This is perhaps a first incident of its kind where almost everyone knew the approximate dates of the Gujarat election in advance but one had to wait around two weeks for confirmation.
Remember, on 12 October, when the Election Commission (EC) announced the poll date for the Himachal Pradesh election, a Firstpost piece said: “What makes the EC’s move even more curious is the fact that now the nation knows (well, almost) when would the results for the Gujarat election be announced. It could be 18 December when Himachal Pradesh poll results are announced and thus the election in Gujarat (to be carried out in two phases) could be anytime between 10 to 16 December.”
Now that Election Commission has announced that polls in Gujarat would be held in two phases: On 9 and 14 December, the debate around the propriety of the poll panel delaying schedule will become largely academic, especially in the Delhi circles.
However, in the political battlefield of Gujarat, the issue is entirely different.
Already, different narratives are being constructed.
Two interesting (though unrelated) things occurred the day before the EC announcement. Both were beneficial to the BJP.
First, video footage purportedly showing Patidar leader Hardik Patel meeting Rahul Gandhi at a five-star hotel in Ahmedabad leaked and was splashed all over the media. Although there is nothing wrong with Hardik, a rising Patel leader, meeting with the Congress vice-president to discuss any issue, electoral tie up or merger, but this video seemingly shows Hardik entering and exiting the hotel (although his face is covered) and footage shows him entering room 224, which was apparently occupied by Rahul. If true, this footage completely contradicts Hardik's earlier claim that he did not meet Rahul as he was 'too busy' and that he only met other Congress leaders.
Since this footage was released in two installments—the first set late Monday evening and the second set on Tuesday—it has been aired by almost all news channels and picked up by print and digital media. As a result, Hardik has been forced to play defence and spend most of his time explaining whether or not he even met Rahul. Hardik owes his rise to the Patidar movement's demand for reservation in government jobs and educational institutions. The Congress and Rahul in particular, has not yet made its position clear on this issue, which is so vital to the Patidar community.
|Gujarat (Phase I)|
|Date of polling: 9 December, 2017|
It won't be easy for Rahul to promise the Patidar community reservation. If he does, then the position of Alpesh Thakore—who recently joined Congress with much fanfare (even though his father is a district Congress president and Alpesh even fought a municipal election on a Congress ticket)—as an OBC leader becomes untenable.
Alpesh’s claim to fame was his spirited fight against Hardik and the Patidar community's demand for reservation. The same logic makes it difficult for Hardik to publicly acknowledge his meeting with Rahul.
The video 'expose' also gives Hardik yet another problem: In 1985, Madhavsinh Solanki, father of current Congress Gujarat Congress president Bharat Sinh Solanki, formed KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim) to render the Patel community politically ineffective. The Patels and other upper caste communities in Gujarat then deserted the Congress en masse and switched to the BJP. Hardik is now attempting to turn back the wheel. We still don't know how the Patel community will react to his move.
Taking a dig at the reported Rahul-Hardik meet, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said there is “Congress and Congressmen in disguise”. Since they (Hardik and his ilk, he meant) were acting as impersonators, they had to meet in secret, he said. “It is only scandals which take place amidst darkness,” Jaitley added.
The second interesting development which took place on Tuesday: The release of India Today- Axis My India opinion poll which suggested that despite being in power in Gujarat for the past 22 years, the BJP was not suffering from the anti-incumbency factor. The poll also said that the people of Gujarat are proud of the fact that Narendra Modi, the most prominent modern day Gujarati, is prime minister. The opinion poll predicted a resounding victory for the BJP and a defeat for the Congress despite the latter aligning with the three so-called Young Turks: Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakore and Jignesh Mevani.
|Date of polling: 14 December, 2017|
In the 2017 poll, as the previous two elections (2012 and 2007), the anger of the Patels against the BJP was a major narrative by the media. In 2012, BJP dissident leader and former chief minister Keshubhai Patel, who was perceived to be a giant of the Patel community, became a rallying point for anti-Modi forces. Though Keshubhai did not officially align with the Congress, he became the focal point for all those opposed to Modi. Keshubhai even floated his own party (Gujarat Parivartan Party), but the results proved that he was unable to influence the Patel community to follow him.
In 2007, BJP dissidents such as Kanshiram Rana, Suresh Mehta, Gordhan Zadafia, Kanu Kalsaria and Kehbhubhai Patel joined to oppose Modi, but the results showed that the electorate rejected them. Rana then claimed that he was an OBC leader, representing a caste and community (which according to him constituted about 50 percent of electorate). But he failed to move the OBCs and the community broadly favoured Modi and the BJP.
Uma Bharti, who floated the Bharatiya Janshakti Party, initially opposed Modi in Gujarat. However, she later changed her position and supported the BJP, which created ripples in the media in the run up to the polls. The Sohrabuddin Sheikh and Kausar Bi encounters were also expected to swing the vote against Modi. But the final tally put paid to even that theory.
The question is: Will December 2017 look any different from 2012, 2007 and 2002?
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Updated Date: Nov 23, 2017 14:20:58 IST