Myth and reality

Print edition : May 16, 2014

A Muslim resident walks past overflowing sewage in the Juhapura area of Ahmedabad where mainly victims of the 2002 communal riots live. Photo: SAM PANTHAKY/AFP

“VIJAY VISHWAS” is what the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Gujarat calls its campaign. Broadly, it means confident of victory and victory for all. The party believes that its victory in all the Assembly elections in the past decade proves its capability to be in the Central government. The BJP’s promise to the people of Gujarat is that if it has done so much for the people in the State, it will do even more from the Centre.

Yet, it would be a mistake for Chief Minister Narendra Modi to think that his party will take all the 26 Lok Sabha seats in the State. A trip to a few crucial constituencies in the State and conversations with political observers in Gujarat reveal that the Congress has several safe seats and cannot be dismissed that easily. Moreover, past general elections have shown that while the BJP may have won the majority of seats (2004: BJP-14, Congress-12; 2009: BJP-15, Congress-11), the difference in vote share between the two parties had reduced from 3.51 per centage points in 2004 to 3.14 per centage points in 2009.

Although Gujarat is a BJP stronghold, observers say the party is likely to face a few setbacks in this election. To begin with, master planners Modi and his former Minister Amit Shah, whose presence in electioneering is apparently crucial to mobilising votes, have not been campaigning actively in Gujarat. Shah is in Uttar Pradesh and Modi, being the party’s prime ministerial candidate, has been campaigning across the country. Moreover, voters are sceptical about Modi’s “development model” and his delivery on promises. Additionally, the minorities, Dalits and people in the tribal belt feel they have been neglected consistently. There has been virtually no development for these groups which form a significant section of the electorate. Ever since it became a State, Gujarat has had just two political parties: the Congress and the BJP. Unlike in other States, a third front has never emerged, and the few attempts by leaders at creating regional parties have had little success. This has been attributed to its cultural ethos and the homogeneity of the State’s population. In 2014, again, it is a head-to-head battle between the two parties.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), while making inroads into other States, has put up a few token candidates in Gujarat. Its Kanubhai Kalsariya from Bhavnagar has the potential to win as he enjoys the goodwill of the people in the region because of his work among farmers.

The AAP did not give the dancer Mallika Sarabhai the party ticket. Informed sources say her style of questioning the party’s internal policies made her lose out on her candidature. “They should have put her up as a candidate. She is a very popular and well-known figure in Ahmedabad, particularly among the minorities,” one of the sources said.

The ordinary citizen appears to be divided on his opinion about sending Modi to Parliament to be the Prime Minister. “He will turn India into a Gujarat. He is an autocrat. Everyone in Gujarat knows that without him the State will not function. Modi only wants to please the rich industrialists. He has no time for the common man. He lied to us about employment and development, now he is lying to the nation,” said Lalji Patel, a farmer in Dholera taluk.

“That isn’t true. Modi has made Gujarat a showpiece. We are confident he can remove corruption and put the country on the right road,” said Bhavesh Shah, a car dealer in Ahmedabad. “We need economic development, and a Modi government will do that.”

Voting patterns

“Both issues and caste/community determine votes in Gujarat. The pattern essentially is more rural versus urban,” said Achyut Yagnik of the Centre for Social Knowledge and Action, an Ahmedabad-based non-governmental organisation. For instance, according to him, the older generation in rural areas will vote according to caste and community. Their grandchildren or children, who have shifted to urban centres, will often vote on the basis of issues or political opinion, said Yagnik.

The Congress must not be dismissed that easily, said Yagnik. Among the 26 seats, invariably it will get two seats in the Saurashtra region, one from Anand district and the other from Sabarkantha, and a couple of seats from central and north Gujarat.

“These are traditional Congress strongholds, and in all likelihood will be won again by the party,” he said.

The constituencies that are worth watching are Vadodara and Sabarkantha. Vadodara, from where Modi is contesting, is a safe seat for the BJP. The Congress has fielded its general secretary Madhusudhan Mistry against him. Also known as party vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s right-hand man, Mistry has won the Sabarkantha seat twice and is known for his strong groundwork. Observers say that if nothing else, it will be an interesting election. Shankarsinh Vaghela, who is known for bringing down the BJP government in revolt in the 1990s, is contesting from Sabarkantha.

Communities such as Kolis and Patels play an important role in elections, and most parties spent a fair amount of energy wooing them, said Yagnik. Kolis, who constitute 20 per cent of the population, are part of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs). They have in recent times become more aware through education and exposure. If they decide to back a party or a candidate it could be a game changer.

The Patel community, which forms about 15 per cent of the population, is split between Lueva Patels and Kadva Patels—lower- and upper-caste Patels who do not see eye to eye.

Kadva Patels have traditionally gone with the BJP, but in recent elections Luevas have also leaned towards it. Both have a huge voter base and it is usually given that the candidate they support will win. An area where Modi has failed is in developing the tribal belt and, of course, in making an impact among the minorities. The absolute lack of development that helped the tribal people, who constitute 15 per cent of the population, will go against the BJP. According to Yagnik, employment or the lack of it is a major factor in Gujarat, and Modi has done little to address the issue. “Gujaratis are a mercantile class. If business and income are good, they are satisfied. Otherwise, the government will pay the price,” he said.

