“Consensus, in Indian politics is a time between two elections”- to borrow my friend Sunanda Vashisht’s phrase of “Peace in Kashmir is a time between two wars”- is how I would describe the current state of Indian polity. After stupendous wins in UP, Uttarakhand and forming governments in Manipur and Goa; the BJP suddenly is finding consensus in its policies at the center. With GST, a step closer to reality, it remains to be seen what the government wants to push in this year. This however is only a temporary phenomenon. Come December 2017, this consensus will evaporate as we head into what promises to be a fiery political contest-a contest keenly watched since Narendra Modi had taken over the state in 2001 and a state that in the last 20 years has seen phases of total political stability and instability, my home state of Gujarat.
Gujarat is a unique state in many aspects. It is arguably one of India’s most urbanized states with approx. 40% of constituencies being urban or semi-urban. Hence the issues that dominate here are significantly different from what dominates in various other state elections. Although one can divide it into three regions: Saurashtra, North & Central Gujarat and South Gujarat. The issues that dominate these three regions overlap at times, but pan state issues tend to dominate the discourse a lot more than very specific regional ones.
Last month, on the MyIndPodcast I said that the current government in BJP was on a weak footing. It may still get the numbers to form the government because the congress in Gujarat has become irrelevant except for in some pockets. Congress has outsourced its politics to activists, refused to take up real issues and is stuck in a time warp with their leadership being incompetent. The only mass leader they had was Shankersinh Vaghela, who has lost the last 2 Lok Sabha elections and is out of running for the CM post. The others are failed dynasts with Shaktisinh Gohil being an exception but he too lost the 2012 Vidhan Sabha Elections.
Congress still hasn’t had one face that can take on BJP in urban Gujarat. The leaders they have, have small bases in pockets of rural Gujarat but not one face that can challenge the BJP. In Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat and Rajkot it is impossible to think of them trouncing the BJP there. Also after a disastrous Congress rule, Gujarat has seen significant progress under BJP. The Narendra Modi regime especially brought stability and prosperity to the state. The state still lags behind in a couple of indicators but overall the progress has been good. Be it security, ease of doing business, access, 24-hour power, good roads Gujarat has seen it all in the last 15 odd years.
There was a method followed for land acquisition and other issues which resulted in major projects getting constructed in Gujarat and more jobs. But in spite of that politically Gujarat is at an interesting precipice. After fighting his hardest state election in 2012, Narendra Modi won an amazing victory in 2014. This resulted in Anandiben Patel being sworn in as the CM of Gujarat.
Anandiben Patel’s tenure in Gujarat was a mixed one. There were some gains made many of which she spoke about to MyIndMakers in this exclusive interview. However the regime was mired by charges of nepotism and alleged corruption. Even if they weren’t proven, politically she did take a hit.
This resulted in the BJP installing Vijay Rupani, as the CM. This was seen to be an interesting move as Rupani was close both to RSS and Modi/Shah. Plus he was seen as an honest individual who had performed in his previous ministry and being a Jain he was seen as a caste neutral ‘choice’. Rupani’s reign has been a mixed bag politically as well. He has done some good work in continuation with the previous BJP regime’s policy but he isn’t seen as a charismatic figure having appeal across the cities. Matching Modi’s popularity is of course an impossible task. But the more one travels in Saurashtra the more one sees beginnings of an even contest there. This makes getting North, South and urban Gujarat very critical for BJP.
Rupani’s firm crackdown on alcohol has met with a mixed approach as well. The uneasiness amongst the BJP cadre has finally resulted in both Narendra Modi and Amit Shah making visits to Gujarat. Simply put, the PM cannot afford to lose his home state. Thankfully for him owing to the incompetence of the Congress leadership BJP is still firmly in the front.
Because Gujarat is an urban state, national issues will dominate in the cities more than they do in other states. Hence the reluctance of Congress to look beyond Rahul Gandhi will help the BJP. Eventually once the Modi Shah duo starts campaigning the election would start swinging towards the BJP. But this see saw in the leadership shows some chinks in the BJP armor that they are missing charismatic leaders in Gujarat.
There was a time when Vibrant Gujarat would get cover to cover coverage but this time it was different, it felt different when I went to Gujarat 2 weeks later. The rate at which investments should’ve come aren’t coming. Thankfully Gujarat has a mechanism that has enabled the state to function on its own even if there is a leadership crisis. But the BJP can ill afford to show these chinks when they have a bigger election, of 2019, to win.
5 years ago, a hard fought victory in this State started the national campaign for Narendra Modi which resulted in a historic mandate for the BJP. 5 years since, they are hard pressed to match the gains they made then. I’m not ruling out a huge win for BJP in December, but if elections were to be held now BJP might just eek over a 100, which considering how bad the opposition is and how popular the PM is, is a low number.
The PM will give it his all come December 2017, but there are different factors at play here. Unlike Maharashtra, Haryana, UP, Assam and Uttarakhand this isn’t them going up against an opposition government facing anti-incumbency. This will be Narendra Modi trying to reclaim his own legacy, the legacy that got him elected thrice and made him the PM of India. This might be a tough battle, but if history is any indication, he outperforms himself when the battles are tough.