de­cod­ing the Gu­jarat ver­dict

It’s in­tro­spec­tion time for the party af­ter vic­tory that smells like de­feat

Governance Now - - CONTENTS - Ajay Singh

It’s in­tro­spec­tion time for the BJP af­ter a vic­tory that smells al­most like de­feat

Of­ten, a col­lo­quial say­ing or a proverb sums up a com­plex po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion more aptly than schol­arly for­mu­la­tions. if one looks at the gu­jarat ver­dict, noth­ing sum­marises it bet­ter than the adage: “Jo jita wohi sikan­dar (the vic­tor is the one who has won).” of course, there is no deny­ing that the vic­tor in gu­jarat came quite close to his Water­loo this time. gu­jarat has given jit­ters to the BJP lead­er­ship as the party has been able to re­tain the state only by the skin of its teeth. That was hardly what the party had ex­pected. gu­jarat is af­ter all the home state for the duo re­spon­si­ble for a se­ries of in­cred­i­ble wins across the na­tion – prime min­is­ter naren­dra Modi and BJP pres­i­dent Amit shah. The lat­ter, who honed his elec­tion man­age­ment skills nowhere else but in gu­jarat, had re­peat­edly spoke of his tar­get: 150 seats, as if to break the congress’s 1985 record of 149 seats. But what the party got was just to scrape through the half-way mark of 91 in the 182-mem­ber leg­isla­tive assem­bly. if a few close con­tests had gone the other way, the re­sult might have been an out­right up­set.

Though the party has a cause to cel­e­brate in the Himachal Pradesh vic­tory, all eyes were rightly on gu­jarat – the po­lit­i­cal pocket bor­ough of Hin­dutva. For over two decades, this ci­tadel of the BJP re­mained in­vul­ner­a­ble to per­sis­tent at­tacks of the ri­vals.

And ap­par­ently there was ev­ery rea­son this time to let the BJP lead­er­ship feel they were in­vin­ci­ble in gu­jarat. Modi’s pop­u­lar­ity con­tin­ues to soar af­ter his three years of prime min­is­ter­ship. The mas­sive and his­toric win in ut­tar Pradesh was an in­di­ca­tion of his un­ques­tioned ac­cep­tance among the masses. The party has estab­lished its bases in the eastern in­dia and made deep for­ays in the north­east­ern states. Af­ter com­ing to power with a de­ci­sive vic­tory in 2014, the BJP un­der Modi’s lead­er­ship has ex­panded its foot­print to in­clude ar­eas and so­cial groups that it had not been able to con­nect with for long. given all this, gu­jarat should have been an easy and big win.

The only fac­tor that nagged the BJP’S state lead­ers was Modi’s ab­sence in Gand­hi­na­gar. This was the first elec­tion af­ter his event­ful 13 years in the state. But, of course, that deficit was more than ad­e­quately filled by Modi’s larg­erthan-life pres­ence on the na­tional stage. not with­out rea­son, the BJP’S state unit lead­er­ship was cock­sure about win­ning the state hands down. in any case, the only chal­lenge was from a weak congress lead­er­ship in the form of the in­com­ing party pres­i­dent rahul gandhi.

That as­sur­ance bor­der­ing on the point of hubris turned out to be quite mis­placed.

Though it has won, the BJP’S fi­nal tally leaves much scope for in­tro­spec­tion. The first les­son it should draw from the gu­jarat ver­dict is that ar­ro­gance is a bad sub­sti­tute for good gov­er­nance. Across the state, right from party work­ers to traders, in­dus­tri­al­ists and pro­fes­sion­als, there was a mas­sive up­surge of anger against “the ar­ro­gant con­duct” of the BJP lead­er­ship. That the BJP’S state lead­er­ship is quite im­per­vi­ous to peo­ple’s plight was a com­mon re­frain among vot­ers.

