Taking no chances

Published : May 08, 2009 00:00 IST

At an election rally of Chief Minister Narendra Modi in Balasinor on April 14.-PTI

At an election rally of Chief Minister Narendra Modi in Balasinor on April 14.-PTI

GUJARAT Modi myth By Anupama Katakam in Ahmedabad

NARENDRA MODI = BJP. That is how it is in Gujarat. Such is the Chief Ministers hold over the State that even if the party appears a bit lost on the national stage, it may still win a significant number of seats in Gujarat solely on the strength of the Modi factor. People vote Modi and, therefore, the BJP. The party leadership has so much faith in Modi that it has put him in charge of 78 Lok Sabha seats 48 in Maharashtra, 26 in Gujarat, two in Goa and two in Daman, Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli.

Modi claims that the party will win 22 seats in Gujarat. Political observers, however, believe the figure may be closer to 16-17. In the last election, the BJP won 14 seats and the Congress 12. It was a very slim margin, considering the fact that the BJP has been winning the general elections with significant margins (20 seats in 1999).

Therefore, Modi is taking no chances. When the BJPs list of candidates was announced, it was obvious he had attempted to put together a winning formula. To begin with, not many of the previous candidates were given the party ticket. In choosing the candidates, Modi has taken into account a combination of factors: loyalty to him, caste identity, and the candidates position in the power structure of the constituency. He has also picked a few persons with dubious backgrounds, which, observers say, could indicate his desperation.

The BJP will gain a substantial number of seats. Perhaps not as many as in 1999 but definitely a reckonable figure, says Achyut Yagnik of the Centre for Social Knowledge and Action, an Ahmedabad-based non-governmental organisation working with vulnerable communities.

Over the past few years, Modi has managed to appeal to every level in Gujarat. Earlier, he was just popular with the middle class and the affluent sections. He has worked hard on the rural population by understanding the caste and community dynamics. The minority population will never trust him and he makes little effort to woo this section, says Yagnik.

As in the previous elections, it will be a straight fight between the Congress and the BJP. In spite of a general discontent with the two parties, a third front has not emerged in the State. The Congress, it is felt, should have tried to re-establish itself in the past five years since it had won a fair number of seats in 2004.

Unfortunately, the Congress is just too weak in the State. It has no structure, no method of functioning and no presence as an opposition party. Yet, it is an election machine. In the run-up to the polls, the party suddenly comes alive and gives the BJP a run for its money, says Yagnik.

For instance, the Congress has positioned Suresh Patel against L.K. Advani in the Gandhinagar constituency. Suresh Patel is influential in the Patel community, which has a massive presence in Ahmedabad. However, what could upset the calculations of the Congress or the BJP is the presence of the Bahujan Samaj Party, which has a following among the Kolis in the coastal belt and in the tribal areas.

No region in the State can claim to be the pocket borough of any particular party because of the frequent migration of candidates between parties. Any election here is mainly on the basis of the personality of the candidate rather than the party to which he or she belongs.

Modi has developed a multipronged strategy in the course of becoming a popular figure in Gujarat politics. His Hindutva politics continues to appeal to the right-wing Gujarati middle class and affluent sections. He has, however, attempted to play it down of late as he realises that it will not work at a national level.

Modi launched the Vibrant Gujarat programme to convert the State into a leading investment destination. As part of this, Modi promised to create infrastructure that matches global standards. The idea has appealed to the middle-income groups and the rich. The urban poor and the rural populace, however, are sceptical.

Can you see anything vibrant about our locality or our employment situation? asks Noor Banu Sayed of Citizen Nagar, a colony which was created in the wake of the 2002 post-Godhra riots. Located near the citys largest garbage dumping ground, the colony houses families that lost their homes in the carnage.

There are no roads in this area. No buses come here. There are no health facilities. One small primary school exists. When the wind blows in this direction, fumes from the garbage dump envelop the colony. Children suffer from respiratory problems because of this, says Noor Banu Sayed. There is no work for our men. Boys as young as 10 years work in restaurants, earning Rs.20 a day, to feed a family of five at least.

Rajesh Patel, a grocer in Ahmedabad, says all this Vibrant Gujarat talk is for the rich. The poor and marginalised do not benefit at all. He says, When we do not get regular and clean water in Ahmedabad, how will the smaller cities and villages get it?

On the other hand, Shailesh Shah, owner of a three-star hotel in Vadodara, says the Modi governments aggressive economic development programme has indeed benefited him. He has experienced a significant rise in business in the past year. In order to further his economic development agenda, Modi offered Gujarat on a plate to the Tata group to set up its small-car project. Modi believes that the Tatas have endorsed Gujarat as an ideal destination for Indian entrepreneurs. Now industrialists such as Sunil Mittal of Bharti Telecom and Anil Ambani of the Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group have started openly supporting Modi and even looking at him as a future Prime Minister.

