Friday, January 4, 2013

India will win in Modi's Gujarat

(First appeared in The Pioneer dated November 22, 2102)


Who do you think is going to win?” I asked the auto-rickshaw driver who took me on November 19 from the airport in Ahmedabad to the hotel. “India jeetega”, he responded with a confident grin. I wondered if he was right. Of course he could be right, except that England had put up a strong show in its second innings (eventually India did win). But cricket was not on my mind then. My question related to December’s Assembly election in Gujarat. I corrected him gently. He replied, “I am referring to the election. Narendra Modi will win. And, that will be a victory for India, because he stands for a proud, progressive and self-reliant India.”
It is difficult to find a contrary opinion in Ahmedabad, at least. The owner of a general provision store, who for reasons he did not elaborate, believed that Gujarat will witness a close fight. “Fifty-fifty hoga”, he claimed. And yet, even he agreed that that the BJP would win hands down in Ahmedabad and near about. “The combination of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah is unbeatable in these constituencies”, he added.
At a corner stall in Goyal Intercity, a sharp, young man in his mid-twenties, who managed an assortment of tobacco and related products, was even more dismissive of the prospects of the Congress. “What do the Congress leaders have to say? Nothing. Sonia Gandhi spoke in Rajkot recently, but had nothing to promise really to the voters. She spoke of bringing development, but development is already there under Chief Minister Modi. Even the remotest village in the State gets at least 10 hours of quality power supply. Industrial activity is booming. Agriculture is doing well too”, he stated.
The young man was equally contemptuous of the impression that the conviction of a former Minister in the Modi regime in connection with the 2002 violence, or Amit Shah’s ongoing trial in the same incident. “Those are non-issues that do not affect the livelihood of the people. Let the law take its course. Such issues are discussed by intellectuals in television studios, not on the streets by voters”, he said.
There is some truth in the assertion that the Congress has nothing to tell the voters, now that even its party leaders are keeping away from raking the 2002 incidents. They did that in 2007 and the strategy had backfired. “So, now you have Congress leaders calling Modi a monkey. Do you think that the Congress can win over the loyalty of the voters by calling the Chief Minister a monkey? This only goes to show that they do not know what those issues are that can attract the people of the State”, remarked the proprietor of a cosmetics shop located close to a Shani Dev temple near the Drive-in Cinema. “Why must I vote for the Congress? Give me one good reason”, a flower vendor selling her wares outside a Vaibhav Lakshmi Temple challenged me to respond. Does anybody offer stale flowers to the deity!” According to her, the Congress had withered under the “fruitful” leadership of Mr Modi and the BJP Government which he leads. “The Congress must sound and look fresh for the voters to consider it as an alternative.”
Clearly, the Congress has a problem in the State. If it talks of development — and it has been making half-hearted attempts — the issue does not click with the people, who point that the State is progressing fine under Mr Modi. In fact, the people add that never before as in the last decade has development been so rapid and focussed. If the party personalises the campaign, it only further raises the stature of the Chief Minister. So, what should it do? The flower vendor may have put it rather simplistically, and she may be reflecting the frustrations of people like her residing in Ahmedabad. But much the same terms of an informed analysis, is offered by a war-weary journalist. Ahmedabad-based Manas Dasgupta has covered the politics and more of Gujarat for close to four decades now. People, he says, are willing to listen to any meaningful argument on why they must exercise their option to change the BJP Government led by Mr Modi. “People are asking: ‘Give us one reason — just one reason — why we must vote for the Congress,’” Mr Dasgupta says. He points out that while Congress leaders are going about the State talking of why the people should vote out the Congress, they are unable to tell the voters what the Congress has on offer for their development. “The Congress at the Centre is steeped in corruption; the party has completely failed to check inflation and price rise across the country; and the Congress does not have a single State-level leader to take on Mr Modi. Are these the reasons that will make the people vote for the Congress!” he exclaims.
Mr Dasgupta is quick to point out that the Chief Minister has flourished as much from the good governance which he has given the State as he has through an elaborate image-building exercise. “Not everything which he claims as his Government’s achievements are true”, he says, adding, “Consider how he takes the credit for the implementation of the various Central Government schemes. But then it is also a fact that his rivals simply do not have the credentials to challenge him on the few occasions that they can do so with some level of success.” That may be so, but there is another fact that people in Ahmedabad do not fail to mention: Mr Modi has ensured that the benefits of most of the schemes, State-level or Central, have reached the people. “He has succeeded in the last mile, and that matters the most as far the voters are concerned”, Mr Dasgupta remarks.
He agrees that issues like the 2002 violence have become non-issues today, as also the allegation of arrogance that Mr Modi’s detractors have been leveling against the Chief Minister. “Of course he is arrogant and brusque with many of his Ministers and the bureaucrats. That’s why he is so unpopular in Gandhinagar, the seat of power. But he is not arrogant with the people. Moreover, the people believe that his arrogance is really his determination to get things done for the good of the people. They love him for that. They may be wrong in their analysis, but that is that”, he states.
From the vantage point of Ahmedabad then, the BJP led by Mr Modi seems to be sitting pretty. But Ahmedabad alone is not Gujarat. And, miracles do happe

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