As elections go, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is not wide of the mark when he claims that he won a clear, decisive victory in Gujarat. No one can question him as the BJP won 99 seats out of the total of 182 and it is a sixth consecutive win. It is a different matter that the number of seats the party won came nowhere near the target of 150 seats that BJP chief Amit Shah had set his eyes upon.
Modi himself claimed that his party received a higher percentage of votes — a little over 1 per cent — compared to the 2012 election. He clearly forgets that the last time Gujarat went to polls was in 2014 when the party under his leadership won 60 per cent of votes in the state. In other words, the party lost 11 per cent of votes it secured in the Lok Sabha election.
Nobody is surprised by the victory of the BJP in Himachal Pradesh where the ruling party is never re-elected without giving the Opposition party a chance. Even when it won a decisive victory in the hill state, what it is unable to reconcile itself to is the defeat of its Chief Ministerial candidate PK Dhumal. It is like an army achieving a victory while its General is roundly defeated.
Again, Modi has a point that what matters in elections is victory, not defeat. He is proud enough to recall that the BJP has 19 states in its kitty, against the 18 the Congress under Indira Gandhi’s leadership had. In doing so, he is comparing himself to one of the iconic leaders India has produced whom his own leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee had once compared to Goddess Durga!
Modi and his Sancho Panza may make many boastful claims but the point to be noted is the kind of victory the duo has achieved. There are two types of victories — victory at any cost and victory based on principles. It is on the latter count that the BJP has lost in the elections. In the ordinary circumstances, Gujarat would have gone to polls along with Himachal Pradesh. It would have prevented the Himachal people from waiting for the results for so long.
The election was postponed so that the BJP could make some last-minute pre-poll announcements. The reports that the Chief Election Commissioner had sought the state’s permission to retain his official house in Ahmedabad while holding the constitutional post in Delhi did not crown himself with glory. If anyone felt that he was favouring Modi and Co., he could not be found fault with. The CEC forgot the dictum that Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion.
Parliament does not meet on all days. The winter session is one of the few sessions when the two Houses meet to transact legislative business. This time the ruling party thought it necessary to postpone the winter session to let the Union ministers and the BJP MPs to campaign in Gujarat. If the decision gave the impression that what mattered more for the party was victory in Gujarat than national legislative business, it could not be helped.
It is now nearly 70 years since the Indian Republic came into being and elections became a part of life. It’s not uncommon for the prime minister to campaign in state elections, though following a defeat in a by-election at Ranny in Kerala, then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru took a decision against campaigning in by-elections. What Gujarat witnessed was saturation campaign.
Modi addressed over 40 large public meetings covering almost all the regions in the state. Allowance also had to be made for the fact that every minister in his Cabinet and every chief minister of his party was in the state addressing public gatherings. And one must remember that Gujarat was considered Modi-Shah’s pocket-borough! No one would ever know how much money the BJP spent in the elections.
Those who raised their eyebrows over Modi launching a new submarine in the middle of the campaign had every right to do so. What he did was unethical, as it sought to influence the voters. A submarine is not built in a day and its commissioning could have been postponed till the elections were over. He used a special plane that could take off from water and land on water claiming that he was the first to do so. He had to withdraw his tweet when reports appeared that such planes were not new.
During Oommen Chandy’s regime in Kerala, it tried to introduce a sea-plane to ferry tourists from Kochi to Alappuzha. The BJP was one of the parties which opposed the proposal, though the state had sunk a lot of money into the project. Again, the purpose was to overawe the voters and get their votes. The election was noted not so much for the misuses of both money and muscle power as for the low and base level to which Modi’s standard of campaign plummeted.
Modi has been talking endlessly about the Gujarat model of progress. All he wanted to do was to remind the voters of the many developments he had brought to the state after he came to power following one of the darkest periods of Gujarat when the Best Bakeries of the state were turned into something like the gas chambers associated with Auschwitz in Poland. No, he did not have much to speak about development.
When Modi realised that his campaign was not taking his party to victory, he changed his stance to invoke Hindutva, Ayodhya etc. He did not mention Ayodhya in 2014 when he talked only about development, jobs and ending of corruption. Alas, he even had no hesitation in telling lies. He recalled the visit of Indira Gandhi to Gujarat to claim that she could not resist the temptation of closing her nose with a handkerchief.
What the gentleman did not tell the voters was that she visited Morbi in the wake of the Machchhu dam burst in 1979 in which thousands of people were killed. She was present where rotting bodies and carcasses were being removed. While it was true that a newspaper carried a picture of Mrs Gandhi covering her nose with a handkerchief, it was also true that Modi was attacking a person who was no more alive and could not, therefore, defend herself.
Modi dug up papers to resurrect what Kapil Sibal had said about Ayodhya. As if that was not sufficient, the Prime Minister referred to a dinner meeting held at Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s house where his predecessor Manmohan Singh and a former Pakistan minister were also present. The Pakistani leader was not parachuted by the Pakistani intelligence agency. He came on a visa granted by the External Affairs Ministry presided over by his party colleague Sushma Swaraj.
