A poll cam­paign that harped on re­li­gion, caste and dy­nasty

In a bat­tle that saw lit­tle ci­vil­ity and much ran­cour, Ai­yar’s re­mark was the best gift the BJP could ask for

The Hindu Business Line - - POLITICS - VIREN­DRA PAN­DIT

As elec­tion cam­paign for the first phase of polling (De­cem­ber 9) closed on Thurs­day, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi — iron­i­cally ‘aided’ by se­nior Congress leader Mani Shanker Ai­yar — brought in sharp fo­cus the big­gest poll is­sue in Gu­jarat this time around, caste.

Ever since Hardik Pa­tel’s Pati­dar ag­i­ta­tion in July 2015, the BJP has had to con­tend with the is­sue of caste in Gu­jarat, and the re­lated elec­tion arith­metic. Lit­tle won­der that the en­tire cam­paign for As­sem­bly elec­tions this year was mostly fo­cused on re­li­gion and caste, though de­vel­op­ment is­sues did crop up.

Ai­yar does it again

If the BJP was look­ing for a crit­i­cal win­ning poll plank, Ai­yar gave it on a plat­ter.

Just as he did ahead of Lok Sabha elec­tions in 2014, when he of­fered Modi, then the Gu­jarat Chief Min­is­ter, a kiosk at the All In­dia Congress Com­mit­tee (AICC) head­quar­ters in New Delhi for sell­ing tea. Aiyer, who pro­vided the Chai pe char­cha op­por­tu­nity to Modi then, has ap­par­ently now given him the the neech favour.

While Ai­yar in­sisted that he was re­fer­ring to Modi’s ‘low level’ of pol­i­tics, Modi and the BJP were quick to give it a ‘low­caste’ spin.

It is now ex­pected that this may be­come an im­por­tant fac­tor in de­cid­ing the vot­ing pat­terns in the De­cem­ber 9 and 14 polls.

Re­li­gion has re­mained a sim­mer­ing is­sues. Congress vice-pres­i­dent Rahul Gandhi drew much at­ten­tion for his tem­ple-hop­ping — he vis­ited 20 Hindu tem­ples across Gu­jarat in a bid to add a soft­Hin­dutva

To pro­mote vot­ing ahead of phase one of the Gu­jarat As­sem­bly polls, a woman gets an EVM painted in her hair at a parlour in Ahmedabad on Thurs­day

tinge to party’s cam­paign.

Hin­dutva ‘clone’

his Re­act­ing to it, Union Min­is­ter Arun Jait­ley asked to

know why peo­ple would buy a ‘clone’ Hin­dutva party when the orig­i­nal Hin­dutva party (BJP) was still around. BJP pres­i­dent Amit Shah urged Rahul to con­tinue to visit tem­ples even af­ter the elec­tion. The Congress leader’s Somnath tem­ple visit also stirred a storm in a teacup about his re­li­gion.

Dur­ing the cam­paign, the Ay­o­d­hya is­sue also cropped up when Congress leader Kapil Sibal, whom his party had di­rected to frame a “for­mula” on the Pati­dars’ quota de­mand, urged the Supreme Court ear­lier this week to post­pone hear­ing in the Ram tem­ple case un­til com­ple­tion of the 2019 Lok Sabha elec­tions.

Modi lapped it up, say­ing the Congress was link­ing an is­sue of faith to an elec­tion. Iron­i­cally, the Sunni Wakf Board de­nied ask­ing for a post­pone- ment of hear­ing, while the Congress washed its hands of the is­sue, say­ing Sibal ap­peared in in his ca­pac­ity as a lawyer, not a po­lit­i­cal leader.

Progress re­port

If Rahul ques­tioned the BJP to de­scribe its achieve­ments — both in Gu­jarat since 1995 and at the Cen­tre since 2014 – Shah asked him to ex­plain what his fam­ily had achieved over three-and-a-half gen­er­a­tions. Of the 182 As­sem­bly seats in Gu­jarat, 98 are in ru­ral areas and 84 in ur­ban areas, the lat­ter be­ing BJP citadels. Since 2002, when the BJP won 75 out of then 115 seats, how­ever, its share has been slid­ing.

REUTERS

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