The prestige connected with winning the ensuing assembly elections particularly in Gujarat being Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state cannot be undermined. Till Monday last, he had already visited the state at least thrice this month making big ticket announcements with emphasis on developing its coastal belt. He spoke of giving the country a transport system of the 21st century for meeting the needs of ‘New India’.
The Congress had reason to feel upbeat having scored an impressive victory recently wresting the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha seat in Punjab.
It is being seen as a confidence booster ahead of the assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. The outcome of a bye-election is by no means a definite indicator of the country’s mood. The invincibility of Modi at the hustings may have, however, been dented.
The BJP-led NDA cannot brush aside the widespread disenchantment among the people. While the dates for the poll in HP has been announced, the election schedule in Gujarat is awaited. Not announcing the election dates simultaneously for HP and Gujarat has whipped up an avoidable controversy. At least two former Chief Election Commissioners have expressed consternation at the delay in announcing the Gujarat poll dates.
They argued that the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) which takes effect when the election schedule is announced seeks to provide a level playing field to all contesting candidates by guiding the conduct of the incumbent government, political parties and candidates. The MCC is imposed to ensure that the party in power cannot misuse its position.
The term of the Gujarat assembly ends on January 22 next year. Campaigning is already at a high pitch in the state where Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi is keen on giving the Lotus party a stiff fight which has been at the helm of affairs in Gandhinagar since 1995.
Modi became the chief minister of Gujarat in 2001. After winning the April-May general elections in 2014 when the BJP secured a majority on its own for the first time in the Lok Sabha, Modi became the Prime Minister and moved to the national capital.
During the ensuing campaign in his home state, he has emphasised that the fight is between “dynasty” and “growth”. BJP president Amit Shah has set a stiff target of 150 odd seats even as the party has failed to cross the 127 mark so far in the 182-member assembly.
While the BJP might be comfortably ahead of the Congress in Gujarat, their party supporters believe winning 150 seats in the assembly is being highly over ambitious.
This time around the Congress appears to have made a positive impression on the influential Patel community by starting the ‘Navsarjan yatra’ in Saurashtra. Rahul Gandhi’s foray in this region created ripples which impartial observers believe has the portends of creating problems in Modi’s backyard.
The allegations against the business dealings of Jay Shah, son of the BJP chief Amit Shah has provided the necessary grist to the opposition. The widespread discontent among the farmers, textile workers as well as the small and medium enterprises because of the problems connected with the implementation of the GST since July first remains unabating. Prior to that demonetisation undertaken in November last year created immense hardship to the people.
Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupanai has expectedly announced a spate of new projects over the last month. On his part Modi has unveiled plans amounting to thousands of crores of Rupees. What stands out starkly is the social media campaign in Gujarati underlining that ‘development has gone awry’.
The losses suffered by the textile traders compelled them to strike. The farmers continued to be badly hit. Traders forming the core support group of the BJP are up in arms. The Patidars with a vote share of 10 per cent along with enjoying economic clout are contemplating voting against the BJP.
Having come on the scene two years back demanding reservation for Patidars, Hardik Patel remains a force in Gujarat. While Hardik Patel is yet to turn 25 to contest elections, his influence among the Patidars cannot be undermined.
The strategy of the Modi-Shah combine in wooing the OBCs and in particular the backward among them will be at play as it has paid rich dividends. This is so because the OBCs constitute the largest chunk of 40 per cent of Gujarat’s population.
The role of Dalit leader Jignesh Mewani and OBC’s Alpesh Thakor cannot be brushed aside. Mewani gained prominence having launched the self respect agitation in the wake of the flogging of Dalits last year. OBC leader Thakor joined the Congress on Monday. He is the founder of the OSS (OBC, SC and ST) Ekta Manch. There is an element of uncertainty about Hardik Patel joining the Congress though he appears to favour being part of a broader anti-BJP alliance.
Gujarat has a 14 per cent tribal population being wooed by the BJP. The Congress is trying to forge a combine posing a challenge to the saffron brigade. It has pledged to give Rs 5000 (five thousand) to the jobless, homes to the poor and write off farm loans if voted to power.
The caste matrix is yet to crystallise for making a definite assessment about the outcome of the assembly elections in Gujarat. In the circumstances can Modi having completed three-and-a-half years in office at the Centre apply the soothing balm even though none of the multitude of pledges made by him have materialised so far.