Opinion polls & 'other media'
Aditya Aamir analyses the situation preceding Gujarat election
New Delhi: Opinion polls on TV placed BJP at the top of the heap, poised to win Gujarat yet another time. The opinion polls went ballistic on the Hardik factor but declared it will not change the verdict: BJP will win. The 'Other Media' – mostly news websites – does not speak of Hardik Patel. It went to the 'people' to find out which way the wind blows. The verdict: BJP is out on a limb. The Congress will win.
BJP – read Narendra Modi – has been in power in Gujarat for 22 years. Polls are scheduled to take place from December 9 and 14. And, according to the 'Other Media', Patidars, Dalits, OBCs, farmers, and traders, in fact, every other bloc, is fed up with Modi's 'Gujarat Model'.
Definitely, those of Gen-Next, those who will vote for the first time, are dead against BJP. They have seen through the smoke and the smog, says the 'Other Media'. The only ones who will support BJP are the 'Darbars and the upper castes', the ones who lord over the lower castes, oppress the Dalit and the Muslim.
The Dalit has not forgotten the 'Una incident' of 2016. Four Dalit youth were assaulted for skinning cow carcasses. The video had gone viral. Other talk that 'Other Media' use to pin the BJP are that it is "anti-poor", that it works for "big business" and that it is responsible for demonetisation and GST, two of Modi's landmark achievements, which disrupted everyday life and business.
The voter has turned to the Congress is the storyline of the 'Other Media'. It says people are looking back at Congress leaders with a sense of yearning. Many Congress leaders were better than BJP leaders, more people-friendly. 'The Congress was good for the Dalit. For the OBC. For the Muslim', the 'Other Media' quote. Things are different on the ground. The opinion polls on TV are biased, the 'Other Media' has pronounced.
And the Hardik factor does not figure in the discourse of the 'Other Media'. The opinion polls had put Hardik Patel as the X-factor in the Gujarat Assembly elections. At 24, he cannot contest but he can steer votes to the party of his choice. At this point, the Congress stands to corner that largesse. But Hardik Patel is a one-caste wonder – his caste, the Patel caste. He draws huge crowds – at last count upwards of 50,000 – at his rallies, and not necessarily all Patel. Hardik's single-point agenda is to get reservation for the Patel. That pits him and the Patel against other castes. So, why would they vote for the party of his choice?
The Congress has promised to deliver reservation to the Patel in return for electoral support. But even the Patel does not vote en bloc. The Patel of north Gujarat and the Patel of south Gujarat vote different. The Gen-X Patel and the Gen-before do not tick off the same box. Hindutva has blunted and blurred caste lines. Maybe not in the rural hinterland, which is where the 'other media' went.
Modi-haters, including those in the 'Other Media', countrywide are banking on Hardik Patel to help deliver the kiss of death to BJP. That would poleaxe Prime Minister Narendra Modi's streak of electoral victories. Boost the morale of the Opposition. If Hardik Patel can help defeat BJP, Modi can no longer brag about his 'Gujarat Model'.
The 2019 general elections will then be fought on a more level playing field. Modi will lose his aura of invincibility. And Rahul Gandhi will start his presidency of the Congress Party with an electoral victory. A defeat for the BJP in Modi's home state will cripple the BJP. It will curtail Modi's chances of becoming Prime Minister a second time. With the wind sucked out of its sails, Modi's boat will flounder and capsize. The stuff dreams are made of! In fact, the possibilities are too many, including a shot at UPA-III for the combined Opposition.
At every rally he addresses, Hardik Patel makes it a point to tell those in attendance not to vote BJP. In fact, he makes them take an oath right there and then to swear that they will not vote BJP. He tells them to vote for a party which is in a 'position to win'.
But which party, that he does not name, leaving it to his followers to decide. It cannot be the Congress Party. The last of the opinion polls had the Congress Party lagging BJP, in one poll by as many as 80 seats. But the 'Other Media' goes around this status report and states that the Congress is in a position to win.
So, which party in Gujarat other than BJP is 'in a position to win' is being thrashed out in the media. One buck gets ten, Hardik himself has no answer to the question 'which party is poised to win'? Hardik is not a pakkah politician. He is a Patidar "stir leader". A Patidar "quota leader". His dislike for Modi and BJP is written on his face. It is rooted in the Patel's call for reservation. But by marking other castes as 'enemy', in is his quest for reservation for the Patel, Hardik is a contradiction.
That said he is certainly a thorn in BJP's side. He makes that plain at his rallies. He chastises voters for getting used to "ghulami" of BJP. He mocks Modi for being a 'river-front wonder'. Hardik tells his gatherings that the BJP has divided society even though it is he who wants society divided on caste lines. Hardik's staunch supporters are diamond and textile traders. They are mostly Patel and migrants from the Saurashtra region.
Addressing rallies Hardik halts the speech in the middle to tell people to use their cell phones to call up relatives in Saurashtra to tell them to not vote for BJP. He rips apart Modi's 'Digital India'. He mocks Modi's foreign trips to "beg for foreign investment".
Throw out these arrogant leaders, he asks the crowd. Make headlines. 'Newspaper headlines should scream!'
At the end of every speech, he administers an oath, asking people to repeat it after him: 'I'll go early to vote on Election Day. But I'll not for BJP.' He does not tell them to vote for the Congress. Just that they should not vote for BJP. He has issues with BJP on the high cost of private college education, the lack of job opportunities, the vagaries of nature and crop failure and, problems that plague the Patel community.
All opinion polls released by TV news channels spoke of the Hardik-factor and every one of them concluded that the sex tapes that targeted him did not dent his popularity. If anything he got 'sympathy'.
Hardik is often compared to Sardar Patel. The TV opinion polls showed that despite his support, the Congress – Sardar Patel's party – will not be able to prevent BJP from returning to power. The 'Other Media' begs to differ. And the 'Other Media' insists the Congress does not need Hardik Patel to romp home victorious. Which media to believe, which media is right?
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)