One can say that chief minister Narendra Modi has been setting the agenda of Gujarat elections ever since he fought his career’s first political battle in 2002. If his alleged role in the riots was the pivotal poll-talk in 2002, endorsement of his model of development was the crucial factor for voters in 2007.
But 2012 will go down in history as an election devoid of any agenda – not even the strong but usual anti-Congress rhetoric. A few days before the Phase-1 polling on December 13, the campaigning by Modi and the rest of the BJP is different from each others’.
Modi talks about his favourite idea – the development agenda — and plays to the galleries taking potshots at the Congress and Sonia. But except Modi, the other BJP leaders have found a solution to the problem of getting the attention of the crowds – by talking only about Modi. And they know what sells in Gujarat is Gujarati pride.
Hence the innuendos, suggestions and indirect references all point towards the sole agenda of ‘promoting’ the Gujarat CM to the throne of Delhi!
Interestingly, in a unique Modiesque style, Modi himself has never uttered a word to spell out his political ambition! However, what lies beneath the underlying message is telltale — he wants to claim the throne of Delhi. The pitching for Modi as the Prime Minister of India is not new and has been going on since the beginning of the Vibrant Gujarat summits.
First, business and industry spelt it out and now the different leaders in the BJP end up repeating the line that Modi has the potential to become the PM. Interestingly, no one is committing that Modi is going to be projected by the BJP as its PM candidate. Everyone seems satisfied that a teaser is good enough to catch the fancy of Gujarati middle-classes.
It is actually a strategic masterstroke of communication. It’s helping Modi and BJP tide over a lot of discontent and the powerful forces of fatigue and anti-incumbency factor that a ruler faces after such a long period in power. People want change, and this strategy has given just that. It has helped present Modi in a different light — not as a CM seeking re-election but a Gujarati seeking the support of other Gujaratis to be the most powerful person of the country. Though parochial in nature, it’s a serious appeal that most voters would find very difficult to escape.
Besides, this strategy has helped Modi make the voters forget the ‘petty squabble’ over who should be the chief minister of Gujarat. It has silenced the whole debate against Modi about corruption, the discrepancy between claims and reality, huge expenses for big ticket events which are not commensurate with results, too much centralisation of power etc.
Modi has successfully lifted the ‘vote for Modi’ from being a mundane exercise to re-elect a CM to the thrilling experience of electing a future prime minister. Thus Gujarati pride is a new reason to ensure that Modi doesn’t need endorsement from saffron groups to gain power. Is it going to yield fruits for him? It’s anybody’s guess but, prima facie, in an election devoid of any major agenda and issue, the strategy to lift himself above the rest may pay off well for Modi.
The manifestoes seem to be meaningless, the press conferences held by the parties have been pointless. Poll rallies and meetings by leaders of the BJP, without Modi on stage, have been a total flop show. The only hook to get voters out of their homes for supporting Modi is to say that you will be electing a CM who is going to be the PM!
The biggest gift for Modi has come from the most unlikely quarter — the Congress. The grand old party has lost the plot and how! After initial gains in July and August with its ‘Gahr-nu-ghar’ scheme, it stood a strong chance of resurgence. But in the absence of a clear leader, the momentum was lost immediately and reversal of fortunes is now complete.
In fact Polls 2012 will go down in history as the most inconsequential election that Gujarat has ever seen. There is hardly any fight between the two rivals. The Congress has worked extremely hard to lose the elections and BJP has worked very hard to let ‘brand Modi’ win the elections and everything else and everyone else take a back seat.
Most of the people outside Gujarat end up crediting Modi for everything that is good in Gujarat to just one person. These adulations have only added to his charismatic image at home and some posturing over national and international issues has further bolstered his image.
The most interesting take away from this year’s elections is the emergence of a new style of politicking – banking on one’s own brand rather than a party or an ideology. Modi banks so heavily on self-branding that the party has become almost incidental. What happens in Gujarat on December 20, the day on which the poll results will be out, is also going to decide whether this model will work in the Indian context or not.