The current elections to the Gujarat Legislative assembly have been nothing short of a masala Bollywood film. The biggest contributors of that are them having no dearth of a multitude of ‘Neech’, ‘Shahjahan’ and ‘Conspiracy’ attacks hurled at and by both the major contenders to out-do the other from the Chief Minister race.
However, interestingly, this time the attacks were not merely one-sided verbal jingles from the BJP that a feeble, disgruntled and already shattered Congress had to face every time, right in its face. The ‘verbose’ Congress version 2.0 and the three desi boys of the same Gujarat-soil, Hardik, Alpesh and Jignesh made the battle for the BJP even more difficult in their home state.
The elections are crucial for both, the ruling BJP as well as the Congress, for a number of reasons. For the former, it meant a litmus test for its pet-Gujarat Model, which was fiercely projected in winning the thumping 282 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections. The BJP had dominated the state for 22 long years, including 13 years by Mr Narendra Modi himself. For the Congress, it meant harvesting the growing anti-incumbency of the BJP rule, using the multiple agitations that the ‘Vibrant’ Gujarat had recently witnessed and thus gaining its lost ground by projecting Congress as the only strong political alternative to the incumbent BJP.
Thus, for the BJP, the Gujarat election meant proving the popular public acceptance of its ‘Vikas’ model in the home state of their supreme leader Modi. On the other hand, for the Congress, it means taking a long political stride by destroying the PM in his own bastion and therefore preparing a more fertile ground for Rahul Gandhi’s future politics.
The Gujarat election did not just stir the hyper-religiousness in the top leaders, but even saw new modes of campaigning (apart from the traditional land and air) with Modi getting on a seaplane a day before the high-frequency campaign ended.
However, the most astounding aspect of this election was the BJP’s gradual but staggering change of campaign discourse from focusing on the supposed anti-Gujarat stand of the ‘outsider‘ Congress in early October this year, to the later transient focus on ‘Vikaas’ and events like the Gujarat Gaurav Yatra. Gradually, as time escalated, the earlier narrative of the ‘outsider’ following ‘Vikaaswad versus Vanshwad’, changed to some blistering attacks on the Congress and its leaders, which was eventually reduced to personal abuses against the major opponent by the month of December.
Gujarat had always been a BJP stronghold, which it had successfully retained even when it had a narrow existence in other parts of the country. Prime Minister Modi himself hails from the state, and he had won the entire 2014 Lok Sabha Elections on this very ‘Gujarat Model’ of development. However this time the battle to retain seems a bit difficult for the BJP. It was only after the 2015 Delhi Elections against AAP, that, in addition to the Prime Minister and party president Amit Shah, almost all the Central Cabinet Ministers, Chief Ministers, MPs and even the local state leaders were fielded by the BJP, to fight that very Congress which the PM had himself claimed to be on the verge of eradication.
Apart from the presence of the stalwarts from the BJP, another surprising element was the later phase of the campaign. Almost all the issues that PM had savagely used, to win the 2014 elections and even some subsequent state elections found a total backseat in Gujarat! ‘Corruption’ got diluted in thin air, no word was said on the issues of farmers, and even the strong economic reforms like demonetisation and GST didn’t find adequate mention in the high pitched campaign.
The election which the PM had earlier claimed to be between ‘Vikaasvad and Vanshwad’ was subsequently brought down to whether Rahul Gandhi was a Hindu or a Christian. It followed the machinated twisting of Mani Shankar Aiyar’s remark claiming the existence of an inner-party democracy in choosing its president and further narrowing it to the Shahjahan-Aurangzeb perspective.
This shows how the limits of political morality have been lowered by the great PM himself. The further interpretation of Aiyar’s “neech kism ka aadmi (a vile man)” remark as being called a ‘neechi jaati waala (person belonging to a lower caste)’ appears to be a lowly attempt at milking public sympathy. Really? Did neech mean lower in character or lower in caste? This is quite unexpected of a man who came sailing on the issue of development in 2014, but can still be accepted for ‘politics’ having always been ugly, right? Fair enough. But, was it a helter-skelter response to save the losing political ground? Plausible!
What came as a fatal blow to even the ugly but tolerable ‘political limits’, was current Prime Minister Modi further accusing the previous Prime Minister of being in cahoots with Pakistan, along with an ex-army chief, some diplomats and other senior leaders of the grand old Congress. Further, he threw around allegations of them having ‘secretly conspired’ with the enemy state in regard to the issue of the current Gujarat Elections. Really?
A former Prime Minister, a former vice president, the former army chief, former external affair minister and former foreign diplomats discussing trifles like the ‘Gujarat Elections’ with Pakistan’s former foreign affairs minister? It was however later denied sternly by the former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and former Army General Kapoor whereas the others requested not to be dragged into the political slugfest. Pakistan too, in an official statement, denied any such claim and further advised India “not to drag Pakistan and to win elections on the basis of own potential.” How far was the statement fit to have been said by someone who occupies the post of the Prime Minister in the world’s largest democracy, is left upon you to decide!
But, what prevails for sure, is that the Gujarat battle isn’t a walkover for the incumbent BJP this time. The change in the routine discourse of election campaigning from ‘Vikaasvad’ to the conspiracy theory, certainly speaks volumes for the same. The Congress Version 2.0 and party president Rahul Gandhi too have been verbose and quick to respond to the ruling party’s allegations and even in asking questions. The pervading existence of the Congress on social media, and its attempt to entangle the BJP in its own Vikaas narrative, undeniably appears to have done some good.
The polling for both the phases has already been done and what rests in the minds of the voters is still a mystery. The latest ABP-Nielsen Survey depicting the mood of the voters also shows a neck to neck fight between the incumbent BJP and the Congress Version 2.0.
Whether the voters crown the BJP or the Congress has already been registered in the EVMs. For the Congress, the victory shall mean an end to their 22-year-old exile whereas for the BJP it would mean an acceptance of Modi and the Vikas Model. How have the people interpreted the claims and the promises by the parties and what they think of the lowered political morals and standards shall be unearthed on December 18, 2017, and I, for one, can’t wait for the day.