Gujarat Assembly Elections: Some interesting propositions in the offing

By Santosh Bhartiya

Elections in Gujarat are round the corner. It presents many entanglements. First up, the BJP wants to win, but it is not yet clear on whose face does it want to win, which gave rise to the curious question as to who will be party’s face: Chief Minister Vijay Rupani or Prime Minister Narendra Modi. After taking over as the chief minister, Narendra Modi has been the party’s face in all assembly elections. I think he Narendra Modi will be the face of the party in Gujarat as well. During the Japanese Prime Minister’s recent visit to Ahmedabad, flags were put up alongside the roads to welcome him. Interestingly, BJP flag was installed higher than the national flag. It was desirable that the national flag of India would have been given higher place, but perhaps the organizers intentionally put the party flag above the national one. It means that this project may be used or are being used for Gujarat elections. Had Indian flag been hoisted at higher place, we would not have arrived at such conclusion.

In Gujarat, the BJP has gradually cornered all the opposition parties. The Congress supported them in their efforts by not declaring its leader for the Gujarat elections. Shankar Singh Vaghela, a senior figure in Gujarat politics though with BJP and RSS antecedent, was the most popular Congress leader in the state. He was forced to leave the Congress as the party has humiliated him by not declaring him its leader. The internal strife of the Congress indicates that the Congress will contest the election without projecting any Chief ministerial candidate, using the same old tactics of bringing Rahul Gandhi in front. How beneficial will this tactics become for the Congress, we do not know. The organizational setup of the Congress is in a very bad shape. If the people themselves vote for the Congress, then it is an altogether different story.

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The desirable thing for the Congress to do is to bring all those parties in the state who are not with the BJP on a table and made some kind of seat-sharing arrangement, and like Bihar put up a strong candidate against the BJP, but the Congress has not yet done so. All the people, including former Chief Minister of Gujarat Suresh Mehta, were constantly urging the Congress to call them and lead them, but the Congress did not listen to them. Indeed, there is a contradiction in Congress too. Ahmed Patel, the all-powerful leader of Gujarat Congress, is accused of not allowing Congress to stand any chance in Gujarat. Ahmed Patel however rubbishes such allegation. Apart from Ahmed Patel, all the leaders in Gujarat Congress – whether Shaktisinh Gohil or Bharat Singh Solanki – are all are basically businessmen. They take contracts for roads construction or other things. Professionally they are attached with the BJP government, because they earn money from them, so people do not believe in them. Only Shankar Singh Vaghela commanded people’s support. He is now out of the Congress, and his supporters have floated a new party, Janvikalpa Party. Vaghela has joined that party.

However, Shankar Singh Vaghela has become an important pivot of the election. He said that he will not contest elections, but to put at least one candidate against each Congress candidate. Had the Congress listen to him, he would not have left the Congress. Still he is trying to bring all non-Congress, non-BJP parties together. We cannot say how successful will Waghela emerge in his attempt to unite all the parties.

Moreover there is another important facet of Gujarat politics is Hardik Patel. BJP bear lots of reverses in Zila Panchayat and recently concluded Gram Panchayat election because of Hardik Patel. Hardik Patel has enormous supports of Patidaar or Patel community. The community has declared Hardik Patel as its leader. The problem with Hardik Patel is that in the past several months he has associated himself with Nitish Kumar. He unequivocally declared Nitish Kumar as the supreme leader of Patel Community and the backward castes. Nitish Kumar suddenly switched side and is with the BJP now. Hardik Patel does not want to go with BJP. He wants to defeat the BJP, because his experiences with the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi were not good. Now it is interesting to see what strategy does Hardik Patel adopt? Will he join ranks with Shankar Singh Vaghela!

Besides Hardik Patel, emerging Dalit leader Jignesh is another big name that being watched with lot of interest.  It is not clear whether they join hands with Shankar Singh Vaghela or go with the Congress, but one thing is clear whomever they support will get benefitted. Both the BJP and the Congress are making all-out efforts to not to come closer. The BJP has broken Hardik Patel’s father in its favour. Hardik Patel had to say that if my father is contesting from the BJP, you do not vote for him. But such statements do not matter because a father after all is father. However, they are facing a lot of dilemmas. The BJP face no such dilemma; it is facing a crisis. Vijay Rupani, who was known for taking money from the institutions in Gujarat, was the Mayor of Rajkot before becoming Chief Minister. When he went to Parliament, he took money from Rajkot Corporation and the party constantly, saying that he had to send it to the top. Now whether that money went to the party office or to Vijay Rupani, no one knows. There is a lot of doubt about this in Gujarat.

There are problems in Gujarat. The Gujarat model that we heard so much about is invisible except in one commendable work – i.e. water management. Now it has to be seen whether the people of Gujarat express their faith in the BJP, support the Congress or give as much strength to Shankar Singh Vaghela as he might forge a coalition government. But, in the end, the biggest factor in this election is going to be Prime Minister Narendra Modi. There are no two opinions about it, and this the reason why Prime Minister Narendra Modi is visiting Gujarat over and over and not leaving any opportunity to inauguration a Gujarat-related projects, which has direct bearing on election. That is why he went to see Sardar Patel’s tallest statue. However, the irony is that Sardar Patel’s statue is being built in China and the BJP ask people to boycott China made Rakhis. It suggests that the BJP has no qualm in bowing down in front of a statue made in China, but has lot of problems in ordinary people’s buying china made cheap Rakhis. These contradictions are interesting contradictions. If you feel like extracting any meaning from these contradictions, you are free to do so.

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