Why Modi is petrified of losing Gujarat civic polls
Besides emboldening his detractors, a poor show will also have an adverse impact on BJP's prospects in 2016 Assembly elections.
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After the BJP's humiliating defeat in Delhi and Bihar Assembly elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi faces the toughest battle in the local body polls in his home state of Gujarat. The BJP controls six of the eight municipal corporations - Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Rajkot, Surat, Jamnagar and Bhavnagar - that went to the polls on November 22. The terms of Gandhinagar and Junagadh are yet to get over. The elections to about 300 panchayat bodies will be held on November 29.
The local body elections are an acid test for Modi's popularity as he ruled the state as chief minister for about 13 long years before passing on the baton to his trusted lieutenant Anandiben Patel upon getting promoted to the prime minister's post. The results of the local polls, therefore, will be viewed as a mandate on the prime minister's popularity. A loss in these polls will give another handle to Modi's detractors, like senior leader LK Advani and other Margdarshak Mandal members of the BJP, to attack him. Incidentally, Advani is a Lok Sabha member from Gujarat's state capital Gandhinagar and cast his vote for Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation on November 22. A poor show will also have an adverse impact on the BJP's prospects in the Assembly elections to be held in 2016 in states like West Bengal, Assam, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
The local body elections are also being held in the midst of the ongoing Patel-Patidar agitation launched by Hardik Patel about four months ago. The Patels have been traditional BJP supporters but the agitation for quota in educational institutions and government jobs has seen a large part of them turning away from the party. The anger among them can be gauged from the fact that the Patels did not allow the BJP to field its candidate from their stronghold of Mehsana. The Congress has complained to the Election Commission regarding deletion of thousands of valid Patel voters's names. This only goes to prove the BJP's nervousness due to the Patel agitation. Friends in Gujarat BJP underplay the Patel factor saying former chief minister Keshubhai Patel had sought to wean away the Patel voters even during the 2010 local bodies elections but it did not have any impact.
The adverse result in Bihar Assembly election and the ongoing Patel movement notwithstanding, the Gujarat BJP is seeking to reemphasise an experiment in its Hindutva laboratory - that of increasing the representation of Muslims in the local bodies. Of the 8,400 candidates being backed by the party, 500 are Muslims. It is just slightly less than the Congress which is backing 700 Muslim candidates. Some reports claimed that the BJP is backing a record number of Muslim candidates in the wake of the defeat it suffered in Bihar. However, Gujarat BJP Minorities Cell chief Sufi Mehboobali Bava Chisti rubbished them and reiterated that the decision was taken much before the Bihar elections were held.
In the 2010 local bodies elections in the state, when Modi was the chief minister, the BJP had backed 350 Muslim candidates on an experimental basis. Of them, 245 were successful. buoyed by this outcome, 125 of these were even appointed as chairpersons. At that point in time, the state BJP had about 50,000 Muslim primary members. The membership has seen a seven-fold jump and there are over 3.50 lakh Muslim members at present. Hence, a larger number of candidates are also being backed by the party this time around.
The pertinent question is: will the Muslims, who overwhelmingly backed the Mahagathbandhan, vote for the BJP after the polarising issues like beef ban, cow slaughter and Dadri lynching which were raised by the BJP and its fringe elements in the run-up to the Bihar polls?