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16 October 2012

ANALYSIS: Congress Party expecting a communal polarisation in Gujarat polls

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By Abdul Hafiz Lakhani 

Ahmedabad: Now that the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh election schedule has been announced, it is worth repeating the obvious: depending on the results, there could be a sea change in the country’s overall political atmosphere. 

With boundaries of 60 out of the total 182 constituencies being re-drawn in Gujarat, the fortunes of two main parties -- the Congress and BJP -- in the 2012 assembly elections, is likely to be hugely influenced by the delimitation process, which will alter several equations including caste and political following.

These assembly polls will be the first after the Delimitation Commission submitted its report to the President, forcing legislators to reach out to voters in newer segments after the change in composition.

Many seats which fall under reserved categories for SC and ST have been changed to general categories and those which were in general categories have come under the reserved bracket.

"They may fight the elections on various issues but the main hurdle they will be facing in this election, which might take them off guard is delimitation of seats," a senior Election Commission official said.

The statement of EC officials assumes significance as in the last (2007) election, more than 25 seats were won and lost in the margin of 3,000 votes and another 40 seats were won and lost in the margin of 10,000 votes.

The delimitation exercise is carried out on the basis of the latest census with a view that the population per assembly seat is in the same range and is done to identify reserved seats of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.

The recommendations of the 2002 Delimitation commission were approved by the President in 2008.

Both Congress and BJP are unsure of what will be the outcome of the elections in the seats where boundaries have been altered due to demographic and voter profile changes, with respect to caste, following and religion.

"In the assembly elections where the difference of votes between the winning and losing candidates is marginal, delimitation will play a major role in the coming elections. Earlier, we used to know the voting pattern of each and every constituency till booth level but this time things will be different," a BJP leader said.

Congress expects a communal polarisation in Gujarat

Congress Party is also confident of a victory in the election. This is due to two factors. The first factor is that it has a superstar Rahul Gandhi to bank upon for electoral campaign. Wherever he has visited, Rahul Gandhi has provided the momentum and impetus to lift the morale of his party cadres high. Gujarat election is going to be no different from this. The second factor is that the Congress is confident of a communal polarisation in Gujarat and win the Muslim votes en mass.

Congress has a strong issues in its hands to attack and embarrass Modi. That is the alleged involvement of Modi in the 2002 pogrom against the Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 in the aftermath of Godhra train massacre. The recent judgement by the Gujarat High Court sentencing a former minister of Modi’s cabinet Kotwani to 28 years imprisonment has come as a shot in the arm to the Congress. The statement of Sanjiv Bhatt has also come as a big boon for the Congress. Congress is playing the video and audio tapes of Sanjiv Bhatt’s statements in the electoral campaign.

More specifically, the outcome in the two states will decide the dates of the next general elections, currently due in May 2014, and signal major realignments.
The D-day for Himachal is 4 November, and for Gujarat 13 and 17 December. Results will be known on 20 December. 

Given the ambitions that Narendra Modi harbours, it will not be misplaced to say that these polls are going to be a make or break elections for him. If he manages to cross the finishing line, then his claim in the Bhartiya Janata Party to be their prime ministerial candidate will become stronger. 

But then it is not going to be a cakewalk for him with his troop of detractors growing by the day. It is no secret that a section of the RSS is against the candidature of Modi given his penchant for being dictatorial, as claimed by few. The much publicized spat with his bête noire Sanjay Joshi, the breakaway from the saffron party by one time CM of Gujarat Keshubhai Patel and the ghost of 2002 Gujarat riots have all added to his woes. To top it, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has said they will campaign against the man who has been at the helm of Gujarat for more than a decade. 

The Election Commission of India in an announcement which many were eagerly waiting for said on October 03 that Assembly elections in Gujarat will take place in two phases – December 13 and 17, with counting of votes on December 20. 

Much before the EC announced the all important dates; Narendra Modi had embarked on his month-long Vivekananda Yuva Vikas Yatra on September 11 with an idea to cover the major parts of the state. Interestingly, this was the day when spiritual leader Swami Vivekanada made his historic speech at the Chicago Conference of World Religions, 150 years ago. 

This was the first major campaigning exercise undertaken by Modi whereas the Congress has already organised four yatras. 

Throughout his yatra, while on the one hand Modi has been talking about the development of the state under his leadership, on the other he has been relentless in targeting the UPA-2 government at the Centre and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. And very recently he accused the Congress president Sonia Gandhi of spending 1880 crore public money on her treatment and travel abroad. 

