Modi magic dispels all obstacles to win Gujarat in style

BJP had a single-point campaign - the work done by Modi as PM and CM

India Gujarat State Election Colours of joy: BJP supporters celebrate in Gandhinagar | AP

SHREE KAMALAM IN Gandhinagar is the headquarters of the BJP in Gujarat. Old-timers here reflect the party’s hardy nature. One of them, Vaghji Desai, at age 65 rides his bicycle 19km from his home in Ahmedabad to be at Shree Kamalam. He is a facilitator of many activities here.

Except for a year and a half when Vaghela and Dilip Parikh rebelled and ruled, the BJP has retained power in Gujarat since 1995. Neither the earthquake of 2001 nor the Patidar agitation of 2017 could shake it down.

Vaghji had gone on a padyatra led by Shankersinh Vaghela in the 1990s. After Vaghela left the BJP and became chief minister, Vaghji stood in a queue to meet him.

Spotting him in the queue, Vaghela sent a security officer to fetch him. “Vaghji, you don’t have to stand in a queue. What is the work to be done?” Vaghela asked him. Vaghji said he had come carrying a transfer request by a BJP worker’s daughter. “Do it if you wish,” he said. “But let me tell you that I am still in the BJP.”

One would find the same spirit in Ambalal Koshti, who had spotted a young Narendra Modi and enrolled him in the party. He, too, is a regular at Shree Kamalam and takes up tasks on his own. Though a humble party worker, he makes himself heard, whether the leaders agree with him or not.

People like Vaghji and Ambalal have seen the party grow from one seat in the assembly in 1967 elections to 156 seats in the latest election in 2022, and one Lok Sabha seat in 1984 to all 26 seats in 2017. As elsewhere, the RSS played a pivotal role in the growth.

Except for a year and a half when Vaghela and Dilip Parikh rebelled and ruled, the BJP has retained power in Gujarat since 1995. Neither the earthquake of 2001 nor the Patidar agitation of 2017 could shake it down. The riots of 2002, in fact, strengthened it and polarised the people.

The polarisation had begun in the 1980s with Ram shila poojans and L.K. Advani’s rath yatra from Somnath. Said political analyst Achyut Yagnik, “The RSS continued to catch people young. The Seva Dal of the Congress became non-functional as the years passed by.”

The Congress could not match the BJP’s cadre strength especially in the latest election. Citing an example, social activist Ashok Shrimali said, “There were 50,000 people at one of the meetings of (Home Minister) Amit Shah in Ahmedabad. There were hardly 5,000 people at (Congress president) Mallikarjun Kharge’s rally at the same location. The Congress workers had no money and were seen giving handwritten invites.”

Not taking things for granted, Shah reminded the electorate about serial bomb blasts; UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath mentioned Aftab Poonawala of the Shraddha Walkar murder case at his meetings, where bulldozers were lined up. The references to the involvement of Muslims in these cases did not go unnoticed.

The party was aspiring to cross the magic figure of 149 seats, which Madhavsinh Solanki of the Congress had managed in 1985. Modi himself said “CR and Bhupendra” (Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel and state party president C.R. Paatil) would break his record of 127 seats. He helped them break it in a spectacular manner, winning a massive vote share of 52.5 per cent, while the Congress managed 27.3 per cent.

For the Congress, it was the worst ever result: just 17 seats. Its previous lowest tally was 33 in 1990. The Aam Aadmi Party, which took away the Congress votes, won just five seats. While the AAP’s prominent candidates lost, it mopped up an impressive votes share of 12.9 per cent.

Several months of fierce campaigning by Modi and Shah, amply backed by a well-oiled party machinery, led to the decimation of the Congress in its tribal and rural bastions. The Congress lacked effective leadership and did little to energise the party workers. Though it had won 77 seats in the last elections, 17 of its MLAs crossed over to the BJP in five years.

In contrast, Paatil constantly monitored his party’s panna committees―there was a committee for every page of the electoral rolls. He had the experience of making use of this system in Modi’s Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency in Uttar Pradesh and in his own Navsari Lok Sabha constituency in Gujarat, which he won with a record margin of 6.89 lakh votes. Being an active party president, he was also seen as remote-controlling the Gujarat government.

The AAP and the Congress promised the electorate free electricity, cheaper gas cylinders and the old pension scheme. Modi answered them by declaring Modhera as the first fully solar powered village. “You do not need free electricity,” he said. “You can even earn money by giving excess electricity produced to the state.”

The BJP had a powerful, single-point campaign: the work done by Modi as prime minister and as chief minister. The Congress did raise the issue of inflation and corruption, but there were no takers. The AAP began its campaign aggressively, comparing government schools in Gujarat and Delhi. It also offered free and good quality health care. But the voters’ trust in Modi remained unshaken.

For them it is a matter of great pride that two Gujaratis are occupying top two posts in the country, decades after Morarji Desai became prime minister. And Modi has rarely missed a chance to speak about Gujarati asmita (pride).

Two back-to-back road shows by him were seen as a sign of desperation in the face of the AAP’s aggressive campaign. But Modi proved the sceptics wrong. A hundred candidates of the AAP and about 50 of the Congress lost their deposits.

Said Zubin Ashara, the state BJP media in-charge, “In 23 out of 33 districts in the state, the Congress failed to get a single seat.” He attributed his party’s victory to the support of the masses for development, their faith in Modi and the party’s micro-management at the electoral rolls page level.

A year ago, the party had sacked the entire cabinet headed by Vijay Rupani. But it did not affect the election―all the former ministers, led by Rupani, declared like well-tutored boys that they did not want to stand for election at all.

The BJP knows the importance of Gujarat at the national level. It will not want to mess up the chances of a Gujarati to become prime minister for the third consecutive time.

The growth of the BJP in Gujarat has much to do with its record of good governance, said former chief minister Suresh Mehta. In 1990, it had ruled as a coalition partner under chief minister Chimanbhai Patel of the Janata Dal. “It was then that a proper industrial policy was announced and industries were given a reduction in electricity tariff,” he said.

But, more than anything else, it is clearly Modi’s popularity and charisma that powered the BJP’s leap to triumph in Gujarat in this election. His eloquence energised the party the way another prime minister had done.

Former minister Gordhan Zadafia recalled an unforgettable experience in Bhavnagar a quarter century ago. During a visit to the district he learnt that one of Jana Sangh’s founding members, Polubha Sarvaiya, was unwell and could not get up from the bed. When Zadafia called on him, Sarvaiya somehow sat up without support, hugged the visitor and burst into tears. Zadafia asked him why. Sarvaiya said, “My dream has been realised. Atalji (Atal Bihari Vajpayee) has become prime minister. Now, I am confident that my party will last long.”

As the Gujarat assembly election results poured in on December 8, Shree Kamalam was awash with such ecstatic feelings of uninhibited optimism.