It is a shame that people of this calibre have forgotten what he did in 2002, says Cedric Prakash, director of Prashant: Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.

Modi is trying to distance himself from the carnage to gain legitimacy in the West. These corporate honchos are playing right into his hands. If Modi has land to give away, then let him give it to us. We can build a school or a hospital, says Prakash. How many jobs can a car plant create?

Prakash says the minority communities are persecuted in the State. The poor are neglected. There is no freedom of expression. Liberal thinking is not allowed. For instance, films such as Parzania and Firaaq, which deal with communal issues, were not released for viewing. Self-styled moral police have attacked artists in Vadodara and Ahmedabad alleging obscenity in their works. Why would anyone want to support a man who runs a State like this? asks Prakash.

During the past few years, Modi has worked hard to improve his image. So much so that he has convinced journalists, particularly in the West, that he is the new face of India, that he was responsible for Gujarat becoming one of the top three States of India.

Debunking this impression, Dipankar Gupta, a sociology professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, writes in a paper titled Credit Misplaced: In the years 1994-2001, Gujarats state domestic product registered a growth average of between 10 and 13 per cent. At the tail end of this period Modi stepped in as Chief Minister. What then has Modi done that is so special?

Gupta says, this State was already among the top three in India by 1990. It took Gujarat 20 years after it was created in 1960 to climb up from the eighth rank to the third spot. Twenty years of hard work, led primarily by Congress governments, it may be added. Over 35 per cent of its infrastructural augmentation for power generation happened between 1995 and 2000. If Gujarat today can show off its treasure chest, it should gratefully remember its pre-Modi past.

According to Gupta, Modi was shrewd enough to realise this and use the growth to his advantage. Modi was read as a one-talent wonder, good at leading riots from the front, but little else. Hence, Gujarat would soon show negative economic figures and, before long, its heirloom would be up for sale. But when that did not happen, Modis skills at book-keeping, rather than bloodletting, began to draw attention.

I think by arresting Maya Kodnani, a Minister convicted for leading the rioters in 2002, the BJP tried to make some attempt to assure us it was doing something, says Rasheeda Ansari, an activist who lives in Juhanagar, another riot refugee settlement. For so many years she has been roaming free. Now, suddenly, just before the election you arrest her?

Approximately 1,044 people died in Gujarat in the communal violence perpetrated by the saffron brigade in 2002. Modi has been acquitted of any involvement in the riots. There are few signs of justice having been meted out to the riot victims. Muslims and Christians have been targeted consistently since 2002. Gujarat, a State traditionally known to welcome visitors, is now highly polarised. In fact, in cities such as Ahmedabad, Muslim and Hindus live in separate colonies.

They think we are all terrorists. Any proper Muslim will tell you terrorists have no religion, says Khatoon Bibi of Citizen Nagar. We have always voted the Congress but even that party has not done anything for us. The biggest problem is that there is no work. Besides, look at our living conditions, she says, pointing to the squalor. Forget Muslims, no one does anything for the poor.

Now the women have to earn a living. My neighbour makes Rs.5 for a dozen rakhis she strings. She makes Rs.20-25 a day. With that she buys foodstuffs. Her husband cannot find work anywhere. If someone gets us out of this misery, then we might see a point in voting, she says.

MAHARASHTRA Closely watched By Lyla Bavadam

UNLIKE the rest of Maharashtra, where the battle is mainly between the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party and Shiv Sena-BJP combines, the third and final phase of polling will see some serious competition from contenders such as the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and the Samajwadi Party. The seats that go to the polls on April 30 are Mumbai South, Mumbai South Central, Mumbai North, Mumbai North West, Mumbai North Central, Mumbai North East, Thane, and the newly created Palghar, Bhiwandi and Kalyan, which came into being after the delimitation exercise.

The main factors that will influence this phase of polling are security measures; infrastructure development; slum rehousing; delimitation of constituencies; and the creation of Raj Thackerays MNS. Predictably, security and prevention of terrorist activities are high on the agenda of candidates, and promises range from cutting defence expenditure by manufacturing arms in India, to autonomy and better training for the police force to the setting up of a National Security Guard centre in Mumbai.

Delimitation has evened out the numbers, especially in the Mumbai constituencies. Every constituency has about 16 to 19 lakh voters. Constituencies now have mixed populations of castes and communities, and the affluent and the poor, which should force candidates to move away from the politics of religion. However, caste and community factors will continue to play a role in Thane and Kalyan.

Thane has traditionally been a saffron fortress and parties have always fielded Brahmin candidates here, though this time the fielding of an Other Backward Classes Agari candidate has served to strengthen the caste factor. In Kalyan, the large number of North Indians have vowed to give a fitting reply to the Sena and the MNS for their attacks on them.

