Gujarat goes to the polls to­mor­row

AN­A­LYSTS SAY VOTER ANGER OVER RE­FORMS COULD BOOST CONGRESS

Gulf News - - Front Page - SURENDRANAGAR

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.

Psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pact

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.

GST in­tro­duc­tion

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.

PTI

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.

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