Days to go, issues, charges fly thick and fast


Ashish Mehta | December 10, 2012

New characters, new script
Motormouth Navjot Singh Sidhu went one up on Modi during his campaign tour of Gujarat when he termed former chief minister Keshubhai Patel a traitor. The 84-year-old veteran, who 11 years ago had to vacate the CM’s chair for Modi, was otherwise ignored in the BJP campaign but Sidhu finally made him a talking point.

Patel apparently managed to garner some sympathy among his Leuva Patel community, thanks to Sidhu. He brought out newspaper ads the following day, asking the party to name one act of his which could be termed anti-national. Moreover, he alleged that Modi was behind the barb, as there was no apology from the BJP camp yet.

Congress veteran in BJP
Narhari Amin is an unlikely politician. In 1974-75, he led the students’ agitation in Ahmedabad that became the precursor to the anti-Emergency movement across India, and toppled the then CM, Chimanbhai Patel of Congress. Then people forgot both of them — till 1989, when one of them became CM and the other deputy CM, from VP Singh’s Janata Dal.
In 1991, as Chandra Shekhar became PM and Janata Dal (JD) was fragmented, the maverick Chimanbhai merged the state unit of JD with the Congress. Amin was not a big shot but a face from the Patel community who spent more time managing the Gujarat Cricket Association than his constituency in Ahmedabad.

He had survived the 2002 storm but not the 2007 one.

This time, he wanted to contest from the Gandhinagar South constituted, newly created after delimitation. The Congress didn’t relent despite some rebellious show of strength. So Amin has finally gone to the BJP. On December 6, he accepted the saffron scarf from Modi and declared that the Congress would get only 32 seats (out of 182).

Will he be of any help to his new party? Not likely. After losing his seat in 2007, he also lost his cricket fiefdom – to Modi! He is, as they say, past his use-by date. A more colourful expression is in Gujarati: “footeli bandook”, a gun that has fired and done its job and is useless now.

Ahmed Patel, the ‘mian’ of 2012
Modi used to train his rhetorical guns on “Mian Musharraf” during the 2002 campaign, but now that the former Pakistan president is out of business and his successors are not so famous, Modi has found a target closer home: Ahmed Patel, the political secretary of Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

Old-timers will tell you Modi and Patel were, or are, close friends. Patel was the Lok Sabha member from Bharuch in central Gujarat, where Muslims are in good numbers, in the 1980s. He didn’t flaunt his identity and was better known as Babubhai.

Now Modi has floated this balloon in his speeches that the Congress, if it wins, will make Ahmed “Mian” Patel the CM. In the two previous elections Modi never talked even the hypothetical Congress victory, so this was surprising. Anyway, Patel issued a clarification: he is having a more influential position anyway. But Modi went on, saying there’s something fishy, you know, clarifications mean something must be fishy. Meanwhile, other Congress contenders were in trouble.

Shankarsinh Vaghela then had to assert that he was the Congress “captain”.

Congress goes positive
In its first phase of print and outdoor ad campaign, the main opposition was relentlessly negative, highlighting the word ‘nathi’ (not) – what is not there in Gujarat despite claims of development. In the second series, it has gone positive, replacing ‘nathi’ with ‘nakki’ (sure): what all a Congress government would surely provide: benefits of the sixth pay commission and special pay scales for the state government employees (who are not happy with Modi and their associations have announced plans to vote against BJP), solar streetlights in 18,000 villages, land plots in the name of rural women and so on.

In either series, in print and hoardings, conspicuous by their absence are the faces of Congress leaders, of the Centre or the state. Modi says in his speeches that the party seems to have realised that the Nehru-Gandhi family faces cannot charm people here. Of course, these faces are prominently displayed in pamphlets, hoardings announcing local candidates and so on.

The return of Narmada
Talking of ads, Modi is not missing in the BJP ad campaign of any size and medium. It, too, has its positives and negatives: development claims for Gujarat and attacks on the Congress. A curious addition is the Narmada Yojana, the mega-dam project on the Narmada which was to provide water to the parched Saurashtra and Kutch.

After the October 1999 victory in Supreme Court, which vacated a stay on the construction and put the Narmada Bachao Andolan’s plea aside, the state has mostly forgotten about the scheme which, in the 1980s and ’90s, was labelled the lifeline of Gujarat. It has provided water to some parts of Saurashtra and Kutch and much remains to be done. On one hand, the construction is not progressing due to lack of resettlement and rehabilitation of the affected people in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh. On the other hand, at least 34,000-km canal lines are yet to be constructed within Gujarat — something that could have been done without any further progress on the dam site and would have transferred available waters.

Back in 2002, I remember following Modi’s campaign train, when he used to tell people, “Ask your Congressmen to tell their counterparts in Madhya Pradesh to let the dam progress.” That was when the neighbouring state was ruled by the Congress.

Now, the problem has remained the same, but Modi can’t blame his own party’s government, so the blame is on the centre, which apparently is not giving permission to install gates on the dam. In an ad, Modi says the Congress has, right from the inception of the scheme in the 1960s, done nothing to further it. Ask Medha Patkar of Narmada Bachao Andolan, and she would blame the Congress governments of Gandhinagar and Delhi for the whole story so far.

Since parts of Saurashtra had a poor monsoon this year, Narmada is an issue again. The Congress is harping on the canals that could have been constructed to fetch more water.

Anyway, it’s good to see the dam being put to some use.



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