By Harihar Swarup
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah have been carrying on a Marathon campaign for December 9 and 14 Gujarat assembly elections. Their no-holds-bar attack on the Congress and the UPA government is bitter. One wonders if this will get them votes? This is for the first time in over two decades that the BJP faces such a tough poll and PM, Amit Shah and other BJP leaders appear jittery about the poll outcome.
As the Gujarat campaign enters a decisive and final phase, a row has erupted over Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Somnath temple—his name was allegedly entered into a register meant for non-Hindus. Apparently, the political discourse is increasingly becoming vicious. On its part, the Congress denied that Rahul had ever signed the register. A party spokesman asserted that the Congress Vice-President is a devout Hindu and a “Shiv Bhakta” and he had gone there to seek Lord Shiva’s blessings. When the BJP asked Rahul to specify his religion, the Congress Spokesman said he is a “janauhdhari (sacred thread) Brahmin.” One wonders what Rahul’s visit to Somnath temple and his religion has to do with election campaign. They are certainly not election issues.
Yet, another irrelevant issue was raised by the Prime Minister; he took Jawaharlal Nehru to task for his discomfort with the state playing patron to rebuilding of Somnath temple, destroyed by Mahmud Gazni sever times, and its inauguration by the then President Dr. Rajendra Prasad. “If there was no Sardar Patel, the temple in Somnath would never have been possible”, said Modi. Records reveal that Nehru’s objection was not to reconstruction per se, which had begun shortly after Independence, but to the aegis of the state.
Prime Minister, apparently, wanted to mock Rahul Gandhi’s temple trip when he said his (Rahul’s) great grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, had opposed the reconstruction of Somnath temple. Even if Nehru had opposed rebuilding of the temple, how Rahul is responsible for that; he was not born at that time. The extent to which the poll campaign in Gujarat had fallen is deplorable.
The Congress, unlike other elections, have support of Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani; the three young leaders have following in their respective communities. They have been drawing massive response to their election meetings. So is the case with Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi. His attack on the BJP, particularly the PM, is pungent and points made by him draws applause from the people.
Here are some of Prime Minister’s utterances which manifest his hatred for the predecessor government at the Centre. “I have only talked about Narmada but there are several other issues that will illustrate how anti-Gujarat the UPA government was: We have served this region. I fought for the Narmada against the government of Mrs Sonia Gandhi and Dr Manmohan Singh, which was anti-Narmada. All this was done for our farmers, and the people of Gujarat: Those who ruled country for 70 years must give their report card: They have looted the people. I am here to give every penny back to the poor, which they looted all these years: For Congress, development means giving out hand pumps: Look at Gujarat model and learn from it. We have moved forward”. Utterances of Amit Shah are even more bitter; he sometime twists facts.
Both the Congress and the BJP have chosen the poll candidates carefully and fielded best of candidates for 182-member assembly. It is difficult to predict the poll outcome at this stage but, judging from the peoples’ mood, the Congress and its allies appear to be having upper hand.
The dissatisfaction regarding GST among trader community, the travails caused by demonetization, the rising prices, the atrocities on Dalits and the overall challenge posed by three new entrants—Hardik, Aplesh and Jignesh— are the main election issues and these are a cause for worry to the BJP leaders. Besides, Chief Minister Rupani suffers from heavy anti-incumbency.
All this has provided to an almost moribund Congress in Gujarat a window of possibility. Whether rallies and meetings by Rahul Gandhi are well attended or not, and whether those attending them do so out of choice or enticement is an open matter, and the answer would differ depending on who you talk to. However, the sight of Rahul drinking tea, eating a biscuit, stopping by anywhere on the roads has caused a dent, howsoever small and insignificant, in the narrative of the BJP being in exclusive possession of Gujarat. Will the dent translate into real politics and actual numbers? Will the dent in the BJP narrative diminish its hubris, or will a turnabout happen in the forthcoming weeks? These are some stirring questions. Their answer will be known on December 18 when results come out. (IPA Service)