In an incisive analysis of Gujarat polls, top scribe Rajdeep Sardesai has predicted that, if a month ago, he would have almost unhesitatingly said the BJP would win at least 120 plus seats in the 182 member assembly, today he would press the pause button and maintain that the “BJP remains in pole position to cross the half way mark.”
Calling Gujarat “the original Hindutva fortress”, with “a formidable organisation right down to the last booth worker”, Sardesai says, “By contrast, the Congress in Gujarat has remained a moribund and leaderless organisation”, adding, while “the vote share gap between the BJP and the Congress appears far too wide, especially in urban areas”, the top scribe says, “there is an anti-government undercurrent in rural Gujarat”.
Even as sharply coming down on Modi for his desperation going so far as “to bizarrely drag in Pakistan and suggest that Islamabad wants Ahmed Patel to be chief minister of Gujarat”, calling it a “particularly low blow that brings down the credibility of the prime minister’s office”, Sardesai says, people still do not utter harsh words about Modi. Thus, “one textile shop owner who used the word ‘feku’ but very little else by way of personal attacks.”
As for Rahul Gandhi, says Sardesai, he “has found a voice in Gujarat”, with “even his worst critics can’t deny that Rahul has surprised us with the energy with which he has campaigned in Gujarat”. The scribe adds, Rahul’s speeches “may lack an oratorical flow (he still uses crazily long English words like ‘contradictions’ in rural Gujarat) and the content is fuzzy”, but he has “demonstrated a more intangible human quality called ‘sincerity’.”
Coming to Hardik Patel, Sardesai says, he is “the X factor in this election”, insisting, “Make no mistake, without Hardik playing the dramatic street fighter role, this election in Gujarat may have been yet another tepid no-contest between a triumphant BJP and a timid Congress.”
Within this framework, Sardesai says, “The Gujarat model is under strain”, and there is a “sharp rural-urban-sub-regional divide”. He adds, “The BJP will win a majority of seats in Ahmedabad despite the Patel factor; it will have limited losses in Surat despite anger over GST. The cities are a BJP citadel.” However, “rural Gujarat, especially Saurashtra where farmers have suffered from agrarian distress and low minimum support prices, offers the best chance for the Congress to make major gains.”
Even in urban areas, Sardesai suggests, BJP is not without problem: “The Gujarati trader and those engaged in small and micro enterprises, notebandi and then GST were a double whammy... In a state where the entrepreneurial spirit thrives, state power or ‘tanashahi’ is frowned upon”.
Coming to tagline ‘vikaas’, Sardesai says, “Hindutva remains the overpowering sub-text. In 2002, there was James Michael Lyngdoh, in 2007 there was Mian Musharraf, in 2012 there was Mian Ahmed Patel, in 2017, there is Mughal dynasty. In every election, there are warnings of a return to ‘Latif Raj’ under Congress and, of course, that eternal promise of a Ram Mandir.”
At the same, Sardesai complains, “In no other state is the attempt to polarise communities so easily and coarsely legitimised as it is in Gujarat. The well being of the state’s 10 per cent minorities don’t seem to matter as Gujarat’s Muslims have gone missing in this election. The Congress is silent on their plight for fear of being branded pro-Muslim and losing the Hindu vote (hence, the need for Rahul Gandhi’s temple tourism).”