Who after Narendra Modi? In the Gujarat of 2014, that appeared to be the most obvious question to ask when Modi took over as Prime Minister of India and left Gujarat to his successors — Anandiben Patel and later Vijay Rupani.
This existential question emanated from the assessment that the absence of a powerful political personality like Modi would create a vacuum that would impact governance at large and make Gujarat vulnerable for the BJP.
Neither Anandiben nor Rupani, are endowed with the charisma, oratorical skill and administrative acumen of Modi. Compared to the flamboyance associated with Modi's style of governance, incumbent chief minister Vijay Rupani is a study in contrast. He is mild-mannered and keeps a low profile. His track record as an administrator was nothing to write home about.
Yet, five years after Modi's departure from Gujarat the state is not showing any signs of political vulnerability or administrative logjam. Far from it, Rupani seems to be consolidating the gains of the recent Lok Sabha polls and strengthening the BJP's position.
The results of the Assembly election in 2017 — the first that the BJP faced without Modi as the chief ministerial face after 2002, was indeed a close shave. The BJP ceded substantial ground to the Congress (losing 16 seats) and just about scraped through to form the government. The Congress gained significantly in terms of vote share and seats. But the situation was totally reversed in the Lok Sabha election where the BJP swept the polls.
It would indeed be an oversimplification of complex politics to attribute the victory only to Modi's charm. There is more to it than meets the eye. If you dig deeper, you will find that the BJP has been winning local body elections and consolidating its position at the grassroots even in the post-Modi era.
Here comes the significance of building a robust organisation structure of the party and its seamless alignment with the government’s programmes and action on the ground. This is a system of politics and governance put in place by Modi that has obviously survived his absence. Modi has often talked about setting up structures and procedures of governance that are party and person agnostic.
Of course, structures and processes cant be stagnant and each person has to contribute to their continuous evolution. Rupani has added his own touch to things.
One example of this is the Chief Minister's Dashboard. Set up at his official residence, this giant TV screen gives the chief minister an instant overview of the state of governance in Gujarat.
This dashboard is nothing but a seamless alignment of technology with governance to collect and collate data from all over the state and identify glaring weaknesses.
In one instance, soon after that state board results were announced, Rupani inquired from his education minister if there were any schools with a zero pass percentage. The minister was clueless, but the dashboard threw up those numbers in a jiffy. The obvious implication was that first, the minister needed to do his homework properly and second, he now knew where to start.
Another example of Rupani lending his own touch to the evolution of governance processes has to do with the weekly cabinet meeting. Here every minister is presented with a file that marks out the areas that require attention. At every meeting, ministers are given specific tasks to attend to if they are not themselves aware of the situation, making them more attentive and proactive in future.
That Rupani is quite proud of his dashboard is evident from the fact that he has been showing it to people who visit him. Only recently he took Himachal Pradesh chief minister Jai Ram Thakur to his dashboard room and showed him the "miracle of technology" that enables him to keep a watch on every school in the state, the position of ambulances and movement of roadways buses, to name just a few things the dashboard tracks. Similarly, the activities of health workers, nutrition programmes for newborn babies and mothers, and institutional delivery are being monitored in real-time.
Thakur was apparently so impressed by the dashboard that he sent some of his officials to study it and replicate it in his own state.
What is particularly interesting is the manner in which government schemes are being carried out and popularised through the mobilisation of society by the BJP's powerful organisational structure to consolidate the gains. Rupani has been planning to reach out to villages in order to take up the cause of girls on a massive scale to correct the skewed sex ratio, a problem that has continued to haunt the state. The fact that Gujarat is not making significant gains in improving its standing on the Human Development Index is definitely a cause of worry. Its declining sex ratio is a double whammy. Despite Gujarat’s determined efforts to plug the loopholes by introducing innovative governance tools, Gujarat has to go a long way to emerge as a role model like Kerala on parameters of human development.
The significance of Gujarat as of now is that Modi has left behind a legacy of strong party structure and institutionalised governance that will not be dependent on the successor's individual charm or the lack of it. Despite his taciturn and introverted image, Rupani has been gaining confidence every day and is ably assisted by the system.
Rupani may not have set the house on fire in terms of governance and politics, but it can definitely be said that he has not allowed things to crumble either — as was widely anticipated.
Modi’s absence is no longer an issue in Gujarat. In fact, Gujarat is an instructive lesson for those who tend to rubbish Modi’s organisational genius as nothing but a one-man show or dismiss it as a transient phase of political "mass hypnosis".
Updated Date: Jul 31, 2019 13:11:57 IST