Monday, 30 January, 2023
HomeOpinionGujarat voters question BJP's 'remote-controlled' govt. But it's no Advantage AAP, Congress

Gujarat voters question BJP’s ‘remote-controlled’ govt. But it’s no Advantage AAP, Congress

BJP is facing two trends that are adverse to its party. Congress is being criminally lazy by taking voters for granted and AAP is an empty vessel making noise.

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In the old city of Ahmedabad’s Dani Limda area, the Aam Aadmi Party has opened an office in the Congress bastion much before the latter could kickstart its campaign. In there, Rauf bhai is sitting idle.

His interest is limited to earning some money in the election season. He serves tea and coffee and keeps the office clean. This reporter asked him: “Will urban Muslim voters in Ahmedabad shift to the newcomer AAP?” Rauf bhai expressed his community’s dilemma. “Indian people vote to help win their party and candidates. Gujarati Muslims vote to lose. We have known since the last six elections that our candidate’s party (Congress) is a loser.”

Many Muslims know that their votes are neither instrumental in defeating the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) nor helping the Congress. Rauf bhai asks me, “Can the AAP defeat the BJP?” Then, he cautiously adds, “Congress is known to us. Congress ne dago shun kaam devano? (Tell me why I should betray the Congress?)”

At ground zero of the upcoming assembly election in Gujarat, there are questions and questions.

Modi facing two trends

Despite having left Gujarat for eight years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi continues to be “Gujarat no nath (king/protector)”. His position among Gujarati voters is secured. But in this election, for the first time, he faces two trends adverse to him and his party. Within Gujarati society, there is a serious generation gap on political matters.

The respect for Modi, political support to the BJP and admiration for the “do-it-at-any-cost” attitude of the successive BJP governments varies among young and elder voters.

The younger generation is less enamoured of the party compared to the older one even as it extends support to Modi. It hasn’t seen any other party’s rule, so it has no benchmark to compare. These days, young people are questioning the “remote-controlled” arrangement of the Modi administration. More so in rural Gujarat. However, in urban areas, the BJP’s loyal voters continue to think, “Modi and his party’s rule provide security” in society.

Another issue Modi’s leadership is facing is the weakened health and education administration and increasing corruption at all levels. The Morbi bridge tragedy is proof of failing administrative efficiency. Arvind Kejriwal’s highly aggressive politics holds resonance in these matters.

Being the Prime Minister, Modi isn’t directly answerable for the absenteeism of doctors in government hospitals or the maladies of rural school administration. But voters do vote ‘directly’ to him, and even Modi himself has recently requested the voters to do so.

This leads to a situation where nobody is held accountable. The visible anti-incumbency against the BJP is due to young voters who didn’t vote for Modi when he was the chief minister in Gandhinagar.

Also read: Gujarat has two faces of Hindutva. Rahul Gandhi is the only political opposition to it

BJP’s stakes

In September 2021, Modi asked then-Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and his entire cabinet to resign. In retrospect, this move has proved a saviour. It would have been very difficult to campaign for this election with old, tired faces. Some of them were corrupt too. The BJP’s biggest strength, as always, is that individuals matter less and less, and mammoth organisational machinery set up till polling booths works wonders. If the BJP wins this election, it will be majorly due to its cadre and networking that work with the sole aim to mobilise voters to polling booths.

Due to a three-pronged fight, the BJP will have to ensure higher voting. The resources and inducements, including money power, keep oiling this machinery. The BJP in Gujarat is a divided house like all other parties. In many constituencies, the BJP candidate has to fear dissenters more than the Congress or AAP. But, like the professional corporate house, the party administration keeps working irrespective of political ups and downs. This election has been made difficult by the entry of the AAP with its imitation of the BJP’s networking. Many BJP workers tell me that by 2027, AAP will build up its network.

BJP loyalists claim that “there is no better and stronger alternative” for Gujarat voters. So, they will get their core votes even in their seventh election since coming to power. But, in 60 constituencies out of 182, where victory margins have been narrowed, the “alternative to BJP isn’t good enough” argument may not sustain. With three or more strong candidates and multiple factors, including the slack development of Saurashtra and tribal areas, the BJP candidate will have to sweat it out and keep on the edge till the last vote is counted. The Hindu identity issue, though, is bankable for them. The voters want stability and security, and that keeps them with the BJP. Even now.

Also read: Gujarat’s Jignesh, Hardik, Alpesh left Modi-Shah desperate in 2017. But 2022 is different

Congress is just too lazy

Gujarat Congress is criminally lazy. They have loyal voters, but its leaders are tired and busy fighting each other. There are 15 constituencies in the state that have never voted for the BJP even when Modi had completely hypnotised Gujarat. But Congress leaders are taking these voters for granted. BJP has held 31 such constituencies where they haven’t lost any election since 1998. However, when there are just a couple of days remaining for nominations, according to a media report, in the Naranpura constituency — BJP bastion in Ahmedabad — no Congress leader applied for a ticket. And the BJP had more than 56 applications. At the last minute, the Congress pushed one worker to apply. In this election, the Congress is scared. Its voters have an alternative in the AAP in some 35 constituencies. This election is all about the Congress’ future. If the AAP grabs their votes, it will be a death knell for it in the state. However, its voters are not likely to close their party’s shop.

Meanwhile, the AAP is all set to gain. However, Arvind Kejriwal’s critics say, “Khali chano vage ghano” (the Gujarati equivalent of ‘empty vessels make the most noise’) — a reference to the AAP’s hype and propaganda filling up the air but which is not rooted yet in Gujarati ethos. If it grabs the Congress or BJP votes, or both, it will only be “anti-votes” against the two parties.

Sheela Bhatt is a Delhi-based senior journalist. Views are personal.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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