The communal polarisation caused by the post-Godhra pogrom and the subsequent hate campaign led by Narendra Modi, and the virtual absence of a serious secular challenge, enable the Hindu right to score a landslide victory in Gujarat.
THE violence worked. That is the one clear message that emerges from Gujarat's election results. The Bharatiya Janata Party made its greatest gains in the riot-affected areas it captured 50 of the 65 riot-affected constituencies. But the party's victory has come at the expense of over 1,000 lives and the complete ruin of peace in Gujarat.
Before the violence began on February 27, every indicator seemed to point towards a defeat for the BJP in the Assembly elections. The Congress(I) had swept the district and taluk panchayat elections in 2000 and continued to win every subsequent byelection. A nervous BJP central command brought in the hardliner Narendra Modi as Chief Minister to rescue the sinking ship.
On the evening of February 27th, when the Sabarmati Express was burned, the BJP saw in it an opportunity to engineer an election victory. Sangh Parivar leaders planned to use it as an excuse to unleash terror and gain votes.
Only Congress(I) strongholds in north and central Gujarat were targeted during the violence. From then on until election day, the Sangh Parivar built and sustained a climate of fear, insecurity, hate and paranoia. While the cadre kept intimidation and insecurity brewing in villages and ghettos, Modi's Gaurav Yatra played on irrational fears of terrorist attacks.
The strategy of hate and violence paid off. The BJP won a decisive victory, with 126 of the 181 seats, improving on its previous score of 117 seats. Its vote-share rose from 44.81 per cent in the 1998 Assembly election to 51 per cent this time.
Close to Godhra, in central Gujarat's Panchmahal, Dahod and rural Vadodara, where the worst carnage occurred, the BJP won all the seats.
The Congress(I) was unable to win a single seat in what was until now considered its main stronghold - the Adivasi areas. In Ahmedabad, which witnessed some of the most ghastly violence, the BJP got 10 of the 12 seats in the city.
The BJP won 58 of the 66 seats in central Gujarat and 16 of the 29 seats in north Gujarat, the two regions that were most affected by the communal violence.
In the highly sensitive Godhra seat, the BJP nominated former Bajrang Dal chief Haresh Bhatt. He defeated the sitting Congress(I) MLA Rajendra Patel in a fiercely fought battle.
In places untouched by riots, the BJP lost ground. In Kutch, it got only two out of the six seats, compared with the four seats that it had won in the previous election. This reflects the people's anger on issues such as corruption and the inadequacy of earthquake relief. Kutch, which is perennially drought-prone, has been facing the fourth successive water shortage crisis, but the BJP government has not started drought relief work. In Saurashtra, where the water crisis is acute, the BJP slipped from its 48-seat tally in 1998 to just 37 seats this time. The region is also ex-Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel's stronghold. His reluctance to support Modi during the campaign translated into fewer votes for the BJP from the Patel community. In south Gujarat, both the Congress(I) and the BJP won 13 seats each. Here, the Congress(I) has gained seats, indicating the anti-incumbency mood in the region.
Another reflection of people's disaffection with the government is that nine Ministers and the Speaker of the Assembly lost their seats. The losers include Modi's close aide and Cabinet spokesperson Purushottam Rupala from Amreli, Finance Minister Nitin Patel from Kadi, and Industries Minister and former Chief Minister Suresh Mehta from Mandvi in Kutch. Congress(I) stalwarts Naresh Raval, who was the Leader of the Opposition in the previous Assembly, and senior MLA Dinsha Patel were also defeated. Shankarsinh Vaghela's son Mahendrasinh Vaghela also lost from Sami in north Gujarat. However, both former Chief Minister Amarsinh Chaudhry and his son Tushar won.
The Congress(I)'s defeat is not surprising, considering that its cadre has been virtually non-functional. Over the years, the Sangh has been systematically setting up a wide network of shakhas throughout the State. The Congress(I)'s tried and tested KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim) formula failed this time, mainly because the party did not take a firm stand against the violence. The Congress(I) played a defensive kind of soft Hindutva to counter the BJP. This did not work. "Dalits found their stakes safer with hard Hindutva rather with the soft variety," said Martin Macwan, a Dalit activist.
The Congress(I) got its act together only in the few weeks before election day. Until then, rival groups were squabbling over the ticket allotment. On the other hand, the BJP's campaign of hate stretched over 10 months. People were overwhelmed with Godhra propaganda - posters, T-shirts, advertisements, banners, SMS messages and video clips. Gujaratis were not allowed to forget the burning of the train. Chief minister Narendra Modi would talk about it at every public meeting, but would not mention the 1,000 lives lost in the Sangh's post-Godhra carnage. It was almost as if it did not happen.
