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Gujarat Election: Congress' confusion becomes apparent as Narendra Modi swings poll debate to emotive issues

The first phase of Gujarat Assembly Election in Saurashtra and South Gujarat region as hyped by some sections of the media were about Hardik Patel ka haath Congress ke saath and GST ki baat. Both these factors were perceived to be disadvantageous to the ruling BJP.

That was key reasons behind coinage of the “Congress Awe Che” pre-poll catchphrase by Congress. Rahul Gandhi had midway abandoned a borrowed “Vikas Gando Thyo Che (development has gone crazy)” after it was realised that it hurt the ever-enterprising sentiments of Gujarati community.

The poll percentage figure, 68 percent is slightly less than last election's figure but the voter turnout figure could go up in the final computation. With almost half, 89 out of the 182 constituencies, already voted and the fate of 977 candidates from the first phase sealed in ballot boxes, the big question is has Modi magic given the right momentum to BJP to win the second phase of polling with greater confidence or has Hardik Patel delivered electoral dividends to Rahul Gandhi to help the party return to power after 27 years and make the Congress vice-president’s elevation to Congress president’s post most remarkable.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses party supporters at a public meeting for Gujarat Assembly election at Himmatnagar. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses party supporters at a public meeting for Gujarat Assembly election in Himmatnagar. PTI

There is no denying of the fact that there had been a great deal of resentment among some sections of traders and the business community, particularly in Surat and among Patidars in the Saurashtra region, but their anger against BJP has perhaps been overestimated.

It’s not the case that this time around all Patidars voted against BJP. There has been a clear split in their ranks. In any case, they all did never vote for BJP. A majority of them voted for BJP and according to rough estimates around 20-30 percent voted against BJP. This time that figure against BJP could go up by over 50 percent, in some areas by 60 or even 70 percent. But then there are instances, which Firstpost assessed after talking to people in various regions of the state that a shrill Patidar campaign pushed greater sections of Other Backward Castes to BJP. The Other Backward castes push to BJP has not been as profound as it was in Uttar Pradesh in February 2017 polls when the Jats began an aggressive high decibel campaign against BJP, but that push has nevertheless been there.

There have been indications that sections of the business community including from the textile and diamond industry have softened after reviews in the GST structure and backroom talks with senior BJP leaders including those in influential positions in the government.

Then there is another theory, which continues to keep the BJP camp buoyant despite reports of resentment among certain communities and groups which had traditionally been BJP supporters. It’s a known fact that BJP has been strong in urban areas. Gujarat is one such state where 43 percent of population lives in urban areas and in around 70 constituencies majority of its population live in urban areas. The BJP’s victory margin in urban pockets have been big, from 10,000 to 60,000, so hypothetically even if BJP loses some of its supporters, its candidates may still have a chance to win the election albeit with a reduced margin.

In the second phase of the Gujarat polls, Hardik has the potential to damage BJP and boost Congress in north Gujarat, particularly in the Mahisana region, but that, to an extent, could also consolidate other castes, at least to an extent, which was not so favorable to BJP in the previous election. In central Gujarat which has 61 seats, Hardik is an unknown commodity. He is completely non-influential.

Rahul Gandhi’s idea of putting too much of trust on Jignesh Mewani and Alpesh Thakor to swing tribal and OBC votes to Congress is not working. In fact, Mewani and Thakor are on sticky wickets in their constituencies Vadgam and Radhanagar respectively. Even by Congress’ estimates around 10 candidates fielded on the advice of Thakor are proving to be weak links. Five seats given to Chhotu Vasawa, JD(U) rebel and tribal leader by Congress is now causing concerns in party ranks.

Jignesh Mewani during a road show at Valsad. Firstpost/Amitesh

Jignesh Mewani during a road show at Valsad. Firstpost/Amitesh

At a rally on Saturday, Modi said, "What does the Congress do with their numbers in the Rajya Sabha? Stall the OBC Commission from getting a Constitutional Status."

In his blog, finance minister Arun Jaitley wrote: “The first distinct aspect of Congress party’s campaign is that it has clearly demolished its own state-level leadership and outsourced both its leadership and issues to those who had conventionally nothing to do with the Congress party. There is not a single state leader who is touring the state for the campaign."

While talking to people in Ahmedabad, Anand, Baroda and its surrounding areas, Firstpost could make out that in the last three days, the Prime Minister is taking his public rallies to an emotive pitch, to personal and Gujarat pride, naming around a dozen senior Congress leaders who called him all kinds of names since the run-up to the 2014 General Election to Lok Sabha and contrasting it with Congress' belief in its first family’s rule India entitlement rights has struck the right chord amongst his social constituency. It has titled fence sitters and made his supporters far more vocal than they were a few days ago.

On Saturday, Modi dug out the tweet of a youth Congress leader Salman Nizami who apparently has campaigned for Congress in parts of Gujarat and made it an electoral issue: "Congress is asking who are my father and mother. I ask you, brothers and sisters, do we talk in such language with even an enemy? A responsible Congress leader asked me that...Rahul Gandhi's party is asking me who are my parents. The people of my country are my parents. I am the son of this soil."

Nizami had allegedly called the Indian Army “rapist”, something which obviously wouldn’t be liked by people.

As the election now moves to the second phase of polling, the debate on development has taken a back seat and emotive issues has come to the foreground. At least BJP has swung it that way.

Click here for detailed coverage of Gujarat Assembly Election 2017


Published Date: Dec 10, 2017 12:04 PM | Updated Date: Dec 11, 2017 10:29 AM

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