surprising to see the BJP resort to the old polarisation trick in Gujarat. It came from Chief Minister Vijay Rupani himself. Sonia Gandhi’s man in Gujarat, Ahmed Patel, he alleged, was linked to an Islamic State operative arrested by the state Anti-Terror Squad from Surat.
The “operative”, he said, worked as a technician in a hospital “managed” by Patel. Rupani demanded that the Congress leader resign from the Rajya Sabha, to which he was elected recently after a bitter battle with BJP president Amit Shah.
Polarisation Ploy Ahead of Elections
The ploy was not even subtle. Rupani was attempting to stoke Hindu fears that “Congress = Muslims = Terror”.
But more than Patel’s quick reaction, the BJP discovered to its shock that there were few takers for the gambit.
The public response to Rupani’s press conference was lukewarm. Social media virtually ignored it. Even die-hard bhakts did not rise to the bait. A seasoned commentator said people saw it as just another ruse to win the election. The issue vanished from the discourse without a trace as the BJP dropped it like a hot potato, fearing a backlash from the Congress’ hyper-active Twitter team.
Gujaratis in No Mood to be Wooed?
Gujaratis – reeling from the twin blows of demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax – seem to be in no mood for emotional swings in the ongoing election. They are hurting as businesses suffer and prosperity dwindles.
A community that prides itself on entrepreneurship and enterprise is gripped by unaccustomed pangs of uncertainty and confusion about its economic future. And this time, it can’t even blame the Congress’ minority appeasement policies for its plight.
The difference between Mandate 2017 in Gujarat and past elections is that the economy has surfaced as the main talking point.
It has put the BJP on the backfoot as leaders are finding it difficult to justify the economic downturn that has resulted from the haphazard manner in which demonetisation and GST were sprung on a hapless nation.
As evident from the hasty retreat on the ISIS allegations against Patel, polarisation is not working as an electoral tool in a dismal financial environment. At least, as of now.
There are 39 days to go for the first phase of polling and there seems to be an air of expectancy in Gujarat. Can Modi pull a rabbit out of the hat in the next one month?
PM Modi Sounded Defensive on Note Ban and GST
There is no doubt that Modi has the uncanny ability to turn adversity into opportunity. A three-day intensive, personalised roadshow in Varanasi during the UP assembly election earlier this year helped the PM reclaim his Lok Sabha bastion for his party.
Till he took to the streets on polling-eve, seasoned election watchers were predicting losses for the BJP because of negative chatter about demonetisation, especially among the party’s core vote base of traders. Modi turned it around through sheer energy and a display of Hindu power.
Although Modi has visited his home state eight times this year already – with three trips in the last one month alone – his campaign has been devoid of his trademark high-pitched emotional appeal. In fact, on occasion, he has even sounded slightly defensive while speaking about demonetisation and GST.
Will Modi Work His Magic Again?
Poll watchers are mystified by Modi’s uncharacteristic restraint. In 2002, he was the Hindu Hriday Samrat and he played the role to the hilt. In 2007, he turned the tables on the Congress by training his guns on Sonia Gandhi’s “maut ka saudagar’’ salvo. He made himself the issue and won.
In 2012, he sold himself as ‘Mr Development’ and fought off the challenge from the dissident Patels, led by former chief minister Keshubhai Patel, who formed their own party to take on the BJP.
In 2017, voters are wondering whether Modi has run out of ideas, or is simply waiting for the right time to up the emotional ante.
Analysts say that despite the traction Rahul is getting – as he fires riposte after riposte at Modi – and despite the Congress’ witty social media campaign that has gone viral, people are still unsure whether they can bring themselves to vote for a party they banished to the margins of Gujarat politics 22 years ago.
The BJP’s fortunes in Gujarat rest entirely on Modi’s shoulders. Can he work his magic again? Or have demonetisation and GST robbed him of his halo in his home state?