Zero surprise

Published : Jan 11, 2013 00:00 IST

Narendra Modi offers sweets to Keshubhai Patel in Gandhinagar after his party's victory in the Assembly elections.-PTI

Narendra Modi offers sweets to Keshubhai Patel in Gandhinagar after his party's victory in the Assembly elections.-PTI

Keshubhai Patels entry into the electoral fray gave the Gujarat elections their only real element of excitement as Modis victory was a foregone conclusion.

THIRTY-SEVEN million Gujarati voters have had their say, and the majority of them have said yes to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and to Narendra Modis politics. In an expected victory, Modi is now back for his third term as Chief Minister. It did not take any great political insight to realise that the BJP would return to govern Gujarat for the fifth time in a row. In fact it would have been a shock if it had not wonnot because of any particularly impressive governance by the BJP, but because the opposition was, to put it kindly, somnolent. The BJP has had no real political opposition for more than a decade in Gujarat, and if at all this election was worth watching it was because of the sudden entry of Keshubhai Patel and his Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP). His entry into the political fray added some spirit to an election that actually had a foregone conclusion. The only point of interest in the final outcome was the margin of the BJPs victory. The question was whether the party would surpass its 2007 tally of 117 out of the total of 182 seats in the State Assembly or not. Months before the election, the BJP bragged that it would get 150 seats. As the election neared, it dropped the estimate to 130 and later made it the more reasonable 120. These boasts kept step with Modis aspirations to join national-level politics. As it turned out, the BJP won just 115 seats, two fewer than in the last election, making Modis march to Delhi all that more difficult.

The BJPs Gujarat victory is the outcome of a many-sided strategy sewn together largely by Modi, who is known to hold his cards close to his chest and to trust only a few select aides. As the social scientist Professor Ghanshyam Shah affirmed, Modi is authoritarian. He does not adhere to any democratic norms and cannot work in a team. He concentrates power with himself and does not trust anyone. Here is a look at some of the BJPs strategies for this election.

Modi knew he needed a new theme for this election. His openly anti-Muslim stance of 2002 had run its course as far as he was concerned. His 2007 tune highlighted infrastructure development of the State, but the campaign did not quite take off. It was a statement by Sonia Gandhi that actually helped Modi add punch to his 2007 campaign. She accused him of being a maut ka saudagar (literally, the merchant of death, a reference to the spate of encounter killings in the State), and Modi, in his typical style, picked it up and, turning it to his advantage, made anti-terrorism his election plank.

For this election, too, there really was nothing for Modi to tag on to, and once again it was the Congress that unwittingly came to his rescue. The Congress, this time, decided to abandon the overused communal card and launched an attack on the lack of rural development. Modi, never slow to take advantage of a lumbering Congress, once again brazenly hijacked the idea and turned it on its head and promoted himself as the vikas purush, a sort of moghul of development projects. The Congress was left staring as once again it was put on the defensive.

Having coolly appropriated the Congress campaign, Modi had to face another foe, one he considered more worthy than the Congress. The octogenarian Keshubhai Patel is a former Chief Minister. Modi had replaced him as Chief Minister in 2001. In August this year, Patel formed the GPP. This partys plank was also development, and given Patels reputation for craftiness as well as his ex-BJP status, Modi was justifiably concerned. Moreover, Patel also had the support of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), both of whom Modi had alienated in his arrogance. He had insulted RSS pracharak Sanjay Joshi in Delhi by forcing his hand so that he resigned from the partys National Executive, and suddenly found that the whole Sangh Parivar was looking at him coldly. Closer to the election date Modi realised the foolishness of this and even flew to Nagpur to mend fences, but there was no denying that the warmth of his ideological family was extended more to Patel than to Modi.

Never one to quietly lie down and die, Modi drew up a strategy to counter the Keshubhai threat. Known for his no-repeat policy in which candidates were either rotated or not given the ticket again, Modi decided to not only give the ticket to his sitting MLAs but also rained the ticket on close to a hundred others who had lost the election in 2007. This baffling tactic was simply explained. In the business of politics, Modi knew that all he had to do was buy loyalty by handing out the party ticket. Many of the recipients were of course dummy candidates, but they themselves would only know this at the last moment when the ticket would be withdrawn and they would have no option to approach any party. If Modi had not resorted to this subterfuge, disgruntled expectants would have rushed to Patel or the Congress or any of the other parties that were only too ready to accept them. To that extent the other parties were aligned against Modi. It was indeed a Modi-versus-the-rest election. As a passing point of interest, this election saw the largest number of candidates competing in the States election history.

Past campaigns in Gujarat have invariably touched on or dwelt upon the communalism that is rampant in the State. It was the Congress that usually made this its main poll plank, and the BJP either justified or refuted the charges. This time, however, the Congress chose to stay away from minority-related issues. In his characteristic way, Modi persisted with it, though not overtly. He practised a sort of soft Hindutva during his campaign. Glaring evidence of this was his decision to not field a single Muslim candidate. Programmes by Morari Bapu were organised in Ahmedabad, Baba Ramdevs yoga camps were held in Saurashtra (a region whose loyalties Modi was jittery about), and functions by Sri Sri Ravishankar were held around Deepavali. With an aggression that has become a trademark of the Gujarat BJP, a national convention of Vedic religions was also organised in a place called Pirana. This holds the shrine of the Sufi saint Imam Shah Bawa, and the site is a bone of contention between Hindus and Muslims.

These saffron touches were good propaganda from Modis point of view, but where he slipped up was in his failure to woo the RSS. In fact his open insult to RSS pracharak Sanjay Joshi is believed to have led the latter to back Keshubhai. Even at the State level Modis authoritarian way of functioning had alienated local RSS workers, apart from a host of former party colleagues, among them Suresh Mehta, Harin Pathak and Gordhan Zadaphia. The RSS, for its part, was torn between its allegiance to the BJP and all it stood for and the belief that Modi was now acting purely for himself. Keshubhai was quick to catch on to this and to publicise it. He used Modis Delhi aspirations to incite crowds, telling them that Modis plans were no longer for Gujarat but for himself. At the last minute, Modi seemed to realise the need to mend fences with the RSS. During the Navaratri festival, a time when he is strict about fasting and rarely leaves the capital, he made a trip to Nagpur to meet the RSS bosses. Maybe his visit was prompted by the late realisation that it is the RSS that nominates a future Prime Minister from the party rather than the party bosses. Whatever it was, Modis actions will now impact his aspirations for Delhi.

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