BJP Has Been In Power In Gujarat For The Last 22 Years
Prime Minister Narendra Modi cannot afford to lose the assembly election in his home state of Gujarat amounting to a huge loss of face. The outcome in this state cannot be undermined as it could have a bearing on other assembly elections slated for next year followed by the general elections in 2019.
At the same time the Congress is gearing up its loins to give the Lotus party a tough fight in Gujarat where it has been out of power for more than two decades. The party organisation is in a shambles lacking a mass leader capable of turning their electoral fortunes.
The BJP has a definite edge in the two phase elections in Gujarat on December 9 and 14 announced by the Chief Election Commissioner two days back on Wednesday. Modi is not campaigning as the incumbent chief minister but as the Head of Government at the Centre.
Spearheading the BJP's election campaign, Modi has already visited Gujarat at least three times this month making some big ticket announcements about developing the state's coastal belt and providing the country a transport system of the 21st century.
There have been protests by the rich Patidar community seeking quotas in jobs with counter portests by other backward classes. The Dalit movement has also strengthened in the wake of flogging and ill treatment meted out to their youth last year.
There is palpable anger in Gujarat with the influential Patels and the farmers not being favourably disposed towards the BJP this time around. The much touted GST has been playing havoc with the small and medium industries. Last November's demonetisation led to a cash crunch resulting in unemployment.
As the ideologue of the BJP, the RSS expressed concern and urged the Modi government to take expeditious steps in addressing the widespread disenchantment among the people.
An avoidable controversy had been whipped up by not announcing the election schedule simultaneously for HP and Gujarat. At least two former Chief Election Commissioners expressed consternation in the delay in announcing the Gujarat poll dates.
The term of the Gujarat assembly ends on January 22 next year. Campaigning is already at a high pitch in the state between the BJP and the Congress. The Lotus party has been at the helm of affairs in Gandhinagar for 22 years on the trot since 1995.
During the ongoing campaign in Gujarat, Modi emphasised that the fight is between "dynasty" and "growth". BJP president Amit Shah has set a stiff target of 150 odd seats. This is viewed as being highly overambitious as the party has failed to cross the 127 mark so far in the 182-member assembly.
The Congress appears to have made a positive impression on the Patels by starting the 'Navsarjan yatra' in Saurashtra. Heir apparent Rahul Gandhi's foray in this region created ripples which impartial observers believe has the portends of creating problems in Modi's backyard.
The allegations against the business dealings of Jay Shah, son of the BJP chief Amit Shah has provided the necessary grist to the opposition. What stands out starkly is the social media campaign in Gujarati underlining that 'development has gone awry'.
Traders forming the core support group of the BJP are up in arms. The Patidars with a vote share of 10 per cent along with enjoying economic clout are contemplating voting against the BJP. Having come on the scene two years back demanding reservation for Patidars, Hardik Patel is keeping his cards close to his chest.
While he is yet to turn 25 to contest elections, he is for a wider opposition grouping against the BJP. The strategy of the Modi-Shah combine in wooing the OBCs and in particular the more backward among them will be at play once again as it has paid rich dividends. This is so because the OBCs constitute the largest chunk of 40 per cent of Gujarat's population. The role of Dalit leader Jignesh Mewani and OBC's Alpesh Thakor cannot be brushed aside. Mewani gained prominence having launched the self respect agitation in the wake of the flogging of Dalits last year.
OBC leader Thakor joined the Congress on Monday. He is the founder of the OSS (OBC, SC and ST) Ekta Manch. Gujarat has a 14 per cent tribal population.
The Congress is trying to forge a combine posing a challenge to the saffron brigade. It has pledged to give Rs 5000 (five thousand) to the jobless, homes to the poor and write off farm loans if voted to power.
The question is can Modi having completed three-and-a-half years in office at the Centre apply the soothing balm even though none of the multitude of pledges made by him have materialised so far.