Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Modi versus the rest

For a change, the Congress goes on the offensive in Gujarat and there are some 10 new entrants in the fray. This makes the result a little uncertain, but the BJP appears to have a thin edge.
Gujarat’s Assembly elections, scheduled for December 13 and 17, will primarily be a fight between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress, with the former having a slight edge over the latter. However, the BJP is not expected to have it as easy as before because more vote divisions are likely due to the entry of more than 10 other national and regional parties. A BJP source admitted that the “vote sharing could be a show spoiler” for both the BJP and the Congress. Parties such as the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Janata Dal (United), the Samajwadi Party, Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) may all end up eating into the Congress’ secular vote, but their presence is a cause of tension to the BJP as well. The BJP is also likely to face a threat from former BJP leader Keshubhai Patel’s Gujarat Parivartan Party and also from the Shiv Sena.
Apart from the spoiler effect, there are other reasons why Chief Minister Narendra Modi does not have a clear view of the winning post this time. For a while now, there has been simmering anger among bureaucrats and local government officials who say they have been operating in a situation dominated by fear. One police officer told Frontline: “You are either with him or against him—there is no in between. And if you are seen as against him, then even God cannot help you.” Anxious about their careers, many officials have walked the thin line between being outright yes-men and keeping a low profile. Inevitably, governance has suffered. Indeed, the Congress seems to be taking advantage of this. Manish Doshi, the Congress spokesperson, has announced that the focus of its campaign was the “arrogance of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi versus democratic values [required for good governance]”.
Voters gave Modi a clear mandate to rule for over a decade and sections of them benefited in terms of economic growth. From an administrative point of view, too, the political continuity has worked well for the State —infrastructure and industry, both commonly denominated totem poles of success, have benefited greatly. Gujarat’s roads, in terms of network and motorability, are superb as are the emergency medical services on highways. But the stability offered by this political continuity does not reflect in many other aspects. Modi has focussed on some areas that he sees as crucial to keeping the party in power. Other “soft” issues such as tribal welfare; well-being of all communities, especially Muslims; agriculture; and environmental regulation have been neglected.
In September last year, with the elections in view, Modi launched a Sadhbhavana Yatra to promote peace, harmony and unity in the State. It was viewed as an attempt by him to appear as a benevolent and much-beloved leader. The yatra covered much ground in the State and Modi observed a total of 36 fasts in 26 districts over the period, but ultimately it was rightly seen for what it was—an exercise in public relations.