Gujarat Election: Narendra Modi's reluctance to talk about development as poll issue shows BJP is apprehensive

All eyes are firmly glued on the impending Gujarat elections, and the series of events unfolding around them are under sharp scrutiny. The BJP has been in power in Gujarat for over two decades, and there is no doubt that the party still has a strong presence in the state. There are much speculation and analysis about why BJP has retained power, ranging from Gujarati Asmita to the ‘Gujarat model’ to polarisation politics.

However, there is authoritative statistical evidence to support that Narendra Modi, during his tenure as chief minister, played Gujarat against New Delhi, much like the MNS does in Maharashtra. Despite being a national party, BJP under Modi’s leadership has functioned much like a regional outfit.

What is interesting about this particular election is that for the first time in a decade, BJP, and not the Congress, holds power at the Centre. In spite of that fact, and notwithstanding the politics of regionalism and polarisation, and Modi’s overwhelming larger-than-life personality, this election looks tougher to crack for BJP than it’s ever been.

File image of Narendra Modi. Twitter@NarendraModi

File image of Narendra Modi. Twitter@NarendraModi

In the 2014 General Elections to Lok Sabha, the Gujarat model was the premise on which BJP sold a dream to 1.3 billion Indians across the country. This included an exponential rise in MOUs that could lead to investments and infrastructure, and several other incentives to serve corporate interests, which could be replicated in other parts of the country to achieve the same level of perceived development that Gujarat had supposedly witnessed.

However, given Modi’s candidature for prime minister, the Gujarat model for the first time was subjected to national scrutiny and debate, and as it was taken apart. Its failings were conspicuous and evident. There were several social and key economic indicators to suggest that Gujarat had fallen behind several states including Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.

But the ultimate manifestation of the flaws of the Gujarat model was the Patidar agitation and the controversies that made Hardik Patel a prominent figure in the impending elections. The agitation exposed that while BJP had failed to deliver on several social and economic parameters, it had also engendered serious social tensions in the state that played out on the 24-year-old Patel who led the agitation.

To add to these tensions, the devastating impact of demonetization on the economy continued to wreak havoc on the unemployed youth, small and medium businesses, farmers, and the trader community with Gujarat being the national economic and nerve centre of the latter. While that, coupled with a hastily and poorly implemented GST, caused massive economic damage all over the country, it’s fair to say that the harshest impact was felt in Gujarat.

While several of the diamond and jewellery businesses are based in Surat, their promoters live in Mumbai. I, therefore, personally interact with Gujarati entrepreneurs on a regular basis, and the economic repercussions of these decisions have caused them pain, the likes of which they’ve never witnessed before.

The good news is that these were electoral issues and the elections were being contested around them. Modi even said that if GST was being implemented, it was as much the responsibility of Congress as it was BJP’s. However, the minute BJP saw that talking about development wasn’t sticky enough for them, we began to witness tactics of deflection and obfuscation, starting with the alleged sex CD of Hardik Patel.

When that also refused to garner the kind of attention they had hoped for, the party moved to the proven trump card — religion. With the help of a few friends in the press, the debate began shifting away from development, putting religion in the spotlight as the foremost electoral issue. This kind of digression and deflection clearly indicates that BJP senses a problem and that they’re apprehensive.

On 14 December, I firmly believe that Gujarat will see through this façade, and this time around, to quote The Who, they “won’t get fooled again”.

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Updated Date: Dec 10, 2017 17:25:44 IST

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