The sec­ond les­son is that reliance on the bu­reau­cracy for po­lit­i­cal de­liv­ery is bad tac­tics. Modi re­lied upon the state bu­reau­cracy as a tool to achieve gov­er­nance ob­jec­tives, but Modi’s suc­ces­sors re­lied on the bu­reau­cracy for po­lit­i­cal ob­jec­tives. nei­ther Anandiben Pa­tel nor Vi­jay ru­pani could

dis­play the dex­ter­ity to match Modi’s abil­ity to con­tain the bu­reau­cracy from its way­ward be­hav­iour. That is the pre­cise rea­son why cor­rup­tion be­came a ma­jor is­sue in these elec­tions.

Even at the cen­tral level, the fi­nance min­istry drew ma­jor flak for its re­luc­tance to at­tend to prob­lems faced by peo­ple in gu­jarat on ac­count of the gst im­ple­men­ta­tion. in surat, Vado­dara and even ra­jkot, there was wide­spread re­sent­ment against politi­cians and of­fi­cials of Gu­jarat cadre for im­ple­ment­ing the gst in a most ham-handed man­ner. “even [fi­nance sec­re­tary] Has­mukh Ad­hia and Arun Jait­ley lis­tened to our com­plaints only in a most cav­a­lier man­ner,” com­plained a group of tex­tile traders in surat on the elec­tion eve. even a ca­sual con­ver­sa­tion with peo­ple would elicit a unique re­sponse on the lines that “They [BJP] must be taught a les­son”.

Would that mean a de­feat for the BJP, then? “not at all, just that they must be stopped from be­com­ing au­thor­i­tar­ian,” was the gen­eral re­frain. There is a hardly any doubt that the anger was so pal­pa­ble that the prime min­is­ter took it upon him­self to neu­tralise it by equat­ing the elec­tion to gu­jarat’s as­mita (pride). Just be­fore the polls, it seems, peo­ple re­alised that a de­feat of the BJP would ef­fec­tively ruin Modi’s po­lit­i­cal prospects. Hence, they made a fine dis­tinc­tion be­tween Modi and the BJP and voted for the for­mer while re­ject­ing the lat­ter.

At the same time it would be naïve to in­ter­pret the gu­jarat re­sults as a vindi­ca­tion of rahul gandhi’s lead­er­ship. Far from it, the re­sults show that the congress failed to cap­i­talise on mas­sive anger that had been built against the BJP in a cru­cial state where its vic­tory would have had cre­ated a tec­tonic shift in the coun­try’s pol­i­tics. in­stead of con­sol­i­dat­ing its tra­di­tional sup­port base, it al­lowed it­self to be guided by lumpenised and an­ar­chic ten­den­cies rep­re­sented by Hardik Pa­tel, Jig­nesh Me­vani and Alpesh Thakor and forge an in­com­pat­i­ble so­cial al­liance whose longevity is in doubt.

More­over, peo­ple of gu­jarat out­right re­jected re­gional congress lead­ers like Bharatsinh solanki, shak­tis­inh go­hil and Ar­jun Mod­hwa­dia who they don’t see as al­ter­na­tive to the BJP’S state lead­ers.

of course, the re­sults are bound to draw a pic­ture of tense fu­ture: it may prompt the BJP to in­tro­spect and at­tempt course cor­rec­tion be­fore the na­tional elec­tions in 2019. At the same time, they may prove a start­ing point for an al­ter­na­tive po­lit­i­cal dis­course should rahul gandhi draw the right lessons and de­velop a ro­bust or­gan­i­sa­tional struc­ture and an or­ganic lead­er­ship within the party. The gu­jarat elec­tion may mark the be­gin­ning of a big bat­tle ahead.

The first les­son it should draw from the Gu­jarat ver­dict is that ar­ro­gance is a bad sub­sti­tute for good gov­er­nance. Across the state, there was a mas­sive up­surge of anger against “the ar­ro­gant con­duct” of the BJP lead­er­ship.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.