BJP banking on Modi effectApr 27th, 2009 | By Elections2009 | Category: Gujarat, States
By Manas Dasgupta in Gandhinagar
“Strengthen the hands” of Chief Minister Narendra Modi scream hoardings the Bharatiya Janata Party has put up all over the State. Surprisingly, they make no mention of L.K. Advani, the party’s Prime Ministerial candidate who is contesting from Gandhinagar, the State capital.
The message is loud and clear — the party is banking on the “Modi magic” to improve its tally from the 14 seats it won in 2004, its worst performance in a Lok Sabha election since 1989. It is also clear that the BJP’s think tank does not believe that the presence of a Prime Ministerial candidate will boost others in the fray.
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi addresses an election rally in Mumbai on Sunday. PHOTO: PTI
However, the so-called ’Modi magic,’ which still exists in urban Gujarat appears to be petering out in rural areas. A few factors that may cost the BJP dearly: selection of wrong candidates in some seats, according importance to Congress turncoats, and party rebels contesting under the newly-formed Mahagujarat Janata Party.
Although a straight contest between the Congress and the BJP in all 26 seats, the MJP may muster enough votes to upset the BJP in a couple of seats.
Given a free hand by the party high command, Mr. Modi has deliberately chosen “new faces,” many of them political non-entities. While the 19 “new faces” may not suffer from anti-incumbency, they are heavily dependent on Mr. Modi’s charisma to see them through.
Mr. Modi’s ploy may be a response to the situation caused by dissident MPs who launched a campaign against him prior to the December 2007 Assembly election. But it has alienated a large section of the cadre, which is reluctant to campaign.
No major issue
Devoid of any major issue and in the absence of a clear wave, the election is likely to be influenced by caste to some extent. The polarisation of the “Patel” votes is a matter of concern, even for no less than Mr. Advani in Gandhinagar, though it may not be strong enough to cost him the seat. In several seats in central Gujarat, considered a Congress stronghold, the caste factor will benefit the party; in north Gujarat, it will favour the BJP. Unlike 2004, when the entire Sangh Parivar was ranged against the Chief Minister, the RSS, now headed by a close Modi-aide, Mohan Bhagwat, is backing the BJP candidates. This compensates for the loss of disgruntled party workers. The absence of the RSS cadres in active electioneering was one of the main factors for the BJP’s poor showing in 2004.
However, Mr. Modi’s strained relations with the VHP have deteriorated further. The demolition of over 300 temples in Gandhinagar and some other parts of the State, a part of a campaign to “remove encroachments” has not helped repair matters. The arrest of a senior VHP leader Jaideep Patel in connection with the Naroda Gaam communal riot case of 2002, and that of another senior leader, Ashwin Patel, for allegedly for sending threatening messages to the Chief Minister, are other flashpoints.
To add to this, Mr. Modi’s long-standing feud with the VHP’s international general secretary and State strongman, Pravin Togadia, has distanced VHP workers from the BJP. Despite assertions to the contrary by Ashok Singhal, the VHP has stayed away from the campaign, blunting the BJP’s “Hindutva” appeal.
However, the Congress, badly battered in successive parliamentary and Assembly elections, has failed to take advantage of the divisions within the Sangh Parivar. Despite doing somewhat better in 2004, when the party bagged 12 seats, its confidence is in tatters because of the drubbing it received in the last Assembly election. No systematic effort has been made to galvanise itself and counter Mr. Modi’s propaganda on “development” in a “Vibrant Gujarat.”
The BJP, which won 20 seats in 1999 polling 52.48 per cent of the vote, was reduced to 14 seats in 2004 with its share of the vote declining to 47.37 per cent. The Congress share the vote declined from 45.44 per cent to 43.86 per cent in the same period. But in terms of seats, they doubled from six to 12. Gujarat is very important if the BJP wants to improve its tally.
Some poll pundits believe it will bag something between 17 and 19 seats, leaving the rest to the Congress. But such calculations may go wrong if the so called Modi magic fails to compensate for the other problems that dog the BJP in this election.