Knowingly or unknowingly, Gujarat Assembly Polls have become a direct fight between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, which can be dubbed as semi-final to 2019 Lok Sabha Polls
By Yogesh Sharma
Filing of nominations for the second and final phase of Gujarat Assembly elections ended on November 27. With this battle lines have been drawn between ruling BJP and Congress, even though there are many others also in the field like newly formed Jan Vikalp by Shankarsinh Vaghela, NCP, JDU, BSP and AAP. Polling is on December 9 and December 14 and results for 182 seats will be out on December 18.
BJP is going alone on all 182 seats while Congress on 176 seats. Congress has spared five seats for Chhotubhai Vasava and his Bharatiya Tribal Party. Chhotubhai was with JDU, but after the split in JDU he has formed BTP. Congress has given one seat to Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani who is contesting as an independent from Vadgam in Banaskantha district of north Gujarat.
Gujarat is facing the fiercest election in its history. There are many factors into play this time ranging agitations by Patidars, OBCs and Dalits to open revolt in BJP over ticket distribution. Two MPs made their demand for ticket public to their relatives with threat of revolt. Though later party made them public statement that they had no problem and they would support party candidate, the fact is that such incidents never happened in BJP. This was a legacy of Congress alone. There are many other minor factors that have cropped up this time.
Faced with the problem of open dissent, BJP this time dropped only 34 of its sitting MLAs while in 2012 it had dropped 60 MLAs. BJP has dropped five ministers, but roped in stalwarts like Jai Narayan Vyas who was sidelined after his defeat in 2012. Congress has made changes in five of its 43 MLAs.
The state is facing powerful agitation by Patidars, OBCs and Dalits for more than two years. This has polarized society a lot, but not changed ticket distribution ratio of both the parties. BJP has given tickets to 53 Patidars while Congress to 47. Congress has accommodated 60 OBC candidates while BJP 47. In the case of Dalits, Congress has 14 candidates and BJP 13.
Both the parties are talking about empowerment of women, but they have not given much representation to them. BJP list has 12 women candidates whereas Congress only 10. Interestingly, in many speeches Rahul had raised the issue of more to women.
This time temple visits by Rahul Gandhi raised the issue of soft Hindutva by Congress which is always seen as pro Muslim party. Congress made all efforts to make sure that its image of pro Muslim was not reinforced in the election campaign and to covey that its secularism meant its respect for all religions. BJP, on the other hand, made all efforts to show that Muslims were turning towards BJP because of the development the party has brought in Gujarat. BJP has brought even Muslim leaders and Maulvis from other states to influence Muslims voters in Gujarat.
However, as per its policy in Gujarat, BJP has not given any ticket to Muslims this time also. Congress has given ticket to six Muslims including two sitting MLAs.
But what is most striking and decisive factor this time is the fact that the election battle of Gujarat is being fought by central leadership of the party directly. On one hand is Prime Minister with his established charismatic personality and oratory skills and on the other is Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi who is honing his newly acquired verbal and inter-personal communication skills. Never in the past, top leaders of any party played such an active role as in Gujarat this time. Never any Prime Minister led any state election with such a spirit.
Modi and Rahul Gandhi are leading campaign of their party and have army of central leaders engaged in “carpet bombing” against each other. BJP calls it a fight between vikas versus vanshvad (dynastic) while Congress is out with slogan of Navsarjan of Gujarat where BJP has anti poor policies. While Rahul and Congress leaders has a set list of allegations against BJP rule like rise in unemployment, pro rich development, GST and demonetization; BJP leaders are quick in painting Congress as anti-Gujarat and corrupt party. In their media interactions and public speeches BJP leaders has one prominent theme. It is that the Congress is an anti-Gujarat party. This transcends to anti-Gujarati and anti-Sardar, anti-Narmada and so on. This way, both Congress and BJP have one script each, which they are repeating with very minor variation everywhere.
No doubt Rahul Gandhi is attracting crowds with his newly acquired skills of communication. He meets people, mingles in crowds. But he is no match to Narendra Modi who uses his oratory skills with content to have direct connected with masses. Four speeches on November 27 in different regions was best example of this. Emotional pitch of Gujarat and Gujarati of these speeches made it clear that he is turning the entire election campaign into an emotional campaign where any opposition to Gujarat is an insult of Gujarat, insult of Prime Minister Modi who is “son of Gujarat” before everything.
It is very clear that the election campaign of BJP will be woven around theme of Gujarat and Gujaratis with Modi leading it from the front as nothing else seem to working for BJP which is beset with all kind of problems no BJP government faced in the last 22 years. It will be Modi versus Rahul Gandhi, which can be termed as semi-final to 2019 as the same leaders would be logging horn for throne in those polls too! Will Modi alone take the party to magic figure of 150 seats in the election, a target set by Modi and echoed by all BJP leaders?