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It’s Modi’s way or highway in Gujarat

During my five-day visit to Gujarat (December 3-7), I interacted with people belonging to various sections of the society. I met teachers, doctors, traders, auto drivers, workers employed in hotels and other establishments, government employees and journalists.

All of them were of the view that the influence and power of Narendra Modi would be eroded in the ongoing elections, for which the first phase of voting will take place on 13 December. Some of them were of the view that after the polls, Narendra Modi would emerge stronger and another view was that he is destined to lose power. But both these extreme viewpoints were that of the minority.

In the course of my conversation, every body referred to Narendra Modi and not to Bharatiya Janata Party. For most of the Gujarat voters, the BJP is non-existent. They see the elections as a battle between Narendra Modi and the anti-Modi forces represented by the Congress and Keshu Bhai Patel’s newly formed party.

The voters are polarised on pro-Modi and anti-Modi lines. On one hand, there are forces which want to give a massive mandate in favour of Modi; and on the other, there are those who want to throw out Modi, lock, stock and barrel. In Gujarat, his admires adore him as Hitler was adored by his followers in Germany. His opponents regard him as a dictator, whose writ runs in Gujarat.

Modi became Chief Minister under the Parliamentary system of Government. In the Parliamentary system, Prime Minister and Chief Ministers are regarded as first among equals. But in Gujarat, Modi is only first and there are no equals in his Ministry. There are many who feel that between 2007 and 2012, Modi’s arrogance and stubbornness has grown manifold. His arrogance has made him a misfit in our Parliamentary system. His arrogance has alienated him not only from the non-BJP and non-RSS circles, but also from the BJP and the Sangh Parivar.

During his years in power, he has made BJP and various affiliates of the RSS irrelevant in Gujarat. It is a well-known fact that Vishwa Hindu Parishad and its leader Dr. Togadia cannot hold public functions in the state.  The office of ‘Bharatiya Kisan Sangh’, an affiliate of the RSS, located in Gandhi Nagar was forcibly closed down by Modi. People are apprehensive that if Modi wins more seats this time in the Vidhan Sabha, the chances of him being projected as Prime Ministerial candidate would brighten. This will be an unmitigated calamity for the whole nation, many feel. 

There are indications that even Modi is apprehensive of erosion in his popular base. Much before the dates of elections were announced, Modi repeatedly hinted that a good number of present BJP legislators would be replaced. But when the final list was announced, only a few sitting legislators were deprived of the tickets. Normally, the list of party candidate for state legislature is sent to high command for final approval. But this procedure was not followed because Modi made it clear he should be given a free hand for selection of candidates and ultimately he had his own way. His reluctance to make major changes in the list of candidates shows that he is not that confident this time, as he was in 2002 and 2007.

Another development, which has added to the worries of Narendra Modi, is the revolt of Keshu Bhai Patel. Keshu Bhai Patel is highly respected both in the BJP and RSS circles. Keshu Bhai Patel has left the BJP and formed his own party. There is enough evidence to indicate that Modi humiliated Keshu Bhai and no self-respecting leader can stomach the insults for such a long time.

Keshu Bhai was the first BJP Chief Minister of Gujarat. He severed his relations from the BJP largely due to the arrogant behavior of Modi. It is generally felt in Gujarat that Keshu Bhai’s party may not be able to make significant gains but it is in the position to make dent in Modi’s vote bank. This may help Congress wrest some seats from Modi’s party. According to Hashmukh Bhai Patel, Media in charge of the Gujarat Congress in the 2007 elections, Modi’s candidates won with small margins of four to five thousand votes in about 45 Vidhan Sabha constancies. Keshu Bhai’s candidates are expected to secure enough votes to defeat Modi’s, candidate in these marginal constituencies. 

Another factor, which may, to some extent, damage the prospects of Modi’s candidates, is the anger of government servants. It is alleged that Modi treats government servants with contempt. Besides, he has deprived the Government servants of financial benefits which they are entitled to.

Modi has evolved a unique policy for newly appointed Government servants. According to this policy newly appointed government employees get a fixed salary. The fixed salary ranges between Rs. three to five thousand. Besides that Modi has not given the employees the benefits of the sixth pay commission. Because of these factors there is no love lost between Modi and Government employees. Experience shows that ruling party sufferers setback if the government employees are angry with it. Some employees’ organisations have publicly appealed to voters to defeat the Modi party candidates.

Another factor, which may damage Modi’s electoral prospects, is his total indifference towards minorities. Modi has not given a single ticket to Muslims. Besides that there is no mention of minorities in the manifestoes.

There are two candidates who are attracting the attention of entire Gujarat. The two candidates are widow of Haren Pandya and wife of Sanjiv Bhatt, a senior police officer. Haren Pandya was the Home Minister in the Modi ministry, who was, later on, killed in highly mysterious circumstances.

After Haren Pandya’s murder, his father alleged that Modi’s hidden hand was behind Pandya’s killing. Haren Pandya’s widow announced that she was in the electoral battle to teach Modi a lesson.

As for Sanjiv Bhatt, he is being persecuted by Narendra Modi because he has made serious allegations against Modi regarding the latter’s involvement in the 2002 Muslim massacre. Modi Government immediately suspended him and recently implicated him in the case of custodial death which took place way back in 1994.

Despite several challenges that Modi faces, the Congress still appears to be an unequal rival in the electoral battle. Its election machinery is not as well oiled as that of Modi. Who is the captain of the Congress team, Modi repeatedly asks. Another factor, which has hampered the growth of the Congress in the State, is the fact that Ahmed Bhai Patel has a decisive say in the Gujarat Congress affairs. Ahmed happens to be the political advisor to Sonia Gandhi and a member of her Kitchen Cabinet. During the last 11 years of Modi rule, Ahmed did not allow any leader who can be projected as alternative to Modi, many Congress leaders allege. But they are not ready to say this on record.  (Ipa)
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