Ground Zero Gujarat

The outcome of the elections in all-important state could very well set the stage for 2024

THE ongoing election campaign in Gujarat is the focus of media attention in the country and rightly so. More so, with the AAP entering the fray. Its leader Arvind Kejriwal has been in the state to try and replicate his party’s triumph in Punjab. The key question is whether he can pull it off. In Gujarat, he is up against the toughest odds. Gujarat is not Punjab. It is in this state that the phenomenon of prime minister Narendra Modi began in 2001, when he was first made the chief minister of the state. Rest as the cliche goes is the history.

The BJP has already been in power in Gujarat for 27 years, making it too entrenched in the state to be easily dislodged. What is more, it hardly faces any anti-incumbency issues. Under Modi, the BJP in Gujarat has become much more than a political party: it has become a part of the Gujarati identity. Gujaratis are perceived to be proud of the fact that one of their own is the prime minister of the country and another is the home minister.  So, the BJP is not necessarily judged on the basis of its performance in the government but as the party of Modi, the prime minister of the country.

This puts the Gujarat BJP beyond any political challenge on the traditional lines. The opposition can’t draw attention to its governance shortcomings, as the party most likely won’t be evaluated on that criterion. The parties can’t even rail against Hindutva at a time when the ideology has become the reigning ideological creed of the country. Also, in Gujarat, the opposition have to contend with the fact that the BJP is the party of Modi, a son of the soil.

The advantages like these make the BJP unassailable. That said, Kejriwal has proved he is not a pushover. In Gujarat, he is attempting to fill the void left by the Congress party’s decline as a viable political alternative. He is also trying to beat the BJP at its Hindutva game by plying a Hindutva lite version of the ideology. And in this pursuit, the AAP leader has even shocked the BJP by demanding that images of Hindu deities Lakshmi and Ganesh be printed on currency notes for the economy to do well.  He has now also sought a uniform civil code – one of the BJP’s core electoral planks – and sought its nationwide implementation. Once during his campaign, he emerged from the Somnath temple with a tripund on his forehead and rudraksha around his wrists. Earlier, he has also chanted the Hanuman Chalisa and flagged off pilgrim trains to the temple town of Ayodhya. And so far this politics has paid off for him in Delhi and subsequently in Punjab.  This has allowed the AAP to operate in an ambiguous political space, where it has tried to morph into a la carte party so as to appeal to the voters across the various political persuasions: It has precariously straddled the Hindutva-secular divide complemented with a governance promise focussed on improving education and healthcare.

Will this position the AAP as a credible political alternative in what is an all-important state for the BJP? Only time will tell. But Gujarat is not just any other state. It is from here that the phenomenon of prime minister Narendra Modi began and there are not even distant signs that it will end there. Competition is getting tougher with Congress also in the process of rejuvenating itself by hitting the road. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is currently undertaking a padayatra to reconnect Congress with the people. The public response has so far been good. And the participation of people has grown with every passing day. It remains to be seen whether this public outreach could translate into any electoral gains for the party in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.

Kejriwal has shown political skills to get his party up and running out of nowhere. He could very well do so in Gujarat by peddling the Hindutva card.  But it is also true that PM Modi’s charisma is still fresh and more so in his home state where his remarkable journey began. So, it would be next to impossible to dislodge him in Gujarat. With every passing year, his political appeal and constituency have grown stronger and wider while that of Congress has correspondingly shrunk.  But there are still two years to go before the general elections are held, and much can change during this time. Two years is a long time in politics. The outcome of the polls in Gujarat and Himachal could very well set the stage for 2024. More so, the one in Gujarat.

  • Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

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Riyaz Wani

Riyaz Wani is the Political Editor at Kashmir Observer

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