However, this time around, probably, Modi’s strategy to personally target the Gandhi family seems to have backfired on him with the Central Information Commission saying on the day that the EC announced the dates for state elections that the Government of India did not make any expenditure on the UPA chairperson’s treatment abroad. 

In a gesture which took many by surprise Modi had offered to tender a public apology if his charge was found to be false. What will the Gujarat CM do now? Will he stick to his allegations or will he backtrack? Has his modus operandi of targeting the Gandhi family backfired on him? These are the questions that will haunt the saffron party in due course of time. 

Meanwhile, in what can be said to be lessons learnt from the past Sonia Gandhi while kick-starting the Congress’ campaign in Rajkot on October 03 addressing a huge farmers’ rally, clearly avoided directly attacking Narendra Modi. Remember, her ‘Maut ka Sudagar’ attack on Modi in a previous edition of state elections had backfired on the Congress party with the BJP using the personal attack to its advantage. 

Instead she said, “Some people like to take credit for the progress of the state, let them do it but it is the people of Gujarat and Saurashtra who have earned a name for themselves world over through hard work.” Adding – “It is unfortunate that our opponents only see darkness and cannot see the development”. 

However, with many predicting that the incumbent Chief Minister will come back to power in 2012, it is surely going to be an uphill task for the Congress leaders to give Modi a tough fight on his own turf. 

With allegations and counter allegations being traded much before the poll dates were announced between the two main parties, the battle ground is sure going to get more heated up in the coming days with the announcement of the elections dates by EC. As Narendra Modi a told TV channel – “The real campaign starts after the election dates are announced. Before that it is all about connecting with the people.”

In Himachal Pradesh, the BJP now has a big majority in the assembly, and if it successfully defends its title this time, it will not only have demolished anti-incumbency but also put the BJP as a potential contender for power at the centre.

A defeat for the BJP here would not be disastrous, but it would raise a question-mark over the party’s durability.

Thanks to the diesel price hike and the curtailment of subsidised LPG cylinders, the BJP will try to put the blame on the centre, while the Congress will try to raise local issues of corruption and governance.Narendra Modi. 

Second, Gujarat. This is the election that will decide the future of the BJP, the NDA and the UPA – not to speak ofNarendra Modi himself.With a thumping win of 117 seats in a 182-seat assembly in 2007, Modi has to win as convincingly this time to be a contender for the prime ministership in 2014.

A moderate win – with a majority of, say, 95-100, will mean he has been dented by dissidents in the party, and the slim majority will empower Modi’s internal critics to flex their muscles.

At the state level, he will have to keep his flock happy and this could reduce his ability to govern unchallenged as in his previous two terms. At the central level, his rivals in the prime ministerial sweepstakes could lobby with the RSS and their NDA allies to back a different candidate since Modi does not look like a surefire vote-winner any more.

The third possibility – a defeat for Modi – will be calamitous for him and the BJP. The Congress could then think of bringing forward the 2014 poll to harness the favourable winds from a Gujarat win.

Sonia and Rahul can rightfully claim to be giant-killers and the Congress’ prestige will rise skyhigh – which will give them a huge advantage in the next general elections.So what do these elections mean for the Congress and the UPA? 

If the BJP wins both states, there is little possibility that the UPA will call for early elections. But it is also unlikely that the government will fall, since a rising BJP will give both the Congress and other regional parties cause for pause as they will have to consider the impact of Modi on the national scene and their minority vote base.

Parties like the Trinamool and Janata Dal (U) will be wary of the BJP, and they could be persuaded to keep the UPA going in case some other party tries to pull the plug.The Samajwadi Party – which claims to be backing the Congress only to keep communal forces out – cannot now bring down the UPA when the BJP is roaring away, and Modi’s star is in the ascendant.The biggest dilemma is for the BJP – if it wins both states convincingly.The first point is that it will have to take a formal call on Modi’s leadership. If it decides to opt for him, the party will have to play for larger stakes by trying to win over 180 seats in the Lok Sabha – that is, match Vajpayee’s 1999 feat. Without these numbers, there is no way the BJP can attract enough allies to form a government.

The chances are the BJP will implicitly give Modi a bigger role without formally giving him the mantle of leadership so that it can keep its options open after the elections and elect a different leader to bring in allies.

A weak BJP performance in Gujarat may be more preferable to the central party, since this will keep the NDA alive – but this also means any future NDA-2 government may be weaker than even UPA-2.The future of Indian politics may turn upside down on 20 December.

[Abdul Hafiz Lakhani is a senior Journalist based at Ahmedabad, Gujarat. He is associated with IndianMuslimObserver.com as Bureau Chief (Gujarat). He can be reached at lakhani63@yahoo.com or on his cell 09228746770]

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