Polarisation complete

Even though Modi is trying hard to stay off the communal agenda, his foot soldiers appear determined to press on. When senior BJP leader Giriraj Singh said that “all those opposed to Narendra Modi should go to Pakistan as they have no place in India”, not only did the Election Commission get upset but so did many Muslims, who believe that when you scratch the surface you will realise how communal the BJP continues to be.

“How can we believe they will not target us when these statements come out,” said Rasheeda Ansari, a social worker in Ahmedabad’s Juhapura area. “They will make us leave if they come to power.”

The 9.5 per cent Muslim population of Gujarat is a significant vote bank. Yet because of the oppressive climate in the State, the community has never risen in politics. The last time a Muslim won a Lok Sabha election from Gujarat was in 1984. There are 67 Muslim candidates from the State standing for election, most of them contesting as independents. The Congress, in spite of being the recipient of Muslim votes, has fielded just one, from Navsari. The BJP has none.

In fact, there are three key constituencies that have a large percentage of Muslim voters: Kutch, Ahmedabad and Bharuch.

“We keep voting Congress for lack of an alternative. But they have also done nothing for us. Obviously, we cannot vote for the BJP. Their persecution may not be so blatant but it is still there,” said Rasheeda Ansari. Modi has not apologised for the 2002 riots. In fact, very little has been done for the victims. Rasheeda Ansari said not only did they live in the worst possible conditions, but many believed justice had not been served. Many people who led the riots are free and, worse still, hold elected office.

“There is no question of tactical voting or minority consolidation in Gujarat. The Congress does not give us the ticket. It has not been in power for more than 10 years. Our votes are practically useless. By all accounts we are voiceless,” said Irfan Amin, another social worker in Ahmedabad. “They have created a situation where Muslims do not have access to education, health care or employment. It’s marginalisation at its best.”

Ahmedabad is perhaps the best example of how successful the BJP has been in polarising the two communities. After the 2002 riots, the city has steadily and systematically become polarised. Muslims have virtually been hounded out of the new city and have had to re-establish themselves in the old city, which traditionally has a large Muslim population. Not many here will be convinced by Modi’s secular-speak.

A report of the National Election Studies (NES) of Lokniti at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) says: “Politics in Gujarat is quite polarised where regional parties have not yet carved out a space for themselves. In this sense, the constituency-level configuration of party and candidate plays a more significant role for the Muslim electorate in Gujarat. Thus, Muslim voting to any particular party in States is not an outcome of any national strategy; rather, the voting preferences of Muslims, it seems, are constituted at the grassroots level.”

Development mantra

“Development for whom and for what?” asked Vaibhav Jadeja, a cotton farmer in Jamnagar. “This area has seen hundreds of farmer suicides in the past few years and not a single Minister from Modi’s Cabinet visited us. Instead they want our land to be given to big industrialists.”

Jadeja believes that the people of the State are no longer convinced by the Gujarat model of development. “They said industry would give employment, which did not happen. We still face massive water shortages and electricity cuts. Schools are few and hospitals are badly equipped. This is no model for the country,” he said.

Farmers in Dholera, who stand to lose their fertile land to a special economic zone, say they are disappointed with the Modi government for not protecting them. “He will appease big industry at the cost of agriculture, and this is finally sinking in with the farmers,” said Sagar Rabari, a farmer and activist. “They will vote locally, not always for the party. They seem to have lost faith in Modi. Yet there are few alternatives.”

Gujarat has a large and unique middle class, which consists largely of traders and merchants. They are the only people convinced by Modi’s economics. However, even they are practical; if it stops working for them, he will have to answer. For instance, small- and medium-scale industries have been affected by big industry, and this will result in business going down. “We will wait and see how people react to this,” said Rabari.

Experts say social indices are more accurate indicators of development. Modi has created such hype about Gujarat that when his detractors begin analysing the data, the State stands exposed.

Here is a sample of Gujarat’s performance. According to UNICEF’s 2012 report on children, every second child under the age of five in Gujarat is undernourished and three out of four are anaemic. The girl child ratio has worsened from 964 in 2001 to 890 in 2011. Infant mortality, one of the best indicators of the success of a government, is at a low ranking of 11, with 44 deaths per 1,000 live births. Census 2011 shows that 67 per cent of the rural households in the State have no access to toilets; 65 per cent defecate in the open.

The BJP also claims that Gujarat has achieved 100 per cent enrolment in primary schools; the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has ranked it at the 18th position among Indian States in keeping children in schools.

Economic performance is equally poor. The GDP growth under Modi has been 9 per cent, but it was 16 per cent during the regimes of Madhavsinh Solanki and Chimanbhai Patel of the Congress. It ranks fifth in foreign direct investment. The much-publicised Vibrant Gujarat summits have proved to be failures. In 2011, the summit supposedly secured Rs.20 lakh crore in investments in industry. Eventually, Rs.29,813 crore was invested, says the government’s socio-economic review for 2011. Of the 8,300 memorandums of understanding signed, only 250 actually became a reality.

A political analyst points out that hard facts will prove that Gujarat is not the best example of either progress or development.

Anupama Katakam

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