mayor.
The combined opposition in the Gandhinagar civic body is now a mere auto-rickshaw load-- three members-- two Congress and one AAP. Interestingly the combined Congress-AAP vote percentage of 49.79 percent surpassed BJPs 46.49 per cent.
The BJP is happy it swept the civic body with a ‘facial’ of new faces, AAP is satisfied it polled second highest in 16 of the 44 seats and the Congress is convinced that AAP is the B team of the BJP as it sees it in the division of opposition inclined voters.
The election results of the smallest municipal corporation in Gujarat should ideally not merit so much attention but for the fact that it could well provide some indication of the pattern and outcome of the ensuing state elections.
The warring opposition, opting for survival of the fittest, decimates itself to the glee of the ruling BJP. Add to this Asaduddin Owaisi’s AIMIM which is set to wade in to wean away Muslim votes and the opposition’s dire need to put on their thinking caps becomes imperative.
As things stand,opposition unity is the last thing on the mind of AAP which seeks relevance in Gujarat and is least bothered about the overall outcome. Their Gujarat in-charge, Sandeep Pathak, predicts 58 seatsfor his party on the basis of ascientific survey. As in Punjab, AAP is showcasing its schools in Delhi and offering to replicate them in Gujarat. It took the heightened projection of Modi’s Schools of Excellence scheme to combat it.
The state BJP president C.R.Patil is credited with the opinion that Modi’s move to replace the entire cabinet including the chief minister has worked to neutralize anti-incumbency but the fact remains that with the Congress upping the ante as well, the BJP government has yielded ground to the opposition at least on two major counts.
Heightened protests in the tribal areas of Gujarat have forced the Union government to hastily put into cold storage the Par-Tapi- Narmada river linking project announced by the Union Finance Minister with great fanfare in her budget speech. The project proposes to transfer river water from the surplus regions of the Western Ghats to the deficit regions of Saurashtra and Kutch. As protests mounted, the state government hastily urged the Centre to put the project on hold and an announcement to this effect was made in response to Congress protests in the State Assembly.
On March 31, riding over Congress protests, the Gujarat government introduced and passed a Bill in the State Assembly to curb the menace of stray cattle in urban areas. As protests mounted and a campaign against BJP was launched by the pastoral communities, on April 8, education minister and government spokesperson Jitu Vaghani announced that the Bill has been put on hold till their concerns are addressed.
If the AIMIM possesses the potential to chisel at the Muslim vote bank of the Congress, AAP will harm the BJP more than the Congress in the urban areas which are considered saffron party strongholds.
Back of the envelope, poll calculations have generally seen Congress deriving its major support from rural Gujarat. The real picture will unfold when the political paint brush strokes the canvas in the days to come.
(The writer is a columnist and commentator based in Ahmedabad. Views are personal)
(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)