Forget the ultra-nationalist Hindutva plank, the dubious Gujarat model, the fake promises of development, and the typical election rhetoric riddled with malicious outbursts. If Narendra Modi has been rushed off his feet in Gujarat, then it’s all because of Rahul Gandhi.
What has been Narendra Modi’s home state, the very same Gujarat is today hinting at an indecisive battle for the BJP in the assembly elections. The party has been in power there for over two decades now, and suddenly it is all but powerful. It is no longer the mighty governing party which used to have an unfathomable support of the Gujaratis. For, the support has shaken.
And the prime minister of the nation is trying hard to strengthen the BJP’s foothold in the first Hindutva laboratory by addressing numerous rallies and meetings across the state.
For someone who served a record four terms as the chief minister of Gujarat, for someone who was sent to Delhi in 2014 Lok Sabha elections by the people of Gujarat with all 26-of-26 seats served on a platter, and for someone who became the prime minister with a landslide victory in the same elections; winning Gujarat should have been a cakewalk this year.
But clearly, that’s not the reality.
The reality is that people have woken up to the fact that for the last 22 years the Gujarat model of development has been all hype with no substantial results. As it happens, it was nothing but a "Modi marketing model".
Image: PTI photo
The Gujarat model boasted of infrastructure development, but what the BJP failed to acknowledge openly is the borrowing of the Modi government in the state. Before Modi was appointed as the chief minister in October 2001, the state’s debt amounted somewhere around Rs 53,000 crore. In 2014, when he vacated Gujarat CMO to become the country’s PM, the magnitude of the state’s debt increased to a ponderous Rs 165,000 crore.
The real picture of the Gujarat model becomes much grimmer with a look at the current unemployment rate of the state which stands at 6.8 per cent, as per BSE’s 30-day average moving data, whereas the national unemployment rate is 5.4 per cent.
Narendra Modi and the BJP are capable enough to gauge the danger posed by their superficial promises and claims. They know that the bubble called "Gujarat model" has finally burst, much to their dismay, and that they have no tangible results that can help them ask for votes this time.
One thing is clear: only Narendra Modi could have sold a "hollow" development rhetoric as Gujarat’s success to the public because he is the master of oratory, the magic weaver.
But, as I pointed in one of my previous pieces, the Modi magic has started to disappear.
And the PM knows this well.
For what else could have forced him to visit Gujarat time and again, address rallies in such huge numbers, leaving his prime ministerial duties behind? Not only him, but the entire brigade of BJP ministers has its focus on Gujarat campaigning, instead of their assigned governmental responsibilities.
The look of consternation on every BJP leader’s face reveals that Rahul Gandhi has become an unexpected challenger to the party, that too in a state that used to be the BJP’s bailiwick.
Rahul Gandhi – The one-man army
Until recently, Rahul Gandhi was looked upon as a failed dynast. In their attempt to have a Congress-mukt Bharat, the BJP was adamant on destroying the Gandhis, not just as politicians but as humans. And that was the reason why Rahul was often slighted by the opposition, particularly the BJP and its troll army, as pappu, yuvraj or shahzada.
But today, he has made the cut. From a political weakling to a strong contender - he has come up trumps, against all expectations and derisions.
Perhaps this is the reason why the PM is having sleepless nights. Ideally, to win a state that gave him a clean sweep of 26 Lok Sabha seats and a vote share of 60 per cent in 2014, all that Modi had to do was to visit the state for a day and thank the people to continue showing their "full" support to him and his party. Unfortunately, he has to toil to make a mark on his home turf. And he isn’t alone. Union ministers and chief ministers of BJP ruled states are also addressing public rallies in Gujarat. But sadly, BJP has reduced itself to a "talk shop”, rather than a development-centric team.
Image: PTI photo
When the likes of Union minister Smriti Irani continues taking a dig at Rahul Gandhi with remarks such as “bechare ko abhi president to banne do... (Let him become the president of his own party. I am not even talking about the country...)” shows their perpetual obsession with him.
And why is that?
Because they know that Rahul Gandhi has turned the tables by being pretty admirable in the run-up to the Gujarat elections. He is leading the Gujarat battle single-handedly, unlike the BJP which is being spearheaded by the country’s PM.
On the one hand, we have the who’s who of the BJP campaigning in the state, and on the other, we have Rahul Gandhi, the one-man army, electioneering on his own. While the BJP has a well-oiled election machinery in Gujarat, the money, and the power to secure its victory, Rahul Gandhi doesn’t.
The BJP also boasts of a solid organisation in the state, with the backing of many influential cooperative societies, several BJP appointees and a firm hold of the RSS. The ruling party is also believed to be using Amit Shah’s trump card - appointment of BJP supporters across the state as the local “page pramukh”, and its strengthened booth management structure to win the Gujarat Assembly elections.
It is extremely difficult to defeat the BJP in Gujarat, but still, the party seems to be nervous.
Whereas, the Gandhi scion has come out as a confident, consistent leader, convinced of the narrative he follows. He may be alone, but he is not afraid. He has his focus on the core issues of Gujarat. From attacking the BJP government over GST and demonetisation to raising concerns over farmers’ distress and poverty, the plight of Dalits in the state, and pointing out the state government's failure to create jobs for 30 lakh unemployed youth - Rahul Gandhi has walked towards a relevant and much-needed political discourse.
The BJP, however, has been seen parting ways with development-based conversations during its campaigning. The ruling government in the state seems to have forgotten its Gujarat model. Perhaps, the vibrancy of the state has waned. Narendra Modi and other leaders of the BJP sound not just nervous and defensive but almost hysterical.
The BJP even released its election manifesto just one day before the first phase of polling ended in Gujarat, as the entire party was busy deriding the Opposition.
