As we enter the last few laps in the Gujarat elections, we now need to consider a twist in the tale - that the Gujarat electorate may end up delivering a shock of sorts.
A shock in Gujarat can mean only one thing: Narendra Modi either getting fewer than 100 seats, or actually losing his majority.
The problem with national media coverage of Modi is that they have equated this election with his larger than life personality. In the process, they may have bought into the story of his invincibility, hook, line and sinker.
However, the truth is no man, no political party, is truly invincible forever. The NDA lost in 2004 despite all polls predicting victory. Chandrababu Naidu lost to YSR. The Left, after 33 years in power, was routed in 2011. Even MGR managed to lose one election in his lifetime.
So to consider Modi as undefeatable is like making the same mistake many others have made before an election: the early opinion polls do not guarantee a happy ending for Modi. He still may have a fight on his hands.
So what are the straws in the wind that indicate that the Gujarat battle may go down to the wires? There are several tell-tale signs. Here they are.
#1: This morning’s Hindustan Times talks of the Modi war-room targeting a seat count of 117 – the same as what it won the last time. The target is a dead giveaway. If Modi is laps ahead of the rest, he should be targeting more, not less. When everyone believes that Modi will do better than before, what is the BJP itself afraid of? Keshubhai Patel and his Leuva Patel vote?
#2: Even though Modi has been his usual brash self, his acts betray some concern. Unlike 2007, this time Modi gave tickets to almost all sitting MLAs. This shows that he is as worried about dissidence in his party as the Congress was.
In fact, the Congress has shown more courage by allowing the likes of Narhari Amin to exit the party. There was more of a fight for Congress tickets than BJP this time. A fight for tickets is an indication that there is a greater chance of winning.
#3: This campaign is seriously lacking in issues that benefit Modi. The last time, 2002 was still fresh in people’s minds, and it took only one reference from Sonia Gandhi (“maut ka saudagar”) for Modi to hit back and get into his 2002 act. This time it is Modi attacking the Congress relentlessly, by fair means or foul, hoping he gets a substantial issue – so far he has found none. Even the reference to “Ahmed Mian Patel” at one of his rallies sounds stale. If he was trying to recreate the magic of 2002 with his references to Mian Musharraf, this was a weak one, and didn’t click at all with the electorate.
#4: Modi has been throwing punches in the air in the hope of hitting something. But without success. Right from the beginning of the campaign, Modi has been flinging challenges at the Gandhi family in the hope that they will attack him and give him an issue. They studiously stayed away. He has been making references to Sonia Gandhi and Rahul, and daring them to come to Gujarat, but they refused to take the bait and stuck to the strategy of focusing on local issues and attacking Modi only on his development plank.
He has been raking up non-issues – like Sonia Gandhi’s foreign bills, or by alleging that Sonia was seeking votes in the name of her saasu maan (mother-in-law). The Congress has been happy to refute every one of Modi’s barbs as untrue, and Ahmed Patel, Sonia’s political secretary, has been repeating the word “gumrah” (someone who misleads) in all his speeches.
This has got Modi’s goat, and he has been asking his audiences to react to that fact that he is being called a liar.
#5: In 2007, Modi was faced with a disgruntled Keshubhai Patel and the possibility of a Leuva Patel revolt. He ignored it, and put up his own Patels – and he won handsomely. In fact, the BJP did even better in 2007 than in 2002 in the Saurashtra-Kutch region.
This time, Arun Jaitley betrays a sense of diffidence when he tells Hindustan Times that the BJP is fighting two elections – one in Saurashtra, and another in the rest of Gujarat. Also, the BJP welcomed Narhari Amin, a Congress defector who was denied a ticket, to help them with the Leuva Patel vote in Saurashtra. Why does superstar Modi need a loser like Narhari Amin?
#6: Caste has become important in this elections. Modi’s biggest claim so far has been that he has gotten rid of vote-bank politics, whether of the caste type or religion. But this time he has shown that it may be important to woo castes with their own representatives. Leuva Patels are said to be facing a deluge of caste candidates in the constituencies where they dominate – as many as 190 Leuva Patels are in the fray from various parties. The question is whether this will benefit Modi, or Keshubhai. The only way Modi can benefit is if Leuva Patels split their vote in the anti-Modi camps – between Keshubhai Patel and the Congress. But this would be a win by default, not a positive vote for Modi.
#7: A confident Modi would have put up at least one or two Muslim candidates. There are at least 12 constituencies where Muslims make a difference to the vote. While this could have been seen as tokenism, it would at least have sent the message that Modi was trying to build some bridges to the community. By not putting up any candidate, he is sending a negative message - that he is worried his Sangh Parivar detractors in Gujarat – Sanjay Joshi and Pravin Togadia, among others – may use this fact against him and cost him core Hindu votes.
In the ultimate analysis, only one issue remains in favour of Modi: Modi himself. If this election turns out to be only about him, then Modi can still surprise himself with a big victory.
But the body language of Modi has not been that confident, despite the apparent bravado. Every act of his has betrayed some degree of uncertainty. As Sheela Bhatt writes in Rediff.com. “In this election, he (Modi) has given enough indicators to his voters by tacitly visiting Somnath, Pavagadh, Bahucharaji and other temple towns frequently. Had Modi given a ticket or two to Muslims, the Congress would have been jolted to its core. Its historic claim to a pan-Indian presence cutting across caste, religion and class in Indian society would have got a modern-day challenger. But Modi failed Modi by playing safe.”
On 20 December we will know if she is right and the national media wrong.