Modi claimed that the dinner meeting was held to conspire against Gujarat and to ensure that the BJP was defeated in the state. Of course, his assertion reminded the people of his frequent references to “Miya Musharraf” in one of the elections in Gujarat as if the then Pakistani president General Pervez Musharraf was a candidate contesting for a seat in the Gujarat Assembly.
What Modi insinuated was treason by the former PM. If his charge was true, he as Prime Minister should have ordered action against Manmohan Singh, for treason is not a condonable crime. No, he just wanted to polarise the voters. It was with that aim in his mind that he claimed in an election rally that the Congress would appoint Ahmed Patel as its chief minister.
Modi heads a party which did not find a single Muslim man or woman like MJ Akbar and Najma Heptulla worthy of being given a party ticket, though Muslims constitute 10 per cent of the population. One only has to recall what all Amit Shah and Modi did to prevent Ahmed Patel from getting elected to the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat to know his visceral hatred for the M word. He did not spare the bishop who wanted his people to pray so that only good people were elected to the Assembly
Even during the polling, he tried to influence the voters by showing his finger with the indelible ink on it and moving around in an open vehicle! If the elections proved anything, it was that Modi was no longer invincible in Gujarat. There is a strong disconnect between him and the people.
Had there been a level-playing field, the BJP would have been truly and roundly defeated. The state saw the pathetic sight of Modi virtually begging for votes. That he has no respect for his rivals was apparent when he commented that Rahul Gandhi’s election was like Aurangzeb succeeding his father Shah Jahan.
He would have done well to explain how Amit Shah was elected president a second time. The people would have liked to know how many persons contested against him for the post of party chief. Modi tried to make a mountain out of a molehill of a comment made by Mani Shankar Aiyar, though he never showed any restraint while attacking his rivals.
One recurring theme in his campaign was that the Congress was corrupt. Agreed that the party is corrupt. What about his own party? The BJP was with Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev when they demanded the setting up of a Lok Pal to end corruption. It is now nearly four years since the Lok Pal Bill was enacted. Why is Modi not appointing a Lok Pal?
Incidentally, Gujarat was one state which did not have a Lok Ayukt for the most part of his terms as Chief Minister. The judicial verdict on December 21, 2017, in which all the accused in the 2G Spectrum scam were acquitted should be seen as a body blow to Modi and Co. True, a phoney case was made out when the then Comptroller and Auditor General introduced the doctrine of presumptive loss to put the UPA government in the dock.
But for the 2G Spectrum scam and the coal scam which, again, mentioned presumptive losses, Narendra Modi would not have come to power. Even in this election under review he used the scam to drive the Congress to the wall. Modi and Shah want the country to rid itself of the Congress because corruption is in its gene.
Now come to think of it, it is now more than three and a half years since Modi came to power. The 2G scam and coal scam cases were registered during the UPA regime. It is also true that the Congress-led UPA government had no option but to initiate court cases with the Supreme Court ordering it to do so. But what has the Modi government done to punish the so-called “corrupt Congress leaders”.
It has been holding power for so long. Has it come across even one file that exposes the corrupt practices in which the UPA government indulged? Has it been able to unearth even one scam after it came to power?
Yet, it dubs the Congress corrupt, while claiming itself to be as clean as the lotus flower that rises above all dirt. Questions have been raised about the French aircraft deal in which India will have to pay through its nose for aircraft that would be flown into the country in wanton disregard of all the noble objectives of the Make in India campaign.
Millions of pounds are now being spent in court cases to bring liquor-baron Vijay Mallya when all that the Modi government required to do was to give a directive to the immigration authorities to detain him at the Delhi airport when he flew out using a diplomatic passport. So much for his anti-corruption campaign!
Modi’s discomfiture in Gujarat was caused in the main by Rahul Gandhi’s spirited campaign in the state. There were a few minutes during the election counting when the Congress appeared to have won the state.
The point is that the Congress cannot rest on its laurels. It cannot adopt soft Hindutva to fight hard Hindutva. The party has to root itself in the composite culture of the nation. The party is in a shambles in most of the states. It does not have the wherewithal to encourage the voters to go to the polling booths and vote for the party. The BJP has that capability, thanks to the large network of RSS cadres.
If the Congress had sewed up a pre-poll understanding with the NCP and the BSP, it could have won a few more seats in Gujarat and forced the BJP to sit in the Opposition. In short, Modi wrested Gujarat winning less than 50 per cent of the votes cast.
This was possible because the anti-BJP votes were split. Such an eventuality will have to be averted, if the Congress has to wrest power at the Centre. It all depends on how Rahul Gandhi rises up to the challenge of squaring up to Modi in 2019, which is just a little over a year away. The Congress leader should realise that there is no short-cut in politics. And politics is the art of the possible!
(Published on 26th December 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 52)