As election time approaches, predictions and counter-predictions, allegations and their clarifications, claims and their counter claims fly high and free. Whether it makes any impact on the electorate and in turn the voting pattern is another matter of research. However, certain people and issues do crop up like mushroom before every election. Now that elections for Gujarat State Assembly are fast approaching, the air is becoming as dusty and often toxic as in Delhi. When there is smog in air, the visibility is reduced. If you can’t see beyond ten feet, road accidents and mishaps are bound to happen. The same thing is happening in Delhi and politics these days. The permanent dissenters of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are former Finance Minister and now heavily sidelined Yashwant Sinha, and his compatriot, the equally cold-shouldered Patna MP Shatrughan Sinha.
Media reports suggest that the Gujarat election are turning into a bigger challenge than usual for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP Chief Amit Shah, Sinha and Sinha have found some traction in the press and on social media. Yashwant Sinha currently toured Gujarat, rubbing in the Modi government’s mishandling of demonetisation and the ill-planned rollout of the GST.
He ripped in to the hapless Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and demanded his resignation on a daily basis. “Shotgun” has not bothered to hit the ground but takes daily jibes at the “one-man show and two-man army” on Twitter while offering his “full support to stalwart, statesman, intellectual and elder brother Yashwant Sinhaji”. Curiously, Yashwant Sinha’s son Jayant Sinha is a union minister and was “persuaded” by Shah to write an editorial defending the Modi government’s economic policies after the 80-year-old veteran went ballistic on the economy.
Father and the son
Its not that the father and son are on a war path on personal count. They share a good relationship. Sinha senior put Shah in an awkward position recently by saying that “while Jayant should be investigated in the Paradise Papers case, Shah’s son, Jay Shah, should also be investigated for the rise in his fortunes”. Yashwant Sinha chose to tour Gujarat at a time when the BJP was yet to announce its candidates but as many as 30 ministers, including Piyush Goyal, Nirmala Sitharaman, and Smriti Irani were campaigning door-to-door in the urban and rural parts of the state.
However, this should not be taken as a panic in the BJP Camp. Those who know the style of Shah’s working also know that he always does this. It may be recalled that the same thing had happened before UP elections.
As for Sinha and Sinha, they are politically irrelevant. Yashwant Sinha wants to be expelled and keeps upping the ante, yet a canny Shah is not obliging him. Shotgun knows we already have a candidate for his Lok Sabha seat and is all set to be the “pride of Bihar” via the Rajya Sabha route with either Lalu Prasad Yadav or Nitish Kumar with whom he has an excellent relationship. Yet, while the BJP may claim to be sanguine, the reality is that while Sinha and Sinha may not be entirely objective, they are voicing concerns which have touched a chord in the country, if media reports are to be believed. Not far back but just three months ago, Modi and Shah looked unstoppable in Gujarat. Yet, a lot changed since then – not least, the fumbling introduction of the GST.
The Congress, that has completely written off in Gujarat for nearly 22 years, may not be able to capture the state, but it has showing signs of coming back to life with Rahul Gandhi getting a surprisingly rousing response at rallies. Whether this will translate in to electoral gain is still an open question, as the Congress’s organisation on the ground has virtually evaporated. But the response to Rahul, as also the BJP’s daily jibes at him, display a nerviness at variance with Shah’s confident claims. Shah has had to cancel three press conferences in a row in Gujarat.
To add to the dirty tricks of politics, the mystery leak of a sex CD allegedly involving young Patidar leader Hardik Patel only doubles down the theory that nerves are frayed. It is learnt that he and Jignesh Mevani, the young Dalit leader, are planning a series of joint public meetings. The third young caste leader, Alpesh Thakor, who has joined the Congress, is another sore point with the BJP. The Congress is making a determined bid for the Patidar vote and its final list will reportedly include nearly 20 Hardik Patel candidates.
It looks like BJP has now realised that the competition is tougher than anticipated initially. As a result, the “Vikas” agenda has been abandoned for the BJP’s trusted plank of Hindutva and nationalism. Modi is expected to hit the campaign trail with a record number of rallies and focus on “Gujarati Asmita” (pride) that he symbolically represents. He is also expected to keep up the attack on the Gandhi family as the Congress social media cell is displaying a new aggression and bite that’s serving Gandhi well.
Surprisingly, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who is the nominal Gujarat-in-charge, is yet to make even a single trip to the state; Shah’s famous micro-management is at work. Yashwant Sinha recently raised this in Gujarat. The winter session of parliament, which usually begins in November and has been delayed because the PM and ministers are busy campaigning in Gujarat, is now likely to be held in December. Is it that the Modi Government does not wish to take any chance? Do they feel that if Rahul continues to level serious charges against Modi & Co. on the floor of the Lok Sabha, it would be difficult for the Government to undertake fire-fighting in the Capital also?
Rahul sticking to his script
On the other hand, Rahul is carefully sticking to a script that stars the economic slowdown. He is also visiting temples wherever he goes, which the BJP has criticized as “all for show”. Attacking Rahul for visiting temples could have been avoided. This shows that the BJP is nervous.
Sinha and Sinha are also tapping a raw nerve within the BJP. A large section of the erstwhile cadre-based party resent the absolute dominance of Modi and Shah and senior leaders including Rajnath Singh and chief ministers such as Shivraj Singh Chauhan of Madhya Pradesh and Vasundhara Raje Scindia of Rajasthan, who are not exactly the favorites of Modi and Shah.
Looking at all angles of politicking in Gujarat at this moment, one can only comment that now the field is open for all and though BJP still remains the most favourite, the Congress from outside and the Sinha and Sinha Co from within are leaving no stone unturned to make situation worse for the BJP.
The author is a political analyst and former Member of Parliament (RS)
(Bharatkumar Raut’s article will be published in its regular slot on Monday from next week)