Amreli: He walked the time tested walk, talked the best practiced talk, but can Narendra Modi turn it around? The very question might look out of place when it comes to Gujarat, but the answer may well put things in perspective.
The winter of 2017 is not the same as the winter of 2002. The winds are noticeably stronger and colder for the BJP. On his first whirlwind campaign tour on Monday, the first after elections were announced in Gujarat, Modi played the victim as well as the saviour but the crowds were not swaying to his beat unlike in 2002.
This reporter heard a conversation between people walking out of a Modi rally on Dhari — Chalala Road in Amreli district: "When a prime minister comes, there should not be an inch to breathe. Here more than half of the ground was empty."
Amreli district is a Patidar-dominated region and also has severe distress among cotton and groundnut farmers.
This rally, by no standards, was a one-off situation though it was the worst among the four that Modi addressed on Monday. Looking at the region he is visiting Wednesday, the numbers are likely to be the same or only a little better.
In 2002, Modi set out on his Gujarat Gaurav Yatra in the backdrop of serious allegations of state-sponsored communal violence after the Godhra train attack where he played the same victim- hood card converting all criticism against him and his government as an insult to the Gujarati pride. And it worked. Similarly, the condemnation of state-sponsored violence established him as a veritable Hindu Hriday Samrat who had taught the Muslims a lesson.
It is also a key element of the BJP's campaign this time, reminding people that the days of riots and curfew are things of the past, ever since Modi came on the scene. Any reminder that riots don't happen because the BJP no longer needs them helps, with the implied message that the Muslims or the Congress incite riots first.
Modi is applying the same Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde formula where he alternates between being a son-of-the-soil victim and a saviour. "I will sell tea, I"ll never sell the nation" he says while reminding the people that the Congress always disliked Gujarat and Gujaratis, beginning with Sardar Patel, to underscore the hurt Gujarati pride and in the same breath plays the saviour with the this-is-Modi roar ("aa Modi chhey").
But there is only one problem. The crowds who fell over one another in circa 2002 to see him, are not very enthused this time round.
Severe farmer distress, twin blows of GST and demonetisation, visible unemployment, Patidar, Dalit-disaffection and difficult-to-handle OBCs are making the BJP sweat this winter.
From the evidence of Monday, it seems like this time the rhetoric might not be enough to sweep these issues under the carpet.
On Wednesday, Modi begins his second leg with Morbi, which is the hub of the ceramic industry adversely hit by GST and demonetisation given that it is largely a small-scale sector. In the same region between Morbi and Chief Minister Vijay Rupani's home town Rajkot are the automobile parts and engineering goods units, largest in Gujarat, also in the SSI and medium scale sector. They are also still reeling under duel reform impact.
This is also the region where the Patidar movement of Hardik Patel has had a visible impact especially in the rural and semi-urban areas. By design or by default, the Patidar youngster will hold a rally in Rajkot on Wednesday.
Narendra Modi, and so Gujarat BJP, sure have a challenge of sorts. The winter of 2017 is not a cakewalk like 2002, but a sweaty walkathon.
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Updated Date: Nov 29, 2017 10:37:53 IST