What It Took For Modi To Win This Close Gujarat Election

Published: December 18, 2017 14:21 IST
Modi was defensive, the party was desperate and its leaders panicky. After Delhi and Bihar, Gujarat was one election where it was assumed that Modi could lose. But the end result finally disappointed all those who had dreamt that Modi would be defeated in his own burrow. In Delhi and Bihar, Modi lost, but he has never as desperate to win as in this past election in Gujarat. He was firing on all cylinders, left no stone unturned and tonight, many sleepless nights end for him. Yes, he has won and the opposition, especially the Congress, is left dejected.

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".

If Rahul wanted to capitalise the disquiet among Gujarat voters due to lack of development, the brutal implementation of demonetization and GST, widespread unemployment among the youth, and rural distress, Modi realised sooner than later that Vikas has failed and anti-incumbency could be his undoing, so he aggressively changed track and tried to prove that Congress is anti-national and supports terrorism. He did not even spare ex Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He did the unthinkable. He went to the extent of blaming him for colluding with Pakistan to anoint a Muslim leader of their choice as the Chief Minister of Gujarat. The country was flummoxed. But it did not deter him. It was an attempt to make the voters of Gujarat realise that voting for the Congress would mean voting for Pakistan, voting for anti-Hindu forces, voting for forces like the dreaded don of the Congress era, Abdul Latif, it would be a vote for the forces which created mayhem in Godhra. The Congress miserably failed in dispelling this propaganda.

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.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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