With Lok Sabha elections just round the corner, the 2014 situation seems to have come full circle in 2019.
The political epicenter—that Gujarat was in 2014—remains in the focus, unchanged and pivotal in the scheme of things of the ruling BJP and its political strategists who would desperately go to any extent to retain the power.
Politically speaking, in 2014 Gujarat loomed large over the country; this time around, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi will seek another term, national scenario and politics looms large over Gujarat. Though the focus remains Gujarat with multiple players operating from different locations, the scenario has changed given the fact that all the important political players from Gujarat are now stationed outside the state and the state is left with minions.
Thankfully for the BJP, the Congress is not in a position to pose any major challenge to the state BJP government, headed by, perhaps, one of the weakest Chief Minister—Vijay Rupani—in terms of popularity.
In fact, by any yardstick, popularity of young Patidar leader Hardik Patel and Dalit icon Jignesh Mevani is many notches above the Chief Minister and they are far more popular and known across the country.
So is the case with BJP state president Jitu Vaghani and Congress President Amit Chavda—both small players, with no influence—politically inconsequential. In fact, there is a move to replace Chavda before the general elections.
The just concluded Jasdan by-election in Rajkot district, which the Congress lost to the BJP, has sharpened the differences in the perpetually faction-ridden Congress party.
This is good news for the BJP. However, there are many bad news in store for the BJP which may demoralise the party. If you look back to 2014 or even go back to 2002 when Modi was parachuted here to start his innings as the longest serving Chief Minister, the focus was on Gujarat. In 2014, the most important claimant to country’s top post was from Gujarat and his right hand, Amit Shah, was also operating from Gujarat.
Now the focus has reversed. All the major Gujarat leaders have stationed themselves outside the state, be it the Prime Minister, party president and BJP’s strategist-in-chief Amit Shah, and few governors—in Bhopal (Anandiben Patel) and Banglore (Vajubhai Vala). Now, former home minister Gordhan Zadaphia, who was politically groomed by his mentor Pravin Togadia, former VHP president, has been appointed election in-charge of politically crucial state—Uttar Pradesh—where the decisive electoral battle will be fought. The outcome in UP will show whether there will be ‘Ek baar fir Modi Sarkar’ or a ‘Khichdi sarkar’.
Though geographically players from Gujarat have spread out, they hold key posts, implying that Gujarat remains in focus. But what happens elsewhere is going to impact Gujarat like never before.
One of the reasons: a lame-duck Chief Minister. Not so long ago, there used to be a powerful post of organising secretary—what happened to that post, no one knows in the post Modi-Shah era.
In terms of ground situation, both the Congress and the BJP are sailing in the same boat. State Congress chief or BJP state president are not known faces. No one knows the CLP leader. But leaders outside the state will be keeping a close eye on every move and election related developments in Gujarat, especially selection of candidates.
WHAT happens elsewhere is going to profoundly impact Gujarat. What happens, if BJP is not able to retain power at Centre. Will Gujarat Chief Minister be changed? If yes, will those sitting elsewhere, keep quiet. Will the governors be changed, if the BJP is not re-elected? In that case, will they be back in Gujarat? Today they would hope that their man remains the Prime Minister and party chief, or else there will be far reaching political ramifications.
As of now, there is no clarity in the Gujarat BJP, though serious churning is on. It is almost certain that of the 26 sitting MPs, the party is likely to drop at least 15. Their report card suggests that the party would look for new faces. And the party, with the help of its parent organization RSS, is at the moment exploring and getting feedback in order to help BJP to “select right candidates”.
The ruling party is aware of the fact that the so-called development plank and the much-hyped Gujarat model have lost their lustre. It is all about new gimmicks—like the Statue of Unity and Ro-Ro Ferry service connecting Bhavnagar and Bharuch district, which the Prime Minister inaugurated days before the last assembly election. The service has now stopped and it has become a butt of ridicule in the social media. The state government claims that the Ro-Ro service has been discontinued as it’s expensive and required dredging—perhaps Gujarat also requires some political dredging which is overdue, say the critics of the BJP
So far, the bipolar party system in Gujarat has steadfastly refused the entry of any third force, though the intellectual class, a small number, is gearing for something else. It is this small section which fought against the BJP regime and bore the brunt.
NORTH India could not sustain BJP’s march after the party came to power post the Ram Mandir agitation. Gujarat was BJP’s political backbone and provided leadership in the nineties. With Keshubhai Patel at the helm, party went from strength to strength.
Once again, the face of Modi is the only currency BJP can hope to encash. The development narrative has been conveniently forgotten. Now once again the focus is on Ram temple. So, again the shift is away from Gujarat to the north; but still Gujaratis are the major players.
But slowly, rivals within the party are hitting at Modi. The recent Goa incident of deliberate leak of a purported conversion of a cabinet minister with a journalist is case in point where the Chief Minister of a smallest state appears to be blackmailing the Prime Minister and BJP leadership.
Clearly, people are now trying to damage and dent Modi’s image. The whisper campaign has started; it may not be as aggressive, but certainly his image is going to be damaged.
Though geographically players from Gujarat have spread out, they hold key posts, implying that Gujarat remains in focus. But what happens elsewhere is going to impact Gujarat like never before
As former Gujarat University vice-chancellor Parimal Trivedi, who is known for his proximity to BJP bigwigs, puts it: In 2014, the BJP led by an aggressive PM aspirant was in “questioning mode”, lobbing questions at ‘Maun’ Mohan Singh; now Modi himself is “answerable”—answerable to his promises which are bound to affect him. So party is not going to repeat its impressive, historic performance in 2019, though in all likelihood the BJP will emerge as a single largest party and form the next government.
In the event of BJP retaining less than 200 seats, the party is likely to see many prime ministerial aspirants, fuelling infighting in the Modi-Shah dominated party.
If Modi has to do something drastic to show some spark ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, he has to do it this month in his home—during the Vibrant Gujarat Summit, which is opening on January 17. This is the platform which catapulted him onto the national and international scene, making him a development icon, selling the Gujarat story.
The 2019 elections have implications for the second-most powerful man in the country – Amit Shah whose tenure as party chief ends after the Lok Sabha elections. In the event of BJP losing power, many feel that he would love to become the Gujarat Chief Minister, though there are others like the former vice-chancellor who refused to believe that Shah would return to state politics. He is the one who has been appointing chief ministers and party chief, points out Trivedi.
However, some party insiders disagree with Trivedi as they point out that Shah is presently very unpopular among party workers. In fact, the entire party apparatus is divided between his supporters and opponents. They believe that even in the 2019 elections he will not have that big a say. His arrogance has reportedly annoyed many, including RSS functionaries.
So clearly, whatever be the outcome, even in 2019, Gujaratis are going to dominate the political discourse which, this time, will have huge bearing on Gujarat.