Gujarat polls: How the narrative went from 'vikas' to a communal mudslinging contest between BJP, Congress

When campaigning for the Gujarat Assembly election had just begun, the BJP's central theme for discussion in the run-up to the polls was very clearly vikas (development). There are enough examples to substantiate this fact.

On 7 October, Modi laid the foundation stone of a four-lane cable-stayed bridge between Okha and Beyt Dwarka and said it was a link between the old and new Dwarka. On the same day, the prime minister also presided over the ceremony for a greenfield airport in Chotila to be developed by the Airports Authority of India by 2021. The airport at Hirasar, which measured 2,534 acres, will be developed at a cost of Rs 1,405 crores.

Modi also inaugurated IIT-Gandhinagar's new campus and talked about how the country cannot afford to have a 'digital divide' and called for bridging this gap to ensure social equality.

File images of Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi. PTI

File images of Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi. PTI

On 22 October, Modi inaugurated the first phase of the Rs 615-crore 'roll on roll off' (Ro-ro) ferry service between Ghogha in Saurashtra and Dahej in south Gujarat.

Because the Congress has been in the Opposition in Gujarat since 1995, its theme for the polls was centred around opposing Narendra Modi, BJP and the Gujarat government. The party hoped to leverage the Patidar agitation for quota, farmer distress, and the impact of demonetisation and Goods and Services Tax (GST) in the state.

The kind of mudslinging seen in the later half of campaigning for the Gujarat polls, however, shows how the poll rhetoric in the state has changed over time, especially for BJP, which has moved from "development" to a more communal theme, and is following this up with relentless, scathing attacks on the Congress.

As this IANS article points out, the BJP shouldn't normally have any worries about election results in Gujarat. It is Narendra Modi's home state and the party has been in power there for more than two decades.

But the BJP has surely noticed that its 'vikas' narrative in Gujarat has become weak because the people themselves are not too happy about the development in the state. In fact, the party's Saurashtra region spokesperson Raju Dhruv himself admitted to PTI that many projects which the saffron party had promised are still incomplete.

This is probably why the BJP has resorted to the anti-Congress plank. Like the time its national spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao tweeted that Rahul Gandhi has "teamed up with (Asaduddin) Owaisis, (Zafaryab) Jilanis" to oppose the construction of Ram Temple in Ayodhya, before calling the Congress vice-president a "Babar bhakt".

In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself has called Congress' process of electing its party president 'Aurangzeb Raj' during an election rally in Valsad.

Not unexpectedly, BJP is flashing its old trump card, communalism, to boost its morale and rally its supporters. Hence, the posters about the battle being between RAM — (Vijay) Rupani, Amit Shah and Modi — and HAJ — Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mewani.

However, Congress is not far behind.

The party's online magazine Yuva Desh had tweeted out a meme mocking Modi's past as a tea-seller. Perhaps the most harmful remark by the Congress came when Mani Shankar Aiyar called the prime minister a "neech aadmi" (despicable person), but apologised later when Rahul Gandhi tweeted that the Congress party does not endorse such language and expected Aiyar to apologise. The damage was already done, however, with Modi making this a caste issue by claiming that Aiyar was referring to his caste as 'neech'.

And if there was a RAM-HAJ poster by the BJP, there was another one supporting Congress appealing Muslims to vote for Congress to make Ahmed Patel the "wazir-e-aalam" of Gujarat.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Dec 12, 2017 13:04:54 IST

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