In Modiland, clean sweep unlikely for BJP; Cong set to win nurtured seats

Gandhinagar’s irony: what for Advani if you want Modi as PM!

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Ashish Mehta | May 2, 2014


Narendra Modi`s much-discussed selfie after casting his vote in Ahmedabad on April 30.
Narendra Modi`s much-discussed selfie after casting his vote in Ahmedabad on April 30.

Having a PM (or a PM candidate) from the state is not a first-time event for Gujarat. The twice-caretaker PM, Gulzarilal Nanda, used to be elected to the Lok Sabha from Sabarkantha in north Gujarat. Morarjibhai Desai, though largely Mumbai-based in that phase of his career, was elected from Surat when he became PM. After LK Advani chose Gandhinagar, the constituency had a super VIP profile in the 1990s – so much that when Advani refused to contest till his name was cleared after the Jain hawala scandal allegations, it was Atal Bihari Vajpayee who contested from here in 1996. (He went on to become the PM, albeit for 13 days, and of course he retained his Lucknow seat, not the Gujarat one.)

Still, if many in Gujarat feel as if the state is voting for a PM for the first time, blame it on the large number of young voters. A section of voters is enthused by the possibility that a Gujarati will rule the nation. Many will see a historic wrong being set right: never mind the actual facts behind the choice of Nehru as the first PM but many think the honour should have gone to Sardar Patel. Moreover, during the long years of the Congress’s rule in the centre when the BJP was gaining ground in the state, people were left with an impression that Gujarat was getting step-motherly treatment from the centre – even if the ground situation did not change much during the NDA years either. (In 2004, Gujarat gave 12 of its 26 seats to the Congress – right amid the rise and rise of Narendra Modi, and yet can anybody name any Gujarati in the union cabinet worth naming?)

Modi was appealing to this notion too when he told Governance Now in an interview two years ago that the UPA government was treating Gujarat as if it were an enemy nation (read the full transcript here).

Was it this feeling, rooting for a Gujarati prime minister, that stoked the dramatic rise in voter turnout in the state? On April 30, 63.31 percent of the voters in Gujarat went out to exercise their franchise, ignoring the maximum temperature of over 44 degrees Celsius that day. The number was up from a mere 47.09 percent in 2009.

This is the second-highest turnout, next only to 63.77 percent in 1967.

Prima facie, Gujarat is voting for Modi-as-PM. If there is a Modi wave in the most unlikely places across the country, its peak has to be in the home state. This explanation may be true on the whole, you have to give a few percentage points to the election commission too for its drive to clean up voter rolls (read the Governance Now interview with psephologist Sanjay Kumar on this matter here).

Come to think of it, this author (courtesy this publication) too had a small contribution in the historic turnout. For, I went from Delhi to Ahmedabad to vote. The home, in the western part of Ahmedabad, is under the Gandhinagar constituency (Lok Sabha) and Ghatlodia constituency (assembly): one represented for years by Advani (after it was vacated for him in 1991 by Shakarsinh Vaghela, whose fate he would now be in a position to better appreciate), the other represented by the eminent Modi confidants like Amit Shah and Anandi Patel. This effectively means one need not waste money and increase one’s carbon footprint in flying Delhi- Ahmedabad-Delhi, no matter what they tell you about the value of every vote.

For a BJP voter, it’s pointless because the eager and enthusiastic party cadre has already ensured the result well in advance. For a non-BJP voter it’s futile because the opposition has already done what the voter should be doing: saved money and reduced the carbon footprint. What else can explain the choice of Congress candidates whom even their neighbours probably don’t know (Gabhaji Thakor of 2004, for example), when it’s not an outright droll (TN Seshan in 1999 and Rajesh Khanna in 1996)?

The Congress strategy this time, like several times before, is to pit a Patel candidate before Advani, and hope to secure some respectable number of votes from the influential community.

But that can only save the deposit, not win the seat. Ghatlodia is often called new Khadiya – after the old, walled city locality from where BJP began its electoral wins in the state.

Thus, asking a young, bubbly, outspoken neighbour about her vote was pointless: “I have nothing to hide. Ab ki bar, Modi sarkar,” was the answer, heard across half the colony.

The small surprises, however, were to come in whispers. “We are, like, neither BJP nor Congress.” Then what? In reply came a gesture, of sweeping. “Savarani”, or what Delhi calls a “jhaadu”. This is stranger than it may sound in (say) Delhi, because the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) does not have much of a base in Gujarat, and many of its candidates are – well – aam aadmis, at least in the fact that few heave heard about them. Though the party is not going to even make a noticeable dent in any constituency, what it has done is give an option to that voter who has a pathological dislike for the Congress and votes for BJP because it seems better than the grand old party, or because it is the winning party.

Simply put, AAP has the potential of emerging as an alternative to the two biggies, provided it builds its cadre by taking up issues that matter. The AAP in Gujarat is not a home-grown, organic thing yet.

That’s the scene in the constituency nurtured by mostly absent “Advani-ji” – as a shopkeeper referred to him when reporting that the veteran had just visited the booth next door. Modi’s sales pitch – don’t bother about the candidate, vote for lotus, and it will reach me directly – sounds ironical here!
What about the scene across the state?

Gujarat, with or without Modi, is a BJP stronghold right from 1984, when it won one of its two Lok Sabha seats from the state. Indeed, the graph has largely gone up: 12 (1989), 20 (1991), 16 (1996), 19 (1998), 20 (1999), 14 (2004) and 15 (2009). Incidentally, it dipped only in 1996 (when, thanks to Modi, Gujarat BJP was on the brink of a split) and in 2004 (when Modi was in charge of the campaign).

That’s ironical: the Congress performance in the national polls since Modi’s advent is not too bad compared to the previous years. Also, certain Congress leaders have nurtured certain constituencies (especially in central Gujarat). So, a whitewash is unlikely when the vote count begins on May 16. What Modi can aspire for is a result that is close to the sympathy wave Rajiv Gandhi benefited from in 1984, when the Congress won 22 seats.

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