During most of his campaigning, a major part of Modi’s speeches focused on ridiculing Indira Gandhi, misusing historical incidents to take a dig at the Nehru-Gandhis, fostering communal polarisation, talking about mandir, masjid, Kashmir and Pakistan.
Last month, while addressing a meeting in Morbi in Gujarat, he did not fail to bring Indira Gandhi in his speech. He said, “I remember Indira Gandhi had come here and Chitralekha (a magazine) had printed her photo with a handkerchief over her nose, trying to avoid the stench, while another photo on the same front page had RSS workers carrying bodies.”
Likewise, Modi’s series of unscrupulous attacks continued when he targeted the country’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru by saying, “When Sardar Patel took up the work of re-construction of Somnath temple, Nehru was unhappy. Your great grand father Nehru wrote a letter to President Rajendra Prasad when he was to come for the opening ceremony of the temple.” He also remarked, “This land of brave people will not forgive those who have acted against the Somnath temple.”
As if that was not enough, he has resorted to playing the victim card, accusing former Rajya Sabha MP Mani Shankar Aiyar of questioning his parentage, because of the latter's “neech” remark.
Belonging to a party that proudly uses offensive and uncouth language, it is bizarre that the PM is crying for attention by twisting words and their actual meaning. He is the same person who had called his predecessor Manmohan Singh a "night watchman", Sonia Gandhi a "Jersey cow" and Rahul Gandhi a "Hybrid bachhada (calf)", before governing the nation.
While Rahul Gandhi was quick enough to suspend Aiyar from the Congress party, the country’s PM is still trying his best to gain votes based on this issue.
And that’s not all.
In an election speech in Banaskantha district lately, PM Modi accused Manmohan Singh, former vice-president Hamid Ansari and former Army chief Deepak Kapoor of colluding with Pakistan to swing the Gujarat elections. He alleged that in a dinner meeting at Mani Shankar Aiyar’s home, Indian dignitaries conspired with a Pakistani delegation, to help Ahmed Patel become the chief minister of Gujarat. Dragging Pakistan and traducing the nation’s dignitaries has been another low blow from the Indian prime minister.
In response, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Islamabad, Mohammad Faisal tweeted that Pakistan should not be dragged into the electoral battles of India.
India should stop dragging Pakistan into its electoral debate and win victories on own strength rather than fabricated conspiracies, which are utterly baseless and irresponsible.— Dr Mohammad Faisal (@ForeignOfficePk) December 11, 2017
The PM’s grim statements have done an irreparable damage to his constitutional commitment and office. While many of Mani Shankar Aiyar’s guests, including former PM Manmohan Singh, have denied the allegations, stating that the discussion was confined to India-Pakistan relations, what amazes me the most is the courage with which the PM is spreading falsehoods, lowering the dignity of the office he occupies.
Questioning the intents of a former PM, a former army chief, and former diplomats indicates the beginning of a new low in Indian polity.
Narendra Modi must remember that he is no longer an RSS pracharak. He is holding a secular, constitutional post and one of the highest offices in Indian democracy. He cannot and must not indulge in communal politics. His remarks about religion - asking whether the Congress party wants mandir or masjid are past bearing. He must not spin lies and fabricate stories against the nation’s loyalists – for he is India’s PM, not Gujarat’s CM.
The nation’s PM and the BJP may have forgotten that excess of everything is bad. They are riding on a wave filled with self-assured hubris. Their extreme negativity and arrogance will see an end, and positivity will win, if not now, then in the future for sure.
Clearly, Modi’s shrill rhetoric is in absolute contrast to the calm, composed Rahul Gandhi that we have been seeing of late.
The Gujarat elections have broken the myth that Modi is invincible. A resurrected Congress is standing tall in front of the mighty ruling party. With Rahul Gandhi leading the way, the country has got freedom from the TINA (there is no alternative) factor.
Rahul's new avatar shows that he has weathered the storm. And, today, he has emerged as a ray of hope for all those Indians who were seeking a healthy democracy.
Modi may win Gujarat, but he will lose India
Communal polarisation has never really left Gujarat politics. And both Narendra Modi and Amit Shah are believed to be the champions of polarisation.
Most of the pollsters and political pundits have already predicted a win for BJP in Gujarat, and it is highly likely that the incumbent party will eventually retain power in the state on the lines of communalism.
However, it will be nothing else but a pyrrhic victory. A victory without lustre.
On the last day of campaigning for the Gujarat elections, Modi said: “The lies that our worthy opponents have spread, about Gujarat, Gujarat's growth and about me personally is something I had never imagined. It is natural for every Gujarati to feel hurt. People of Gujarat will give a fitting reply to the negativity and lies of the opposition."
Those words speak of Modi’s belief in revenge and his hunger for power.
And, then Rahul Gandhi concludes the same campaign with words like: “I want to change the political discourse. It has become nasty, ugly and there is a lot of anger and angst. We want to do politics of love and compassion.”
So, it is for the nation and its people to reflect on who he is indulging in "neech" politics.
The agendas that both these parties are following is apparent: one has this unwavering will to spread religious communalism and negativity, and the other is focusing on a decisive leadership rooted in modesty and bonding.
That said, Modi may win Gujarat, but the communal poison that he has been spreading will be one of the worst ravages of all time. The country will take decades to recuperate, if at all.
Strictly speaking, there is no bigger tragedy for a nation than having a prime minister who tries to destroy its very soul with communal canards and conspiracy theories.
On December 18, Modi and his party might win the Gujarat elections, but he will lose India. And, Rahul Gandhi might lose Gujarat, but he has already won the hearts of Indians.