While Modi kept harping on terrorism and security, he did not mention the Sangh terrorists who planned and executed the riots. Who would protect people from them? Several of those accused of involvement in the riots are Sangh Parivar leaders. For example, VHP leader Jaideep Patel and BJP MLA from Naroda Mayaben Kodnani were named in first information reports (FIRs) filed in the Naroda Patiya case, where the worst carnage occurred. But Kodnani's name was mysteriously removed from police records. Top Sangh leaders were allegedly seen leading mobs. A key Minister was manning the police control room during the carnage.
The BJP conveniently blamed `Muslim terrorists' and `Pakistan' for fostering terrorism. But these allegations are baseless. The Gujarat police has not made much progress in investigations regarding the Godhra and the Akshardham attacks. Yet, no questions have been asked. The public has been swallowing the propaganda obediently.
Immediately after the BJP victory was announced, Modi forgot Godhra. It was now time to talk about development, an issue that had been sidelined in his campaign. "The victory is not that of any political party, but of Gujarat's self-respect. We will try to live up to their expectations and work for the welfare of the common man," said Modi, at a press conference.
The man who tore Gujarat apart said, "Whoever tried to spread venom has been defeated... People have given their verdict and now it is the turn of the media to accept the truth and be accountable for its false propaganda in the past 10 months... For God's sake, stop dividing Gujarat". A blatant volte-face.
Yet the violence continued. Two people were killed - one in Rajkot and another in Vadodara - when BJP processions passed through Muslim areas and allegedly shouted provocative slogans. A cameraman was assaulted outside the BJP office after the results were announced. On election day, curfew was imposed in Jambusar and Vadodara districts. Conflicts broke out in Godhra, Anand, Mehsana and Kheda. In Nadiad, one person was caught running away with the voting machine. Before polling day, Congress(I) candidate from Kadi, Baldev Thakor, and his supporters were assaulted. There were clashes in Kalol and Limbdi, both in the riot-hit Panchmahal district.
The aggressiveness of the victory celebrations is reflective of the bravado within the Sangh. Hardliners within the BJP and the VHP are delighted. "The Hindutva laboratory has started functioning... The BJP has won all the three seats in the Rajasthan Assembly byelections too. A Hindu Rashtra can be expected in the next two years... We will change India's history and Pakistan's geography by then," said Praveen Togadia, VHP president and one of the extremists. Togadia has been trying to replicate the Gujarat experiment in Rajasthan for several months now. "When madrassas in various parts of the country can train jehadis, why can't the VHP set up its Hindutva laboratory? Gujarat has turned out to be a graveyard for secular forces," he said.
The Congress(I) camp, on the other hand, conceded defeat. Gujarat Congress(I) president Shankarsinh Vaghela accepted responsibility for the debacle. He told a press conference: "People did not accept our offer of `Peace, Happiness, Prosperity and Security'. Instead, they opted for `Maro, Kato, Jalao' (Attack, Hack, Burn). The BJP won on people's fears. In the coming days, the youth who voted for them will ask for jobs. People in drought-hit areas will ask for relief works. Will the BJP be able to provide these?"
A valid question, considering the mess that the BJP government has created over the past five years. The State's Gross Domestic Product grew by only 1.1 per cent in 2000-01, compared with a growth of 20 per cent in 1994-95. Agricultural growth is only 1 per cent, and is very unstable, given the frequency of drought. The State lost Rs.25,000 crores in the communal carnage. The closure of small- and medium-scale industries has resulted in widespread unemployment. Agriculture, already in a crisis, has been further hit by water and power shortages. Farmers in Saurashtra and north Gujarat have been protesting over the government's failure to provide these basic facilities. Development work is at a standstill since the government is too bankrupt to clear contractors' bills. The fiscal deficit has burgeoned to Rs.47,000 crores and the State had to borrow on overdraft from the Reserve Bank of India more than 20 times. More than 20 lakh depositors have lost their savings worth Rs.2,500 crores in cooperative bank scams in which top politicians are involved. Twenty banks have shut down, leaving depositors penniless. The problems that the Chief Minister tried to sweep under the carpet have not gone away.
Now comes Modi's real test. He cannot cry about the Godhra `martyrs' anymore. The riot strategy has been exhausted. Hindutva has taken him as far as it could. It is now time for him to show his stuff. This is Modi's full monty.