As far as the MNS is concerned, Raj Thackerays goal seems to be not so much to win as to play the role of the spoiler. A senior Sena leader described the MNS as a fly buzzing around the tigers head. For Raj, these polls are an opportunity to test the waters before the Assembly elections to be held later this year.

Mumbai South, one of the wealthiest constituencies in the country, is home to the financial capitals movers and shakers. Conversely, it is no stranger to terror attacks, having faced them from 1993. The Sena candidate hopes to win the seat on the basis of the work done by the party during 26/11. If, the Sena loses this seat, which it wrested from the BJP, its bargaining power in the Assembly elections will drop.

Delimitation also plays a big role in Mumbai South because less affluent neighbourhoods have been included in this area and the number of registered voters has shot up from 7.5 lakhs in 2004 to 19 lakhs. Milind Deora, the sitting Congress MP and son of Union Petroleum Minister Murli Deora, will benefit from the support of the affluent, while the hopes of the Senas Mohan Rawle are pinned on the lower middle-class areas. Many are Maharashtrian areas but Milind Deora says, People dont vote for divisive parties. They vote for progress and I have done a lot in these five years.

Milind Deoras belief that voters choose productivity rather than community was proved in 2004 when long-standing MP Manohar Joshi from the Sena was unseated by Congressman Eknath Gaikwad in Mumbai South Central. About 50 per cent of the voters in this constituency are Maharashtrian, but with the inclusion of two areas after delimitation, a large number of Dalits and Muslims entered into the 15-lakh-strong voting population. Gaikwad is expected to retain the seat. The Dharavi slum falls in this constituency and Gaikwads promise of 300-square-foot permanent houses under the Slum Redevelopment Scheme will appeal to the voters, many of whom are Dalits, like him.

Ram Naik, the BJP veteran of Mumbai North, refuses to hang up his gloves. Naik lost his seat in 2004 to the Congress candidate, actor Govinda, after holding it for five terms. This time around Naik faces Sanjay Nirupam of the Congress and the MNS Shirish Parkar Issues of concern to his voters are mainly housing and suburban rail travel though the attacks on North Indians will be an important issue here as in Kalyan and Thane.

The seat seems to be a sure win for Naik since the largely Maharashtrian and Gujarati voters are unlikely to be drawn to Nirupam, and Parkar is far too much of a novice to be a threat to Naik. Nirupam is banking on the votes of the North Indians. But there is no reason why they will not vote in favour of Naik. Delimitation has also worked well for Naik. The constituency has 16 lakh voters and those areas that voted against Naik last time are no longer part of the newly defined Mumbai North. He will, however, have to be wary of the slum voters, who form about 44 per cent of his constituency, for he supported the eviction of old slums on forest land.

Ever since actor-turned-politician Sunil Dutt fought from Mumbai North Central the seat has been in the public eye. Sitting MP and Dutts daughter Priya Dutt has held the seat for two terms and hopes to come out on top against her rivals, Mahesh Jethmalani of the BJP and Shilpa Sarpotdar of the MNS. Shilpa is the daughter-in-law of Madhukar Sarpotdar, the Sena MP who was convicted last year for inciting violence during the 1992-93 post-Babri Masjid riots in Mumbai.

Though Priya Dutts main concern will be Mahesh Jethmalani, the fight will actually be a three-cornered one because the MNS will have to be taken seriously by the BJP. Like Mumbai South, this area too has a wide diversity of voters. About 74 per cent of the votes will come from the slums though Priya Dutt will possibly find friends here because her father had opposed demolitions and evictions, often flying in the face of the law.

With 30 per cent of the citys major infrastructure projects under construction here, Mumbai North East is one to be watched. This is the only Mumbai seat that the NCP will be contesting. Clearly, the Congress had the upper hand this time when it came to seat-sharing and the NCP had to be content with just one seat. The NCPs Sanjay Patil will be up against the BJPs two-time MP Kirit Somaiya and the MNS Shishir Shinde. Shinde is best known for pouring tar on the Wankhede Stadiums cricket pitch in order to prevent the Pakistani team from playing there, when he was in the Shiv Sena.

The candidature of Shalini Thackeray in Mumbai North West exposes the hypocrisy of the MNS. Giving the ticket to Shalini, a Punjabi who married into the Thackeray family, does not trouble the anti-North Indian conscience of the MNS. The 40-year-old is up against some veterans the Senas Gajanan Kirtikar, the Congress Gurudas Kamat and the S.P.s Abu Azmi.

Kamats campaign strategy is a reflection of the state of politics in Maharashtra. He brushes off the competition, saying that he will remind his Maharashtrian voters that they continue to live in chawls and slums while their Sena leaders are crorepatis. His North Indian voters will hear how he has consistently opposed the MNS. And his Muslim voters will be told that the S.P. has tied up with Kalyan Singh, who supported the Babri Masjid demolition. The other seat in which the Muslim vote will play a determining role is Bhiwandi. Oddly, no party has deployed a strong candidate here.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment