Modi 3: Karma vs dharma

Gujarat’s answer to its critics is: ‘Look at our consistent growth, our factories and farms etc... So, thank you very much for your concern, but we will keep our state government.’

Thank you, chief minister,” said Gujaratis of all descriptions on December 13 and 17. They gave Narendra Modi a victory less substantial than he expected, but an effective one nonetheless.

The party-wise composition of the new Assembly remains largely unchanged, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) losing two seats from its current tally of 117, and the Congress gaining two to go up to 61. As expected, BJP did well in its stronghold of cities (Gujarat is highly urbanised, with over 43 per cent of its population in towns and cities), while the Congress fared better wherever the Muslim vote was sizeable.
The Congress has been all too quick to claim a “moral” victory in being able to keep
Mr Modi from reaching his cherished goal of 150 seats. The relatively unchanged party position, with marginal changes in the vote share of the two major parties, however, suggests that most voters decided quite early that no change was needed. BJP veteran Keshubhai Patel contested under the new banner of the Gujarat Parivartan Party and managed a single-digit share of votes and two seats. This indicates that some voters did get swayed, leading to unexpectedly close three-cornered battle in Saurashtra. That seems to be the sum total of “change” in Gujarat this time around. Gujarat clearly said in 2012, as it did in 2007, that it has never had it so good. Congressmen tried to assert that other states had done well too, and that Gujarat has always been relatively prosperous. Many media and academic critics trawled data and dug up indicators to say that Uttarakhand and Bihar had grown faster, while Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu had done just as well; at any rate, Gujarat had an abominable record on distribution of gains, had horrendous ghettos and did not manage to reduce the extent of malnutrition. The average Gujarati seemed to respond by saying, “Stop treating us like aliens. Come and see for yourself what Gujarat is truly like.” Economist Bibek Debroy did just that and came back with an impressive and objective analysis to support the Gujarat success story. A group of leading editors and mediapersons also came at election time. They produced brilliant reportages of Gujarat shining across regions, activities and population groups. Mr Modi’s critics and Congress leaders selectively quoted from diverse sources to point out some lacunae in the Gujarat saga. The later visitors took an overall view before concluding that denying the role of the present political leadership would “violate the facts and be dishonest”.
Gujarat’s answer to its critics in essence is: “Look at our consistent growth, look at our factories and farms, our continuous power supply, our beautiful roads, our urbanising tribals, our relatively clean and glitch-free administration. Show us one single state where all these conditions prevail at the same time. Show us one state, one large city, free of ‘horrendous ghettos’. So, thank you very much for your concern, but we will keep our state government.”
Only one party seemed to have the stomach for this election. Long before the Congress woke up to the impending battle, Mr Modi criss-crossed the state indefatigably on numerous yatras. For nearly a year now, he has played up the record of his achievement. The attempt to assuage the hurt Muslim sentiments through his sadbhavana fasts was only a sideshow. The main object, as always, was to showcase what has happened in Gujarat in the last decade. And he has been none too subtle or polite in apportioning the credit: the main architect is himself (not so-strangely addressed in the third person, as in “Modi has done…”).
This third triumph of
Mr Modi on the trot also showcased his evolving style of leadership and persuasion. Early on, he targetted the UPA government by claiming that it was treating Gujarat in a step-motherly fashion. In proportion to the taxes it collected from Gujarat, it allocated far less resources to the state and acted as a spoilsport by blocking various initiatives. The charge, true or not, stuck. The Congress leadership was forced to go on the defensive and it proved no match for
Mr Modi’s aggressive campaign, buttressed with many a telling anecdote and instance. He broadened his attacks to include the Gandhis and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, taking care to remain within the edges of seemliness, albeit just barely so. And he never forgot the original Modi identity. He singled out the powerful Congress general secretary who hails from Bharuch as “Ahmed miya Patel” and accused him of nursing chief ministerial ambitions. His late reference to the possibility of a backroom deal with Pakistan on Sir Creek left his core constituency in no doubt that their man had not abandoned them.
The Congress national leadership made pro-forma appearances in the state. The reach of the Gandhi mother and son, the Prime Minister and his ministerial colleagues was restricted to a few rallies a day in their two- or three-day visits. They used the BJP as the proxy to attack Mr Modi, and he pounced on this opportunity to never let his audience forget who their real target was.
The Gujarat election remained in effect a referendum on Mr Modi. The hoped-for majority of votes may have barely eluded Mr Modi, but not a victory. Yet the referendum was definitely not on national politics and the choices therein, because the issues and dramatis personae were confined to the state. The election results clearly say that Gujarat wants Mr Modi’s continuance in Gujarat.
The 2002 and 2007 state election outcomes were just as decisive in favour of the BJP and Mr Modi. But the national elections that followed them in 2004 and 2009 respectively resulted in proportionately fewer seats — 14 and 15 respectively out of the 26 — in the Lok Sabha for the BJP. Many had then said that they preferred the BJP and Mr Modi in the state but at the Centre they were content with the Congress. That split verdict in Gujarat has also perhaps not changed, as indeed other things have not.
The final word. The fact that the BJP under Mr Modi has won Gujarat hands down in 2002, 2007 and now in 2012 does not make the outcome any less democratic, and the fact that they won democratically does not make the goal of harmony any less imperative.

The writer taught at IIM Ahmedabad and helped set up the Institute of Rural Management, Anand

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