Gujarat polls: As Narendra Modi, Manmohan Singh bicker, this will go down as the most bitter election in India

It's quite likely the BJP will win the ongoing Gujarat election. It's highly improbable but not entirely unthinkable that the Congress will stage an upset. But there can be little doubt that the result on 18 December notwithstanding, this has been an election campaign which yanked the political discourse to unseemly depths.

(File photo) Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his predecessor Manmohan Singh. PTI

(File photo) Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his predecessor Manmohan Singh. PTI

This is evidenced in the clash between the serving prime minister and his predecessor. Narendra Modi accused Manmohan Singh of "colluding" with Pakistan to influence the Gujarat election, and the former prime minister countered saying Modi was spreading "canards" to feed his "insatiable hunger" to "tarnish every constitutional office". The ball is now back in Modi’s court—to either prove or withdraw his allegation.

It must be said at the outset that Manmohan Singh and Hamid Ansari are not common citizens. They are former prime minister and former vice-president of the country and are bound by official protocol even after retirement. While taking umbrage at Prime Minister Modi, Manmohan has carefully avoided mention of why he was there and if he had informed the government of the day about attending a meeting where the incumbent Pakistan High Commissioner would be one of the guests. (My colleague Sreemoy has argued this well in this piece.) Manmohan will also have to answer the question of why he was dining with Mani Shankar Aiyar who had just been suspended for calling his successor, incumbent of a constitution post, neech. So, was the suspension of Aiyar an insincere, politically opportune move, as pointed out in this article?

But there’s a reverse side to this argument. If that is what we expect from a former prime minister, then the ask from an incumbent will have to be a grade higher. Modi holds a constitutional office. His words carry great import. Therefore, a charge of a foreign country interfering in our election is very serious, raising the question: if that is so, would the government of the day take action or make it an election slogan? Nothing would have been remiss if the prime minister had pointed out the inappropriateness of an immediate predecessor breaking bread with officials of a country with which India has officially snapped all communication.

Manmohan has said that Gujarat elections were not discussed even in passing. Many guests who attended the dinner meeting too have said the discussions were centred on India-Pakistan relations.

Initially, the Gujarat election campaigns were supposed to hang on keywords linked to vikas -- Gujarat model, economic development, bullet trains, job creation, demonetisation and GST (Goods and Services Tax). But, by the time polling began in the state last weekend, the political discourse turned out to be anything but development. The issues have changed to Masjid or Mandir, Rahul Gandhi’s religion and even Pakistan’s involvement in the polls. The shift from important development issues to a dangerously polarising political discourse is distressing.

What was originally supposed to be a cakewalk for the saffron brigade in Modi’s home state seems to have turned into a tough battle for the BJP. Even after demonetisation in November last year, the BJP swept Uttar Pradesh polls like no party has done before. The Congress failed at every stage of the Uttar Pradesh polls to connect with the voters. After that Gujarat was supposed to be a cakewalk for the BJP. But, the Congress seems to have got under the BJP’s skin in Gujarat so much that a former prime minister is being accused of taking outside help to defeat it in the state.

The turn of political discourse in Gujarat from the promise of ‘vikas’ to Modi’s now-famous ‘Masjid’ or ‘Mandir’ question or Gandhi’s "janeu-dhari" soft Hinduvta make-over specifically designed for Gujarat, is unfortunate. And in particular, the spat between an incumbent prime minister and a former one is unbecoming.

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Updated Date: Dec 12, 2017 15:55:01 IST

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