Sherlock Holmes would have found it difficult to deduce the outcome of elections in Gujarat. The contradictions would make him scratch his chin and knead his eyebrows.
No, nothing is simple in this year's election. It is turning out to be a racy whowinit even Holmes would have left alone.
Two things are clear after a fortnight on the campaign trail: One, both parties are confident in public and confused in private. Two, Hindutva is getting replaced with caste identity, depriving the BJP of its biggest weapon.
If they were giving out bravery awards for poll punditry, Amit Shah would be in the running for the highest gallantry award. In the battle of Gujarat, he is the only one predicting 150 seats for the BJP. Unfortunately, even his cadres think Shah is seeing something they can't spot even with a microscope. Why is the BJP confused? Consider this advice from Holmes: “It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”
The theory that the BJP will win 150 seats ignores two important facts: One, large crowds are turning up to listen to Rahul Gandhi, Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakor, the three leaders leading the war against the BJP. It is difficult to believe that these people are turning up for their rallies because of the novelty value of the speakers. This is certainly not true in Rahul Gandhi's case because in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, his rallies were even bigger flops than Kaamal R Khan's films. So, there has to be some explanation for the metamorphosis of the KRK of politics into SRK.
Two, the BJP has, so far, been unable to set the narrative. For good or bad, it is just reacting to Rahul, Hardik, Alpesh and Dalit activist Jignesh Mewani. To its discomfort, Goods and Services Tax (GST), demonetisation, unemployment and quota demands refuse to make way for polarisation and a surge of emotions for the prime minister.
The BJP keeps floating trial balloons in the political stratosphere filled with its favourite poll cocktail. It keeps talking about Rohingya, Kashmir, Pakistan and giving Gujarat a curfew-free life, as Shah claimed this past week in Navsari near Surat. At its election rallies, songs talking of a Hindutva surge are played on loop. They claim, Rajtilak ki karo taiyarri, aate hain ab Bhagwadhari (get ready for coronation. Saffron-clad people are coming). But, so far, the Hindutva talk has just generated yawns.
The Congress, for a change, has smartly stayed away from the Hindutva debate. Its leader Rahul has tried to neutralise the party’s pro-Muslim tag by visiting temples, invoking the name of Lord Shiva, appearing in public with vermilion dots on his forehead and not referring to Godhra or Gujarat riots. The focus has been on the economy, unemployment and aspirations of Dalits, Patidars and other caste groups. The strategy has, so far, succeeded in keeping the narrative away from the traditional communal fault lines. All this, juxtaposed with 22 years of anti-incumbency, slowdown in the economy and quota stirs, has confounded the BJP.
But the Congress isn’t confident either. Speaking to Firstpost, one of its star campaigners, OBC leader Alpesh Thakor candidly said there is an undercurrent of change in Gujarat. “But, nobody can say how voters would act on polling day,” he added.
Why is the Congress nervous? The biggest factor is the party’s lack confidence in its own ability to beat the BJP in Gujarat. Its mindset is similar to that of the Kenyan cricket team in the 2003 Cricket World Cup. After reaching the knockout stage, the Kenyans just didn’t believe they belonged in the big league. So, they were knocked out even before their game against India. The other factor pulling down the Congress is its inability to name a leader. “Congress ne koi neta naththi jo mukhyamantri bani sake,” is the common refrain on the street. Many believe if Bapu (Shankarsinh Vaghela) had not left the Congress, he could have become the face of the Opposition.
This lack of confidence in the Congress and absence of faith in the BJP has given rise to a new term in Gujarat: BJP ni cutting (BJP will get a haircut). But nobody can predict the extent of this haircut. Also, voters in rural areas are decidedly anti-BJP. But in cities, the mood is pro-Modi.
Voting behaviour also gives Congress hope. Even in 2012, when Modi was set to move to Delhi, the Congress polled around nine percent votes less than the BJP. This year, it has the support of three leaders who can potentially swing votes for the Congress. Alpesh Thakor claims to represent the 20 percent Thakors of Gujarat. Hardik Patel says he has the support of the 15 percent Patidars and Jignesh Mevani is spearheading the 7 percent Dalits. Pure math makes a Congress win look inevitable.
In contrast, the mood on the ground where even government's critics do not believe Modi can lose on his home turf, makes a BJP loss look impossible. Holmes famously said, “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”
But in Gujarat, even he wouldn’t dare to distinguish between what is improbable, what is impossible and what is the truth.
Confusing, he would say, my dear Watson.
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Updated Date: Nov 25, 2017 18:11:57 IST