There is only one question that’s floating in Gujarat these days – ‘How many seats for Modi?’ That Narendra Modi is coming back to power in Gujarat for a third term is a forgone conclusion. The question is whether he will tide over anti-incumbency, Keshubhai Patel and a bevy of other issues to improve his performance. For some reason most of the people talk about the imperativeness of winning over 121 seats to claim the throne of Delhi. Except for self-pride, 10 seats here or there will not roil his national ambitions.
Most analysts and pundits see two strong undercurrents in Gujarat – that of anti-incumbency going against Modi and the second one of consolidation of Modi’s popularity. So which one is going to overpower the other? The answer depends on what side of Gujarat you are looking at. If you are in urban Gujarat, Modi’s popularity is only surging way more than ever before. But if you go to rural areas, Modi’s chamr will seem taking a beating. Particularly, interior areas where the Modi brand of development has not reached yet. Adding to his woes in rural areas is an unprecedented 33 farmer suicides, near-drought situation and power problems in many areas of Gujarat.
If one really wants to have a finger on the pulse of Gujarat elections, one needs to answer a question. Has Modi done anything really stupid to make his loyal voters turn their face on him? And if one fails in finding a logical answer to this question, read further. For argument’s sake, one can accept that people might be looking for a change after a fair overdose of Modi – for over a decade.
But in that case, has the Congress or former BJP chief minister Keshubhai Patel’s Gujarat Parivartan Party provided an option? To encash the fatigue of seeing the same face for over a decade and other disenchantments, Congress needed to project a face which can replace a face. Congress has failed so miserably in putting up a strong opposition for the past 20 years or more in Gujarat that one gets a feeling that they have gift-wrapped Gujarat to Modi in all the three elections.
And a politician of Modi’s calibre wouldn’t let go of such an opportunity. He positioned himself above ‘petty’ state issues. On almost every count he elevated his position by targeting the Gandhi family and the Prime Minister – no small fries please! Liberal Gujarati voters who never thought in parochial terms until Modi happened, found his pro-Hindutva, Gujarati pride and macho posturing an irresistibly deadly cocktail. This saw him ride to power very easily in 2002. In 2007, he elevated himself to the next level – development agenda. This overcame whatever second thoughts his loyal fans would have had in 2007. And in 2012, the quiet and subtle message of his imminent march to Delhi will make many overlook everything else, once again.
Interestingly, Keshubhai factor has certainly fomented a feeling of hurt in Saurashtra. Which means the region which was once a catalyst of BJP’s prowess in Gujarat, is now giving faint signals of change after three-decades of unquestioning loyalty to the party. And hence the anti-incumbency trend will firmly establish and consolidate here, but only on an extremely local level. But at the same time, in urban areas where his showcase projects have delivered and changed city landscapes, his vote is only going to consolidate further.
This leaves us with one more question. If he has done nothing stupid enough to lose faith of his nearly zealot fan-followers, why would they go looking for and vote for a non-existing alternative to Modi? In this scenario, why would one expect a change happening on Guajrat’s political landscape?