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Gujarat 2012 Elections: Victorious Modi's 2002 riots stigma pronounces uncertain future at national stage

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By Abdul Hafiz Lakhani

Ahmedabad: Gujarat, the most talked about state in recent time after infamous 2002 riots, has once again elected Narendra Modi as the Chief Minister of this political epicenter of the country. In the final tally, the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) bagged 115 seats (It got 117 seats in 2007) and the Congress Party got 61 seats in the 182-member legislative assembly.

However, Modi's popularity on the national stage remains uncertain with his reputation tarnished by allegations over links to deadly Hindu-Muslim riots in his home state in 2002.

Modi’s victory in Gujarat 2012 elections was a forgone conclusion. The simple reason being that he succeeded in getting away with impunity after having thousands of innocent Muslims massacred under his regime. Devoid of any concrete and punishing action, Narendra Modi naturally became more powerful and largely succeeded in cowering down and tormenting Muslims into submission and compromise, and finally winning the elections, as has happened in the aftermath of 2002 riots.

Though Modi has never openly declared his ambition to be prime minister, with victory for third consecutive term, he will be increasingly seen as angling to lead the BJP into the 2014 national elections -- with the ruling Congress Party being considerably weakened by slowing growth and numerous corruption scandals. But many in the BJP itself are wary of Modi, fearing that he remains a hate figure for Muslims and secularists following the 2002 riots.


Even as it celebrated its victory in Gujarat, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was divided house on whether chief minister Narendra Modi was a prime ministerial candidate. An interesting aspect emerging in the forthcoming Gujarat assembly is the decimation of the Congress' state leadership, but overall acceptance of the party.

State Congress chief Arjun Modhwadia, legislature party leader Shaktisinh Gohil and even Siddharth Patel lost badly to the BJP. Though Shankersinh Vaghela won with a low margin. Consequently, the state assembly's opposition is beginning to look 'RSS powered'.

In Gujarat, every election contested by Modi in the last decade has been on communal lines, including the 2012 assembly elections. And, every time Modi has painted Muslims as the enemy to fear. In 2002, it was an unapologetic Hindutva wave. In 2007, the poll plank apparently changed to development in the initial stages but after the ‘maut ka saudagar’ comment — the BJP projected it as the Congress’ attempt to criticize the encounter killing of a Muslim gangster— it was the Hindutva wave all the way.

This time there had been no such ‘wave’. However, from Modi’s saffron attire that had been a constant ever since he began campaigning to the latest advert softly asserting ‘we won’t apologise’ (apparently, for 2002), the Hindutva message is never far away. Earlier, the reference to Ahmed ‘Miyan’ Patel and the allegation that the Congress was keeping secret the decision to make Patel the CM if the party wins, were all part of the same saffron message. Modi had not repeated these messages in every rally, but this task was transferred to BJP foot soldiers who were expected to reach out to the party’s loyal vote-bank and instill in it the fear of a Muslim chief minister.

Another strategy was to paint anybody who challenges Modi’s development claims as ‘anti-Gujarat’ or ‘anti-national’ (including Keshubhai Patel) and the ever so subtle blowing of the conch of the myths in every advert.

The not-so-subtle messages had always been there – not wearing the symbolic Muslim head cap on the Sadbhavana stage and not fielding a single Muslim candidate in any of the 182 assembly seats — yet analysts have been intent on giving Modi the benefit of the doubt.

The chief minister’s latest salvo is the raking up of the non-existent Sir Creek issue. “Why is the UPA hiding its agreement with Pakistan to hand over to it the Indian land of Sir Creek in Kutch?” Modi has said.

A simplistic version of this unsubstantiated allegation had been spread aggressively by BJP’s foot soldiers among lower middle classes which have never heard of Sir Creek earlier. Their message is: “Congress is hand in glove with Pakistan and giving away to it a portion of Gujarat’s land.” Interestingly, Sir Creek entered the lexicon of the 2012 elections after campaigning for Phase I had concluded.

The subtle messages intended to evoke fear ahead of the elections are: “Congress is hiding something; reason to be worried. Pakistan is the enemy to fear.” When the timing of this letter is questioned, Modi replies: ‘Just because it is election time, should I stand by and not raise national issues?’ Emotion aimed at evoking nationalism. In the early stages of campaigning, the BJP campaign line was: ‘Sau no saath, sau no vikas’, meaning ‘inclusion and development of all’. But as soon as the poll bugle was sounded, this line was replaced with jibes about ‘Ahmed Miyan Patel’.

Hours before the first phase of polling, BJP’s feedback was that there was no ‘tempo’ in the people. The aggressive awareness campaign by the Election Commission meant the voter turnout would be higher but they could not gauge what was going on in people’s minds.

To drive the point home emerged the ‘Sir Creek issue’, later effectively combined with Pakistan interior minister Rehman Malik’s comment obliquely equating Mumbai 26/11 attacks with Babri Masjid demolition. (Malik later retracted his comment.)

