Modi indicates BJP confident of winning Gujarat assembly elections

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday indicated that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was more than confident of winning the Gujarat Assembly elections in December.

After his brief speech at a Diwali get-together at the BJP headquarters, the PM interacted with journalists. Asked about Gujarat election, his cryptic reply was “sukh”, or immense comfort. Gujarat goes to polls on December 9 and 14.

The PM, who has visited Gujarat thrice in October and nine times this year, didn’t elaborate on the reasons for his confidence. But later a top BJP leader explained why the party could do better than even its 2012 Assembly poll performance.

The leader said the BJP would showcase the Gujarat win as a referendum on the goods and services tax (GST), and the victory would be a fitting answer to all who have criticised the Modi government for the economic slowdown.

‘Congress’ caste trap’

The leader also said the Congress campaign in Gujarat would soon find itself sucked into a vortex of caste politics. He said the contradictions of Gujarat’s caste politics will expose the Congress party’s lack of any overarching vision for the state. “They have played the caste card too openly. It will boomerang,” the leader said.

BJP strategists think OBC leader Alpesh Thakore, Patidar leader Hardik Patel and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani represent competing caste groups, which would make it difficult for these communities to come together on the ground.

While Thakore joined the Congress recently, the other two have issued appeals to their supporters to ensure the defeat of the BJP. However, the leader claimed that some of the district chiefs of Thakore’s Thakore Sena would join the BJP in the coming days.

On Saturday, Patel asked the Congress party to make its stand clear on the Patidar community’s demand for reservation in government jobs. Some in the Gujarat unit of the Congress want the party to promise a 15 to 20 per cent job quota for EBCs, or Extremely Backward Classes. It will either need to be carved out of the existing 27 per cent Other Backward Classes quota, which would make existing OBC communities upset, or would be legally untenable if it were to exceed the Supreme Court-determined cap of 50 per cent.

A BJP leader currently stationed in Gujarat and associated with the party’s social media campaign, told Business Standard that both Thakore and Patel would be “exposed for their hypocrisy”. The BJP has already launched a sustained WhatsApp campaign that has dug out Thakore’s earlier statements. “Thakore had earlier sworn not to join any political party, while Patel has benefitted personally,” the leader alleged.

But it isn’t as if BJP is taking the challenge of Congress knitting a patchwork of castes lightly. The BJP has also started a social media campaign that details how of all the political parties, it has the most OBC and Dalit members of Parliament within its ranks, as well as among its over 1,400 legislators. According to BJP sources, the party would promise interest-free farm loans as well as other sops to the farmers of the state.

Impact of GST

Reports from Gujarat suggest anger in the business and trading community at the economic slowdown and the twin blows of demonetisation and the GST. The Congress social media campaign — “Development has gone crazy” — has also received traction.

Congress leaders, like its state unit chief Bharatsinh Solanki, have said the delay by the Election Commission in announcing poll dates for Gujarat and announcement of sundry sops by the Vijay Rupani government in the state is evidence that the BJP is “rattled”.

But the top BJP leader said the impact of the GST and demonetisation on the trading class of Gujarat was “overstated”. “As many as 88 per cent of businesses fall outside the ambit of the GST.”

However, not everyone in the party is as dismissive about the impact of the GST. “No doubt there is anger but recent corrections in the GST regime have helped to a great extent,” a Gujarat-based BJP leader said.

The BJP believes the Congress campaign, particularly that of Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, has been a negative one. “Elections aren’t won by spouting Hindi film dialogues, like ‘Gabbar Singh Tax’. The Congress has neither any vision, nor any organisation,” the Gujarat-based leader said.

BJP’s campaign

The BJP believes the Congress would fail to harness whatever resentment exists against the Rupani government as it is weak organisationally. It thinks the BJP support base remains largely intact despite both Modi and party chief Amit Shah being no longer on the scene in state politics.

The BJP assessment, or at least that of some of its leaders, is that the Congress in Gujarat has peaked too soon, having already fired all its weapons and has nothing new to say. The BJP, meanwhile, hasn’t even started its campaign. A BJP strategist said the party’s campaign would be on an unprecedented scale. BJP Amit Shah is slated to spend more time in Gujarat in the coming days.

BJP general secretary Bhupender Yadav is in charge for BJP’s election preparedness in Gujarat. Currently, the party is concentrating on galvanising its workers. “We have launched a focused campaign to reach out to our workers on each of the 50,128 polling booths. Our party president will be in Gujarat for a sustained tour to connect with the workers,” Yadav said.

Another leader said their party chief isn’t somebody who leaves anything to chance, as the Uttar Pradesh assembly results showed. “If the party thinks it will win 120-seats, Amit Shah would push the rank and file to achieve a target of 150-seats,” he said.

The BJP strategist, stationed in Gujarat, said the schedule of PM’s public meetings in the state is still being drawn but rejected reports that he might address as many as 50. Another leader said Modi might address at least a dozen rallies. Apart from Modi, all prominent union ministers and BJP chief ministers will campaign in Gujarat.

A BJP source said Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath is a big draw in Gujarat and would be addressing several rallies.

The Vaghela factor

Former Congress leader Shankersinh Vaghela has announced that his new party will contest all the 182-seats in the state. Vaghela, a former chief minister, has floated the ‘Jan Vikalp’ front. He walked out of the Congress in July.

The BJP assessment is that Vaghela’s party would impact Congress vote share in at least 35 of the 182-seats where votes from minority communities can impact the result.

The rural-urban divide

The BJP vote share in Gujarat has remained consistent over the past decade and a half – 47.37 per cent in 2004 Lok Sabha; 49.12 per cent in 2007 assembly; 46.57 per cent in 2009 Lok Sabha and 47 per cent in 2012 assembly election.

However, the BJP is more popular in urban areas. Of its 64-seats in 2012, the Congress won 61 in rural areas. In 2015 local body elections, the BJP swept the cities and town. It won in Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara, Rajkot, Jamnagar and Bhavnagar. However, the Congress won 21 of the 31 zila panchayats and 110 of 230 taluka panchayats.

The BJP’s challenge is to ensure the Congress doesn’t make inroads in its support base in urban areas as a result of the GST and economic slowdown.

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