Yogi model comes to Modi's Gujarat

At BJP rallies, the bulldozers are the star attraction this time

Bulldozer at the Gujarat Election Rally
Bulldozer at the Gujarat Election Rally

RK Misra

Vikas aave chhe (Development is round the corner) was BJP’s clarion call in 2017, backed by an upbeat manifesto. Five years later, bulldozers have made their appearance at BJP’s election rallies, an ominous reminder of the ‘UP model’ replacing the ‘Gujarat model’.

At BJP rallies, the bulldozers are the star attraction this time. They stand in an impressive array, much like the destroyed Patton tanks put on display after the Indo-Pak war of 1965. To drive the message home, Yogi Adityanath, the saffron-clad chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and the new mascot of Hindutva, declares triumphantly at one rally after the other, “Our bulldozers made Uttar Pradesh riot-free.”

He is welcomed at Morbi with chants of ‘Bulldozer Baba’ by enthusiastic BJP supporters; where he once again reminds listeners of what he had achieved with bulldozers in his own state. There is no mention of the collapse of the bridge a month ago, leading to the death of at least 134 people.

While bulldozers were used in Uttar Pradesh to demolish shops and houses of anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) protesters—almost all Muslims—Union home minister Amit Shah reminded people at another election rally at Khambhat, “Fake mazars were removed from Bet Dwarka and the BJP government will continue the cleanup despite opposition from the Congress.” Amit Shah was referring to an extensive demolition drive in Bet Dwarka to clear ‘illegal constructions’ in October this year.

If the BJP’s 2017 poll manifesto was about interest-free loans to farmers, brick houses and toilets for the poor and such other blandishments, the 2022 campaign is about a uniform civil code, anti-radicalisation cells, more stringent punishment for ‘forced conversions’, funds for Gaushalas et al

Officials are at pains to point out that only unauthorised structures were removed, ‘without any discrimination’. Why now and not earlier? To send out a message, of course. Demolitions are not the only indication that the BJP is pushing Hindutva as its main electoral plank. The visiting Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma drove the point home when he said that the present election is “a public referendum on love jihad and the uniform civil code”. Amit Shah has of course said that BJP taught ‘them’ a lesson in 2002 and ensured ‘permanent peace’ in the state. The Prime Minister himself in his election speeches alleged that the Congress was soft on terror until he came along.

Why is the BJP hard-selling Hindutva and terror when it was ‘Development’ that was projected as the force-multiplier for the party and the Prime Minister? It was, after all, on the strength of the ‘Gujarat model’ that Modi was catapulted onto the national stage in 2014 and re-elected in 2019. A ready explanation is that after 27 years in power in the state of Gujarat, the BJP has exhausted much of its goodwill—a fatigue factor has set in and the party does not want to hark back to unfulfilled promises.

A more credible explanation, however, is that the party is laying the ground for general elections in 2024, just about 16 months away. With the Union government’s performance during the last eight-nine years being nothing to write home about, it is a foregone conclusion that the party will once again have to bank on Ram temple, national security and terror. Gujarat, and the next round of state elections, will possibly be used to set the stage and the momentum.

Just take a look at the BJP’s poll promises in 2017. The party’s manifesto then spoke of interest-free loans to farmers, brick houses and toilets for the poor, free higher education for women, mohalla clinics, pharmacies selling generic medicines at affordable prices and metro trains in Surat and Vadodara, among other things.

In sharp contrast, in 2022, the manifesto promises a uniform civil code, anti-radicalisation cells to identify terrorists and sleeper cells, legalised confiscation of property of rioters and demonstrators, a task force to examine Waqf properties, additional funds for Gaushalas, more stringent punishment for forcible conversions, and scrutiny of madrasa curriculums. Almost as an afterthought, it adds the commitment to create 20 lakh (two million) jobs in the next five years.

In 2012, the promise was even higher—30 lakh jobs and 50 lakh ‘pucca’ houses. Ten years later, nobody in Gujarat reminds the BJP of old commitments even as new promises are made. The Prime Minister remains the driving force behind BJP’s poll campaign. He may have spent fewer days ‘campaigning’— when did he ever stop campaigning, a wag might ask—but this time he has addressed more rallies, and the party is arguably spending even more money than last time. A visiting newsman to Bhavnagar was suitably impressed at the sight of 19 helicopters parked in the hangar—one had brought the Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel and another Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. The remaining 17 were being used to ferry BJP CMs, ministers and leaders.

On Thursday, as polling was held in one half of Gujarat, campaigning continued in the other half. Prime Minister Modi himself was scheduled to take part in a 50-km roadshow through Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad. He also played what a section of the media considered a ‘masterstroke’ when he complained that Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge had compared him with ‘Ravana’. He has been harping on how he is used to being abused by Congress leaders, while also reminding people of the power outages, curfews and riots prior to 2002. Bad memories make for good politics.

“Such a long and extended campaign by any prime minister in a state election is rare and has never been seen in India’s electoral history,” said a former BJP leader. The PM’s efforts, he felt, indicated the high stakes.

In 2017, the BJP had polled 49.05 per cent votes and the Congress 41.44 per cent. Significantly, BJP’s highest vote share was recorded in 2002 when it polled 49.85 per cent votes. A lot has changed since then. Modi is not as popular as before. The party has suspended as many as 19 rebel candidates. There is, for the first time, a serious effort by the Aam Aadmi Party to open its account in the state. BJP leaders, however, are confident of a landslide victory.

According to the Election Commission website, the seizure of cash, liquor, drugs and precious metals (until Nov. 30) is 28 times higher than in 2017—another indication of everything being thrown into the ring. According to the ECI, ₹27.07 crore in cash, liquor worth ₹14.88 crore, narcotics worth ₹61.96 crore and freebies worth ₹171.24 crore have so far been seized in the state. A lot more, it is said, has gone undetected.

With all eyes set on the second and final round of polling on December 5, political observers agree that the result in the state, with counting due on December 8, may well influence the future course of politics. For BJP, it will be a setback if it wins fewer seats than in 2017.

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