Gujarat goes to the polls tomorrow
ANALYSTS SAY VOTER ANGER OVER REFORMS COULD BOOST CONGRESS
Modi faces key test of his popularity after a series of controversial economic reforms |
I ndian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will face a key test of his popularity after a series of controversial economic reforms when the state where he forged his political career goes to the polls tomorrow.
Modi built his reputation as an economic reformer in his prosperous home state of Gujarat, which boomed under his rule, attracting investment from around the globe.
But turning around the national economy has proved more difficult and the Modi government reforms have hurt the very constituency of traders and small business owners who were his biggest supporters in the western state.
Analysts say voter anger over the reforms and a desire for change after 22 years of rule by Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could boost the flagging fortunes of the opposition Congress Party.
That the Congress campaign has been fronted by Rahul Gandhi — the man likely to challenge Modi for the premiership in the next general election in 2019 — has only added to the pressure on the prime minister.
“The Gujarat election’s national and psychological impact makes it all-important,” said Indian political commentator R Jagannathan.
“This state saw Modi’s rise, and if he gets humbled here, then even his allies will doubt if he can still win in 2019. An upset here will be unlike any other state.” Modi’s personal popularity remains high, with 88 per cent of Indians surveyed by the Pew Research Center earlier this year saying they viewed him positively. Rahul trails behind him on just 58 per cent.
But the poll preceded the introduction in July of a new nationwide Goods and Services Tax that has poleaxed small businesses in India, creating widespread anger.
That came just months after a currency ban aimed at tacking widespread tax fraud that created a months-long cash shortage and economists say the two major reforms have hit India’s growth.
Gujarat has seen major protests, particularly around the city of Surat, home to textile and diamond trading industries that employ tens of thousands of people.
Another threat to Modi’s dominance comes from two prominent groups — the Patidars, who make up almost 14 per cent of Gujarat’s 43 million voters, and the lowest Dalit caste.
The Patidars’ 24-year-old firebrand leader Hardik Patel is a fierce opponent of Modi who regularly attracts tens of thousands of supporters to his rallies.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveils a plaque to dedicate Dr Ambedkar International Centre to the nation, in New Delhi yesterday. Modi faces a key test of his popularity after a series of controversial economic reforms when the state where he forged his political career goes to polls.