In Gujarat, the BJP was headed for a win in 115 seats, just short of the 117 it won in 2007. The Congress appeared to have improved its tally marginally from 59 last times to 61 this time. Former BJP chief minister Keshubhai Patel's Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) was left with two seats, including his own.

In the hill state of Himachal Pradesh, the BJP's Prem Kumar Dhumal government prepared to exit office for the Congress that was poised to comfortably win 36 seats in the 68-member assembly.

The BJP, which had got 41 seats in 2007, was down to 26.

One all perhaps, but it was not really even stevens, in public perception at least. The win in Gujarat, which sends 26 MPs to the Lok Sabha against Himachal Pradesh's four, dominated the political space.

The drums rolled outside the BJP office in Ahmedabad as the trends came in and Modi prepared for a third straight term as chief minister, with speculation mounting over whether he would be the BJP's man for prime minister in 2014.

Modi, who has ruled Gujarat since 2001, did not immediately come out to address his jubilant supporters.

But even before the results were clear, he sent out a message on Twitter: "No need of looking behind, FORWARD! We want infinite energy, infinite courage, infinite patience..."

"Aaj ka CM, 2014 ka PM!" shouted his supporters as if on cue. Triumphant at the important win, BJP leaders were exultant but fought shy of responding to that most asked question.

"(The Gujarat election) is not about PM candidate but about who wins in Gujarat," BJP leader Balbir Punj said. "Let us savour this moment."

However, Rajya Sabha MP Smriti Irani said frankly that Modi, 62, would be her candidate for the country's top post on the strength of his governance in Gujarat.

The Congress, which in complete contrast to the BJP, had put forward no one leader as its chief ministerial candidate and had in fact consciously steered clear of bringing up the minority polarisation in the state, took solace in the margin of wins.

Terming the Congress the real winner, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said the Congress message had attracted more voters.

The BJP win, he said, was expected. "The government there, the bureaucracy there has a stranglehold over the system. That is the general perception. It is important that the kind of sweeping victory that was predicted is not there. The fact is that the BJP has been contained below the number it had last time," he told a television reporter.

"We are a democracy, it can't be I, me and mine," the minister said, in a reference to Modi's style of governance.

The Congress welcomed the "thumping victory" in Himachal Pradesh.

"We are very confident of forming a government," Congress veteran and former chief minister Virbhadra Singh said jubilantly as celebrations went on outside the party headquarters in Shimla with supporters bursting firecrackers.

Dhumal, in his home constituency Hamirpur, accepted defeat and congratulated the Congress.

BJP's Rajya Sabha MP Chandan Mitra added that the Congress had "won fair and square" in Himachal and the BJP would have to think where its strategy failed.

Anti-incumbency is a maligned term. In both Himachal and Gujarat, BJP faced anti-incumbency.

It couldn't handle it in Himachal, but was able to contain it in Gujarat. Anti-incumbency doesn't work only against a present CM or a present ruling party, but also against a sitting MLA.

What's the broad Gujarat picture? Of 182 seats, 50 were almost "safe" seats for Congress and Congress got a vote share of 41%. In Gujarat, both BJP and Congress have increased their vote shares by 1%, at the expense of "others". That sets a cap of 132 for BJP and containment should be viewed in that context, not against unrealistic expectations of 150 seats.

Voting often occurs along lines of caste, ethnicity and religion. Barring seats dominated by Patels and impact of GPP, with exception of North Gujarat, there is no evidence (from numbers already available) of caste/ethnicity/religion over-riding development/governance considerations, not even in Saurashtra. But for either, BJP would have done better.

A two-third majority, a vote share of 50% and a third term is no mean achievement. Though Muslims represent a far lower population share in Gujarat than nationally, this is also true of seats where Muslim votes matter. Nor is it the case that rural/urban differentiation makes sense. BJP's vote share in rural Gujarat has been 49%. When development is interpreted as roads, electricity and water, rural/urban differences break down, driving education, health and efficient public expenditure (read governance) in these elections.

[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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1 comments:

  1. I still maintain that victory of Modi is mainly due to Hindutva factor (openly projecting Modi as a man of development only to fool the people but subtly as future Hindutva hardliner PM)
    promoted by the cowardice of Muslims as mentioned in my letter a part of which is published in this news paper on December, 21 with title Gujarat 2012 Elections:
    Narendra Modi's electoral victory due to cowardice of Muslims.

    It is an old game of Hindutva forces as they did with
    Vajpayee (who was brought as secular PM and a man of development but who was mainly responsible, as explained in my said letter, for the massacre of thousands of innocent Muslims in 2002 in Gujarat)

    This cowardice of Muslims is further proved by simple
    evidence that no Muslim has so far cared /dared to comment on my said letter published in this newspapers.

    Yours truly

    Hem Raj Jain

    ReplyDelete