2014, was a different era all together for BJP, they won with majority and people supported them for change, but within three years of BJP ruling, the anger against government started mounting. BJP’s own voters turned against them and Prime Minister Narendra Modi had to go through lots of criticism. While BJP’s rivals, especially in the Hindi heartland, were busy carving and cubing data on caste equations. The opposition, this time, is well placed and planned to give befitting reply to BJP and Modi’s every claim. Earlier Narendra Modi’s rallies used to be packed with audiences to know how he will bring Achhe Din. The more his rivals asked the electorate not to trust him, the more Modi talked about development. But entire picture changed now as the voters have stopped trusting Modi and his development and Achhe Din promises. The rallies are going with empty chairs. BJP and its leaders resorted to all sorts of foul language, they have nothing to claim or show the promises that they delivered. Meer attack on Nehru-Gandhi and Congress has flopped and people are not ready to buy Modi’s jumlas. The anger against BJP is very much evident in Gujarat. The inescapable conclusion seems to be that, in 2014, Modi had a better narrative than his opponents. To the electorate, pushed against the wall by a non-performing government at the Centre, Modi’s promise of ‘better days’ made more sense than apocalyptic fear of riots.
BJP’s early campaign script for 2017 Assembly polls promised to take off from where Modi had left in 2014. There seemed to be, despite media reports of social engineering and a soft Hindutva line, a renewed and refreshing focus on development. In early January, BJP’s campaign language was one of hope, aspiration, fight against black money and a call to rise above caste equations in a mind bogglingly complex demographic. Cut to February. BJP’s tone has become angry. There are fewer calls for development. The calls to rise above caste and community equations have lessened. From a positive campaign in early January, it has turned overwhelmingly negative. Leave alone his generals; even Modi seems to have abandoned politics of hope and aspiration for invective rhetoric. Whereas, earlier he would mainly ignore rivals and focus on transformative oratory, of late he replaced it with a personalised campaign against Akhilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi. He invented an acronym, S-C-A-M (SP, Congress, Akhilesh and Mayawati) and asked voters to teach them a lesson. As the days are nearing in Gujarat, Modi and Shah had gone insane with their language; Modi questioning the birth of Indira and Rajiv and Shah calling former PM a ‘Namuna’ (sample). These are people left with no constructive subject; Gujarat residents were fooled for 15 years trusting Modi but somewhere his shift from Gujarat to Delhi, has cost him a lot. Moreover, BJP still has leadership crises; there is no prominent face like Modi in his party.
Forget about Gujarat, but BJP leaders across the country have foot in mouth on various occasions. BJP MLA Sangeet Som was caught showing video clips of Muzaffarnagar riots, Amit Shah promised ‘anti-Romeo squads’, slammed SP and Congress for dynasty politics and held a last-minute mollification meeting with Jats of western UP to address their concerns. The Jats, a crucial BJP vote bank, are widely reported to be disillusioned and angry with the party. In short, BJP seems to have faltered on their strength. Instead of presenting the electorate with a simple yet convincing narrative, they are desperately searching for a better story to trump the one told by Akhilesh. They have been reduced to making the same mistake which Modi’s rivals did in 2014 — run an anti-campaign.
BJP’s problem is that notebandi or demonetisation happened at a very wrong time for UP. What we are witnessing now is the second stage where the initial euphoria over ‘fight against black money’ has been replaced by voter anger at the decimation of the informal economy. This will change, for sure. All metrics suggest that India will witness a V-shaped recovery in the third stage. But till that happens, the job losses and contraction of rural economy will have its repercussions and BJP is feeling the heat. Assuaging the anger of voters, who appear willing to teach BJP a lesson, isn’t easy in such a short amount of time. The early campaign language of aspiration of hope has therefore turned into one of desperation for BJP. In every assembly election after 2014, Modi hit the campaign trail well after other party leaders had got into the act. This is not the case in Gujarat. Shah, too, formally kick-started the party campaign from Vallabhbhai Patel’s birthplace, Karamsad. This may have happened for several reasons. First, Modi did not groom his replacement as Gujarat chief minister. Consequently, his shadow still looms across the state. Second, the local leadership failed to tackle the Patidar agitations, who continue to rage against the administration since mid-2015 demanding reservations in government jobs and education. The Prime Minister might have reminded the audience about the surgical strike ordered by his government in September 2016 on terror camps across the Line of Control in Kashmir after an attack on an Indian Army camp in Uri, and compared the response to the one after the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Modi said that the election in his home state is a contest between development and dynastic politics. Modi also hit out at Congress leaders, including the Congress vice-president, over allegations of impropriety in the Rafale fighter aircraft deal. Blaming the Congress for everything, Modi has started and ended his political parries but this time the opposition was equally strong to expose his claims.
Finally, Dalit anguish, in response to the ugly incident in Una in July 2016, has not been addressed. This will be a test for BJP as they cannot take for granted the votes of business community and Patidars. Also AAP is in the fray. Although AAP does not have winning chance but it will divide the vote. This time BJP has failed to disjoint Congress. Rahul Gandhi not only has gained maturity but become very aggressive in Gujarat, people have once again shown acceptance for the Congress.
The two-phase elections to the 182-member Gujarat assembly will be held on 9 and 14 December and the results will be declared on 18 December.
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