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ANAYLSIS | A Choice of Two: Gujarat is a Contest Between CM Modi and PM Modi

Either way you choose, the BJP gets to laugh its way to the bank. Look closer, you will see this PM 2017 Vs CM 2012 narrative playing out at multiple levels. The Prime Minister it seems is BJP's only bet in the state, and the party is confident.

Marya Shakil | CNN-News18maryashakil

Updated:December 5, 2017, 4:10 PM IST
ANAYLSIS | A Choice of Two: Gujarat is a Contest Between CM Modi and PM Modi
Image for representation
New Delhi: What started as a walkover now seems to be acquiring the airs of a close competition in Gujarat if you go by the changing nature of opinion polls days before the state goes to the ballot booth. Congress, to even its own surprise, seems to be gaining ground, and the famed war machine of BJP is coming unstuck, they would have you believe.

Pollsters and pundits though seem to forget one small subtext running through BJP’s campaign. The understated line gets often drowned out in the cacophony of BJP campaign based on Alauddin Khilji, Hafiz Saeed, Shahjahan and Aurangzeb – apparently all genuine poll issues in 21st century Gujarat. This new line is about Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and comparing his past as the state chief minister for 17 years.

Gujaratis are being offered the liberty of choosing between Modi who rode to the high seat in New Delhi based on the brand equity he cultivated as the state CM, and the Modi who has been ruling India for last three years now. The first remains to be a wildly popular figure, here, almost mythical in nature. The second evokes mixed feelings, but sundry grievances apart, the brand of PM Modi who is promising a better tomorrow, has its own takers.

And either way you choose, the BJP gets to laugh its way to the bank. Look closer, you will see this PM 2017 Vs CM 2012 narrative playing out at multiple levels. The Prime Minister it seems is BJP's only bet in the state, and the party is confident.

In Surat’s textile market, 47-year-old Sanjay Jagnani, originally from Rajasthan, complains about GST. However, he doesn’t agree with Rahul Gandhi’s parody of ‘Gabbar Singh Tax’ either. Jagnani said, “It’s a catchy phrase. But Rahul won’t come to power, how will he change the GST?” Jagnani said it was “unfortunate” that GST was stuck for 16 years during the Congress rule in New Delhi. “It was stuck because of Congress, now Modi has shown courage,” he said.

The textile market in Surat was shut for about 20 days to protest against the GST. Jagnani asked if GST was to promote inspector raj: “What are they trying to prove by making us file three returns a month?” But he was quick to add that there can be no doubt about PM Modi’s integrity. “Modi has been in politics for 50 years. He has experience and wisdom. He is a good leader and was an effective chief minister. Just because we are raising an issue doesn’t mean we are against him,” he said.

When Modi visited Kutch on November 27 to launch the poll campaign, he talked about his own record as the CM and how he had changed the fortunes of Kutch, turning it into a tourist destination. Reminding the people of the past, he said, in the old days, the government officers preferred not to take up an assignment in Kutch because of the water problem.

“Congress did not allow Narmada water to come to Kutch. What if the Narmada waters had come to Kutch 30 years earlier? It would have made such a big difference,” he said. The BJP is confident of winning Gujarat with Modi campaigning aggressively. “Nobody knows Gujarat’s districts and its 182 constituencies better than him,” said a state BJP leader.

In Surat, Dr Pooja Singh set up Nimaaya Women’s Centre for Health with her husband in 2007. During the last 10 years, the fertility clinic has ensured 7000 safe deliveries. Her husband, Dr Prabhakar Singh, remembers the horror of the pneumonic plague of 1994.

“Surat was in a pathetic state. My friends who have lived here for three decades are amazed at how things have turned around in the last 20 years. Today, Surat is one of the cleanest cities in India. We believe Modi as PM can change things. It took 20 years for Gujarat to do it,” he said.

American politics is replete with instances of governors who went on to become president. Jimmy Carter became US President right after Georgia governorship. Similarly, Bill Clinton won the presidential election after serving as the governor of Arkansas for four terms.

In India, HD Deve Gowda was the first former chief minister who became PM. But Modi, unlike Gowda, sold his governance model to the country in 2014 polls. On one hand, Modi 2017 is selling the dream of 2022, on the other, he is reminding people of Gujarati pride and using history as a weapon.

In Baroda Lok Sabha seat, where Modi had won with a record margin in 2014 before vacating it for Varanasi, Naznee Kanchwala said she was initially ‘unhappy’ that Modi chose UP over Gujarat, but she later felt ‘it’s for the larger good’.

Fyona Dias, a student of Baroda’s prestigious MS University, said, “We have seen him as a CM. We have seen him work. Why should we bother to find an alternative?”

Standing next to her is Abhivyakti, a student of political science, who sees Hardik Patel as a “fresh face” who is trying to ‘break BJP’s hegemony’. Patel’s rallies have been drawing massive crowds, making the BJP anxious about Patidar votes.

On Sunday, 24-year-old leader addressed about 50,000 people in Surat, asking them to “teach BJP a lesson”. This came after a series of roadshows across constituencies where Patels are a sizeable vote bank.

It’s three-and-a-half years since Modi moved to New Delhi, but Gujarat is yet to find a new leader. For most Gujaratis, Modi is synonym of leader.

Explaining this phenomena, political analyst Neerja Chowdhury said, “There is unhappiness on the ground against the BJP, but not Narendra Modi. The Congress doesn’t have the organization muscle to convert this unhappiness into votes. They don’t have the chehra. Even though people may want change, the obstacle in the way of change is the persona and stature of Modi.”

And Modi is incomplete without Amit Shah, the man who knows the art of converting the PM’s popularity into votes. Shah, who catapulted brand Modi and has a unique relationship with the PM, has been camping in Gujarat for about three months, ensuring that anti-incumbency doesn’t hurt the party’s prospects.

But such dependence on Modi is completely undermining the autonomy of his successors — Anandiben Patel and Vijay Rupani. This is one of the reasons why Bhikubhai and Rajesh Patel are looking for an alternate in the Congress.

“BJP had removed Keshubhai Patel and made Modi the CM. After Modi, it removed Anandiben Patel and installed Vijay Rupani. BJP doesn’t care for Patels,” said Rajesh Patel, a farmer in Madhapar, Rajkot. Capital of Saurashtra, Rajkot has long been a bastion of Hindutva politics. In 2002, Narendra Modi contested his first election from Rajkot West.

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, senior journalist and author of a biography on Modi, said, “Modi’s hypnotic effect is waning and he has to recast it.” He said for the first time Modi was being questioned. “Gujarat 2017 is a much keener battle than 2012 or 2014,” Mukhopadhyay added.

Politics is seen best through the lens of time. Modi today is reminding Gujarat of his tenure as the CM, while recounting the ‘benefits’ of tough decisions such as GST and demonetisation he has taken as the PM. When we look at the past through the lens of present, the results are often surprising.
| Edited by: Aditya Nair
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