This was the most bitterly fought election in recent memory. This was first the time where Modi's mask of "Vikas Purush" was thoroughly exposed. "The Gujarat Model", which Modi so flamboyantly marketed before and during the 2014 parliamentary election, was of no help - and he had to take a route which history will define in the long run as communal politics. This was also the first election where Modi was not setting the agenda, it was set by those who were opposing Modi and the BJP. He was brutally attacked. The BJP government was taken to task and the myth was busted of Gujarat as a role model for the rest of the country as a state which marched down the super-highway of development since 1994 when the BJP formed the government.
Gujarat was also the role model for the RSS' ideology. It was claimed to be the RSS's original Hindutva laboratory which ultimately proved to be the real savour for Modi and his party. This was also the state which was claimed to be the model for the RSS/BJP's organisational strength. Here, the organisation was turned into an election machine. Finally, it was the ideology and organisational muscle power which saved Modi from humiliation. Today is more of a victory for the RSS brand of politics than for the Modi phenomenon. The PM's persona had been characterized by "covert" Hindutva and "overt" slogans of development. The Gujarat election has shown to the world that Modi is vulnerable and his real strength lies in the strength of the RSS.
No denyjng the fact that three young boys and political greenhorns - Hardik, Alpesh, Jignesh - and one lazy but resurgent Rahul Gandhi created an ambience which invented hope for anti-Modi forces. Hardik Patel was the man who unleashed the attack. The undisputed leader of the Patidar community which had been the backbone of BJP's victories in the past turned his case against Modi and the BJP. The Patidars were so militant in their pursuits that there was hardly any BJP rally which did not feel their wrath. But in the end, the BJP managed to create a wedge. According to the CSDS survey released just before the second phase of polling, the young, literate and employable section of 21 to 40 years is vehemently opposed to the BJP but it could not succeed in weaning the 40-plus Patidar voters away from the BJP. They were unhappy with Modi, but they did not opt for the Congress.
Urban voters did not desert Modi though they were angry due to his policy of demonetization and the messy implementation of the GST. This class was the reason for Modi's victory in 2012. Then, Modi lost in the rural belts of Gujarat to the Congress, but urban voters were solidly behind him. In urban centres, Modi's strike rate was more than 80% then. It was the failure of the Congress to convince these two sections - 40 plus Patidars and urban voters.
Rahul's gamble of shedding his traditional tag as a pro-Muslim leader also did not help. He visited temple after temple. He tried to prove that he is as good a Hindu as Modi, but it seems that voters opted for a "real" Hindu than a "turn coat".
Even in defeat, there is one silver line for Congress. Rahul has emerged as a leader. He looks more confident of himself. His body language is different. He is seen as willing to take risks. Unlike his past, he did not show any diffidence. He was able to organize a caste coalition of Patidars, Thakurs and Dalits. He showed gumption in not playing to Muslim voters. His strategy did pay him dividends, but was not good enough to win the battle. His image makeover as a Hindu leader was also a big gamble.
The Gujarat election will have far-reaching consequences. It will certainly impact the BJP's chances in Karnataka, MP, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan in the coming months. In these states, the BJP/RSS organisation is not as well-oiled a machine as it is in Gujarat. Modi has to chalk out a different strategy now. The anti-incumbency against his three and a half years of rule is visible. He has to decide whether to take a rabid Hindutva way or take major steps to tighten the nuts and bolts of his government. If he decides to take the former route, the country may have a bleak future; if the latter, there is hope.
(Ashutosh joined the Aam Aadmi Party in January 2014.)
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