Monday, December 11, 2017

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Elections in Gujarat - Both Sides on a Tight Rope

I am sure we are all aware that the election season is back in the country - yes I know that the "Big Elections" are still away for more than a year. However, the media glare for ongoing elections for the state assembly in Gujarat is no less than for a General Election. If reports are to be believed and analysis is to be heard, these elections would form the foundation of results we would hear in a year and a half from now. Well, that is the level of importance that these elections apparently have for our this country's political discourse and hence an article was inevitable from your humble writer's keyboard.



So are these elections that important?

I would trust the analysts and observers on this one. Gujarat is not just another state of the country - it is a first among equals. This is the state that saw our Prime Minister rise to echelons of the politics and acted as the training, learning, experimenting and founding bed for his career. An inexperienced and hesitant politician took the realms of the state decades ago and converted it to the most talked about land in the country. Gujarat is what the then prospective PM showed the nation in 2014 and promised to replicate what he and his critics called the "Gujarat Model of Development" across the country. Gujarat became the epicenter for both the supporters and opposers of Mr. Modi and each took out a different leaf from the revered model to put forward their case. So, yes the state has an important place in the politics of this country - at least for now - as it put our PM on the seat and a major upheaval within the state would have national connotations.

We talked about Modi becoming the PM in detail. Read more at - In Hindsight - NaMoMania : Mirage or Reality ?

But, history of PM in making is not the only reason why these elections are important. This is also the state which was deeply impacted by some of the actions that this government has taken over the last couple of years. Gujarat has traditionally been the land of business - the business acumen of native Gujaratis is commended world over and still, a lot of successful businesses across the globe can be tracked to having roots in this land. And, the two most publicized actions of the BJP (okay the NDA) government took shattered a lot of the local businesses - we are obviously talking about the Demonetization and the GST Implementation. One may argue that any honest businessman should not have been impacted by these but that would be a novice observation at best - if not misinformed. Businesses were definitely impacted and most are still bearing the burn and the government is well aware of this fact. I know we all have seen the BJP sweeping away the power in Uttar Pradesh and took it as the verdict for Demonetization, however, that was a different ball-game altogether. Gujarat may actually give a more aligned verdict.

Where is the ruling party in all this?

The Bhartiya Janta Party or the BJP has ruled the state for nearly two decades now and have even formed a government at center - gaining such a huge majority riding on their success at Gujarat to a large extent. If someone would have asked me a couple of years back - when Mr. Modi was still the CM - it looked like there was no other political player in the state and BJP did not have a competition for many many years to come. But things change and they did change for Gujarat. The leader that the state had for so many years was promoted by the country to lead from the forefront - Mr. Modi became the Prime Minister. However, what was left behind was a vacuum of leadership in the state and during the tenure of Modi, no other leader could emerge out of his shadows. A CM was appointed in the state as Narendra Modi bid farewell to the state and state tried to recover the loss of its leader. It was obviously presumed that the state would be run mostly as a Union Territory from the center and the CM would be another Governor of the state.

However, CM is there for a reason and so was shown to the state. Mr. Modi could not keep a tab on the day to day activities given his schedule and the state suffered from administration perspective to some extent. Local body elections displayed an under-current and the CM was changed mid-term as a course correction. Again the new CM did not have the same charisma as the void created and am not sure of how confident is the BJP leadership with results of that change in CM. A major community that traditionally supported BJP is anguished and a part of it is showing its strength by aligning with the other team. Having central leadership camped in the state with assembly elections is nothing new for India however, the extent of focus here is bewildering. Not only that, the political discourse - from the ruling regime - is confusing.

For BJP, this was their cover page state - a place which would be a show stopper during the national elections. This state was superior to any other land in India in terms of development and welfare. When Narendra Modi campaigned for the 2014 general elections he came out not as a leader of the opposition but as the incumbent leader talking about all the development he has achieved and would like to expand - rather than focusing on the other party that is the job of an opposition - and yes the masses approved of this argument when they elected Mr. Modi as the Prime Minister. I was assuming that this would be a similar case this time and the state and central leaders would leave no stone unturned to highlight their achievements and publicize their work. However, that was not the case to be - all I hear for now is what the other party could do to damage the state, how they are aligning with foreign powers to grab the state or how they are mudslinging on BJP's poster boy. This is not a sign of a confident regime who is sure to re-win the elections.

Where is the other side this time?

Generally, a question difficult to answer in the India Political scenario is - Who is the other party? However, this is not the case for these elections and Congress is the only other player on the scene. So, how credible are they as a threat to the existing regime. To me - they have the regime nervous at the least. Since the 2014 elections, Congress has been written off multiple times along with its prince - Mr. Gandhi - and mostly rightly so. The party kept losing elections after that and hence states from its power and was soon seen as just another player. Its political strength came down to a regional party at the most and likes of #AAP started considering themselves as the #2 party of the country. But again, things change and they changed.

These elections have seen Rahul Gandhi more active than ever before and the party trying with all its might to create a statement. They have been active in media - including social one, they are going back to religion - with temple visits, making coalitions and have strategized the best they could. Mr. Gandhi himself is making much lesser mistakes than earlier and has not made a blunder yet - of course, he has Mani Shankar Aiyar to do that. He is seen engaging with all parts of society and making frequent visits to temples and villages. He is showing his "youth" to best of his ability and has been able to make headlines for his statements rather than the misstatements. So in all, he and his party have had a good going so far. They can actually not afford a mistake this time. Mr. Gandhi is being promoted to the post of President of the party, Congress is shelved to a non-consideration in political discourse and BJP is gaining ground - so it is high time to consider is a now-or-never opportunity.

Who has the upper-hand?

Of course, BJP has a slight edge given nothing too-wrong has happened in the state for quite some time and the central government is doing all it can to balm the wounds of demonetization and GST. Backchannel parleys are being conducted to reduce the impact of "Patidar Side-kick" and appeasement is at its best for all quarters of the society. However, both the parties on a tightrope for now and a slight incident or news could turn the table in favor of Congress. They are definitely a major player in this elections and have managed to grab control to some extent. If nothing else, they are going to create a serious dent in the margin of power that BJP has grown used to enjoying in the state.

Meanwhile, if you are inclined, we visited Gujarat recently and have our experience documented on our travel blog - Land of Gandhi - Gujarat

What is your take on these elections? Have a favorite to pick? Do you agree with the article above or have some reservations? Feel free to comment and express yourself like I just did!!

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