Do or die battle for Congress in Gujarat, countdown begins

Do or die battle for Congress in Gujarat, countdown begins

By Abdul hafiz lakhani:

December 2017 has set,Gujarat is political epicenter as state Assembly election will be held in two phase. all eyes will be on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state Gujarat, where both the ruling BJP and the Opposition Congress face their biggest test in the mother of all battles. The election result will have repercussions far beyond the borders of the prosperous western state. It’s a battle of prestige for the BJP that has ruled Gujarat for the past 22 years. For the Congress, which has faced defeat in poll after poll in the state since 1995, a strong performance could set the tone for crucial state polls next year and, ultimately, for the 2019 general elections.

Gujarat just has 9 percent Muslims out of the total population of about 6.76 crores. With 182 assembly seats, the ideal representation should be at least 16 MLAs representing the community. But the fact is that Muslims were represented by two MLAs in 2012 assembly which was reduced from seven in 2007 and three in 2002.

The decreasing trend in the communities’ representation is a classic case of Muslims not willing to vote for the elections and political parties not being interested in asking for their votes because they hardly come out to practice their political right.

Emboldened by a string of state victories and Modi’s soaring popularity, the BJP has set an ambitious target to win more than 150 seats out of the total 182. Most watchers say the party will retain power in its citadel on December 18 when votes are counted. But this may not be easy. It’s not just anti-incumbency that the party is battling. Gujarat is where Modi honed his skills as a politician and administrator. He first came to power in Gujarat in 2001, and swept elections in 2002, 2007 and 2012. He inspired euphoric support for Gujarat’s high growth and his own personality. He still does. But his rise to the country’s top job in 2014 has also meant his absence from Gujarat’s politics.

Banking on Modi:

Modi was succeeded by Anandiben Patel when he became Prime Minister. Vijay Rupani took over as Chief Minister after Anandiben’s abrupt resignation in August last year. The BJP, however, believes he is more than just making up for the loss by making multiple trips to the state, announcing and inaugurating public projects, and launching scathing attacks on the Congress. The BJP will unleash Modi’s 30-odd rallies in the state that will see two-phase polling on December 9 and 14.

Another worry for the BJP is unrest in various communities. Patidars have been the BJP’s strongest supporter over the decades. They have been vociferously pressing for reservation in education and government jobs. Many feel the BJP government has been unjust in denying them quota benefits. Sections of Dalits are also disenchanted. The Karadiya Rajputs are unhappy, too. In 2007 and 2012, the Congress did not have a strong state leader to take on Modi. It still does not have one. But the troika of caste leaders — Hardik Patel (Patidar), Alpesh Thakore (OBC Kshatriya) and Jignesh Mevani (Dalit) — is a cause for concern for the BJP.

The challenges:

The BJP has called more than 200 backward caste and Dalit leaders from across states to boost its campaign. They have been asked to fan out to their respective communities and explain how Hardik, Alpesh and Jignesh are diametrically opposite to each other in terms of their castes but have come to the Congress fold for personal gains. “The public now understands how the limit of reservation cannot be increased and how the provision of 10 per cent reservation for EBCs (economically backward communities) was stopped by Congress,” said BJP Gujarat spokesperson Bharat Pandya.

Demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax (GST), dubbed by the Modi government as accomplishments, has been dismissed by the Opposition as twin blows on the economy. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, who has spent over 15 days in Gujarat in the past two months, has launched blistering attacks on Modi on both issues, putting the ruling party on the defensive, and forcing the Central government to lowering GST rates on various goods.

The BJP is also raking up the issue of differences between Congress leaders. BJP chief Amit Shah has been asking the Opposition party to name its CM candidate. Gujarat Congress leaders, however, say it is a diversionary tactic. “BJP has been in power in Gujarat for 22 years, but it still blames Congress governments of the past for the state’s problems. BJP continues to play victim because it has failed to deliver, and has nothing to show,” Senior Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil said. He also said that while Rahul criticised the BJP over issues such as demonetisation, GST, farmers’ problems and rising unemployment, the ruling party has responded by targeting his temple visits. Chief Minister Rupani clarified that the BJP has no problems with anyone visiting temples, but “the visits should not be just before the elections”. A rejuvenated Congress, however, sounds confident. “In the past many elections, a divided Congress made the BJP’s task easier, but our leaders are working together, and we have a good chance this time around,” said a party insider.

Poll war on social media:

Reflecting the significance social media has come to play in our daily lives, the Gujarat poll battle is being fought as much in the virtual world as on the ground. Both parties have already launched several social media campaigns to impress voters. The Opposition took the first strike at the BJP with the Vikas Gando Thayo Chhe (Development has gone crazy) campaign, which caught the imagination of many and inspired several memes and spoofs. Unfazed, the ruling party responded with the Hu Chhu Vikas, Hu Chhu Gujarat (I am development, I am Gujarat) campaign, reiterating that it would contest the polls on issue of development.

Sources said the BJP is also trying to woo the Muslims via the Rashtriya Muslim Manch, an arm of the RSS, and an assortment of nearly 50 Muslim clergy had arrived arrive in Gujarat from various BJP-ruled States in the run-up to the polls.Muslims have largely kept aloof from the BJP in Gujarat, particularly after the 2002 riots.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was then State chief minister and “Hindu Hriday Samrat”, had famously refused to wear a skull cap from a Muslim delegation during his three-day “Sadbhavna” fast in Ahmedabad in 2011. The BJP has not fielded a Muslim candidate for years in many States.

Traditionally, 6-8 per cent Muslims in Gujarat had always voted for the BJP before and in immediate years after 2002. For long, a sizable number of Shia Muslim sects engaged in mercantile occupations like Dawoodi Bohra voted for the BJP. Similarly, Sunni Muslims have also given their tacit support to BJP candidates in many Assembly constituencies. The 2012 elections already witnessed a visible upsurge in Muslim support for the BJP even when none of the 182 candidates was a Muslim.

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