Man of the moment in Gujarat, Narendra Modi shows he can win without a wave too
For the sixth consecutive time, the BJP has won Gujarat and the man of the moment is again Prime Minister Narendra Modi, not chief minister Vijay Rupani, not BJP state president Jitu Vaghani.
The prime minister left no stone unturned in campaigning across the state, more as a top BJP leader and less like a prime minister. At stake, he said, was the Gujarat asmita, Gujarati pride, and he implicitly asked the voters to forgive the BJP for all the ills of the last year, whether rural distress or urban desolation as a result of demonetisation and GST trial by error.
The voters seem to have listened to their PM, although they have also given him a warning not to take them for granted. The BJP’s tally has come down from 117 seats to 107 seats (these are still leads), while the Congress tally has gone up from 61 to 74 (these are still leads).
Clearly, BJP president Amit Shah’s boast that the party will win 150 seats has not materialised. In that sense, Congress president Rahul Gandhi, along with his regional allies Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakore and Jignesh Mevani, has shown the BJP that this is a new Congress and it will play the role of a spirited Opposition. As the winter session of Parliament begins today, fireworks will be expected.
But the day belongs to the prime minister – indeed, he has shown, not only that there is no other leader in the country who can come close to him by any stretch of the imagination, but also that there is no other leader in the BJP who can be remotely seen to be his equal, even a co-comrade of sorts.
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The era of Atal Behari Vajpayee and L K Advani has been over in the BJP for many years. Today, as Narendra Modi consolidates his position and power as the Numero Uno in the party, there is no challenger in the distance.
Make no mistake. It is Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has delivered Gujarat for the BJP. Vijay Rupani was even trailing for a few scary minutes from his seat in Rajkot West, although he is now winning handsomely. Deputy chief minister Nitin Patel seemed headed for a loss in Mehsana, although he is now hanging in there by the skin of his teeth.
The PM’s aggressive campaign, especially in the last week, when he campaigned despite a sore throat, has pulled the BJP’s troubles out of the fire. In this campaign, there was no “wave,” no headwind in favour of the BJP. In fact, a lot of the voters were sitting on the fence. Further, the equally aggressive campaign run by Rahul Gandhi and Hardik Patel, the leader of the Patidar Patels, also seem to have, somewhat, charmed the voter. Under these difficult circumstances, for the PM to still deliver the state to the BJP is a magnificent victory.
The PM, very intelligently, turned parts of a negative Congress campaign back against the Congress. When Congressman Mani Shankar Aiyar – now suspended – suggested that the Prime Minister was a “neech kisam ka aadmi,” the PM immediately asked the voters of Gujarat whether it behoved the Congress to call him a “neech jaati.” Aiyar never used those words but it didn’t matter in the heat of the election campaign.
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The Prime Minister must have realized that the Gujarati voter was becoming disenchanted by the BJP. State BJP leaders were not good enough to change that. But in the end, the voters seems to have forgiven the PM, agreeing that all these problems should be “kept within the family.”
Lastly, 52 per cent of Gujarat’s voters are below 40 years. For more than half their lives, they have seen the BJP in power. They don’t know any other party.
Especially in urban Gujarat, they have seen the fruits of that development – however skewed. These younger voters are likely to have been the biggest supporters of prime minister Modi and helped keep the state in the BJP’s kitty.