Best #GharWapsi option: Modi and Amit Shah should return to Gujarat
The state is slipping from BJP's hands and hopes raised by the PM have dashed.
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The BJP, after having its face blackened in the Bihar Assembly elections and losing the Lok Sabha by-election in Madhya Pradesh's Jhabua, suffered defeat at the hands of a much weaker rival - the Congress - in the rural areas of Gujarat, of all states.
The ruling party retained all the six municipal corporations and won 40 of the 56 municipalities, yet the Congress, which is out of power in the state for two decades, won 21 of the 31 district panchayats. Even in the 230 taluka panchayats with 4,778 seats, the Congress found an edge by bagging 2,509 seats, while the BJP trailed by winning 1,981.
The reversal in the BJP's fortunes in Gujarat comes just 18 months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi moved to the Centre, having efficiently ruled the state as its chief minister for more than 12 years. Just before the Bihar elections, Gujarat, under chief minister Anandiben Patel, had witnessed a massive pro-reservation protest led by Hardik Patel. This led to a clampdown on a few cities, loss of lives and property, and a loss of face for the BJP. Internet communication in cities like Surat and Ahmedabad was also suspended like it was in Kashmir.
The BJP had a dream run in Gujarat under Modi. After the Godhra train burning and the post-Godhra riots in 2002, the state had largely been peaceful under Modi. The Gujarat model of development became nationally and internationally popular. But once Modi moved out, the state has been in the news for negative events. Anandiben finds Modi's shoes too large to fill. The vacuum has led all kinds of elements to raise their heads.
Modi's popularity and his confidante Amit Shah's apparent master strategy led the BJP to victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. Thereafter, states like Haryana, Maharashtra, Jharkhand fell in the BJP's kitty and in Jammu and Kashmir the BJP emerged the second largest party and is part of the ruling coalition with the PDP, having ridden the Modi wave. But the Modi juggernaut came to a grinding halt in Delhi in the February 2015 Assembly elections there. Since then, the BJP has tasted only defeat.
So has the Modi euphoria evaporated?
As things are unfolding, it would be difficult for the BJP to win the forthcoming Assembly elections in Assam, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, even where it has the slightest of chances, or even the 2019 Lok Sabha election. If general elections are held now, it is doubtful whether the BJP will succeed in returning to power at the Centre.
Hence, the pertinent question: is it time for Modi and Shah to return to Gujarat?
It would be a win-win situation for the BJP at the state, national and even international level. The party sought votes in elections on the basis of the Gujarat model. That model lies in shambles today. Forget about communal harmony, the taken-for-granted caste harmony claim also lies in tatters.
Ever since Modi, a polarising personality that he is, has become the prime minister, Union ministers, BJP MPs, party functionaries, fringe elements, RSS and VHP leaders have got emboldened, and have been frequently making provocative, divisive and controversial statements. Modi seems to have failed to rein them in.
He has not been able to break the Lutyens' power structure that controls the narrative in Delhi. He was an outsider who was expected to think out of the box and dismantle the nefarious politician-babu nexus in the capital. Yet, even his admirers believe that he has not been able to change the Lutyens' matrix, and the matrix has changed him instead.
The nation's discourse has been revolving around communal issues, and development issues - the plank on which Modi had come to power - have been relegated to the background. Intellectuals have returned their awards and Bollywood personalities like Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Kamal Haasan have talked about the alleged growing intolerance in the country. Modi has failed to control the narrative on this one.
He has also failed to take the Opposition along which had resulted in the near total wash out of the monsoon session of Parliament. It is only since November 27 that the prime minister seems to have made a complete U-turn and is seen reaching out to the Opposition. Yet, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi tears him apart in the House in spite of the consensus on critical issues.
Modi and Shah have polarised the party itself. Veterans such as LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Shanta Kumar, Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie have publicly expressed their displeasure over the Modi-rule, while others like Shatrughan Sinha have rebelled against the party. A faction of the RSS is also learnt to be working against Modi and is trying to make his task difficult. After his quota comment hurt the BJP in Bihar, RSS boss Mohan Bhagwat reignited the Ram temple issue even as the BJP struggles in Parliament.
Modi has been touring the world to strengthen India's relations with other countries, but when it comes to his own backyard, ties have become more tenuous.
As Gujarat chief minister, Modi would lash out at the then prime minister Manmohan Singh for being soft on Pakistan. However, Modi's government seems to have failed to take a decisive stand against the terrorists' haven and seems to be blowing hot and cold - on one occasion cancelling talks over the Hurriyat leaders' meeting Pakistan high commissioner Abdul Basit, while on another, he is seen cosying up to Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif in Paris and, apparently, is meeting him secretly in Kathmandu. The government is also considering the BCCI's request to resume bilateral cricket ties with Pakistan. In spite of his much-hyped visit to Nepal, our relations with the neighbour seem to have hit rock bottom.
There would be several advantages if Modi and Shah move to Gujarat and are replaced with leaders who are more acceptable as prime minister and BJP president respectively. It will help the BJP retain the "Hindutva laboratory" of Gujarat in the 2017 elections, sober down the rabble-rousers within the party and among the fringe elements, turn the national narrative to development and governance issues and help in spelling out a clear-cut foreign policy.
The BJP has a large talent pool of leaders who can run the country and the party without many hiccups, since Modi himself has not been able to implement any of his breakthrough ideas, and Shah's style of functioning has come in for immense criticism from within. Gujarat can also be saved with the duo moving to their parent state.