The 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections should be a lesson for political pundits and journalists for all times to come. It showed how even the best in the business cannot completely gauge the mood of the people and the direction in which the so-called wind is blowing. It also highlighted the dichotomy between the narrative that the national media builds and what the ground reality is.
Cut to the present and one gets the same feeling about the upcoming Gujarat elections and its outcome. One can feel a sense of buoyancy in the air being built by the media about the Congress and its fortunes in the state and about its vice president Rahul Gandhi, who is said to be a ‘new’ 47-year old since his return from the United States. There is a lot of talk about how his speeches have become sharper, how he is pulling more crowds to his rallies and how his social media ripostes are getting more traction.
Rahul too, going by his body language and the one-liners that he has been mouthing seems upbeat. He has been asserting that his party will sweep Gujarat in December and that a ‘tsunami is coming and the BJP is scared of it’. To endear himself to the locals he even spoke an entire sentence in Gujarati at a rally saying - "Gujarat ma Modi ji aave, Amit Shah ji aave, UP na CM Yogi ji aave, toye Bhajapa sarkar nahi aave” (Narendra Modi, Amit Shah or Yogi Adityanath may come to Gujarat, but BJP won't come).
In a state which has been dominated by ‘Hindutva’ politics, the Congress vice president has also been doing the rounds of various temples across the state. Plus, perhaps taking a leaf out of PM Modi’s style of functioning, Rahul has been on whistle-stop tours of Gujarat and has been constantly trying to engage with his audiences.
To be noted is the fact that the Congress has not raised the issue of ‘discrimination of Muslims’ under the BJP rule, even though Rahul has talked about Modi’s ‘flawed’ developmental model in his rallies. Clearly, it does not want to project itself as the party that is soft towards the minority community. And obviously, they have not forgotten the damage done by Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s ‘maut ka sadagar’ (merchant of death) barb in 2007 Assembly polls.
Maybe sensing that his time has come, Rahul lost no time in tapping the anger and disenchantment among the traders vis-à-vis GST and promptly termed it as the ‘Gabbar Singh Tax.’ The Congress VP’s trips to places like Surat have been an attempt to wean away BJP’s traditional voters. However, the moot point is - can the Gandhi scion breach the formidable fortress of Modi-Shah duo?
The Grand Old Party has a lot hope from the three young guns from Gujarat – Hardik Patel (Patidar leader), Alpesh Thakore (OBC leader, who has joined the Congress) and Jignesh Mevani (Dalit leader) - to take them to the pole position. Hardik has been relentlessly exhorting the voters to vote against the BJP. The same goes for the other two.
The Patidars, Dalits, OBCs and the Muslims form nearly 60 percent of the state’s population. However, it’s unlikely that they will vote as a block. Fissures amongst the Patidars can already be seen with several Patel leaders joining the BJP. The challenge is also to entice both Thakores and Patels who are opposed to each other.
Some 42 percent urban voters are also a major challenge for Rahul over whom the BJP has had a hold for many years now. There is another segment that the Gandhi scion will have to wean away from the BJP – the women voters who were diligently wooed by Modi when he was the CM of the state with a host of women-oriented schemes.
Add to that the well-oiled election machinery of the BJP and their booth-level management. Plus, the cult built around PM Modi and his charisma and popularity. Moreover, the BJP has been in a damage control mode, from cuts in GST rates to a slew of new projects worth crores to the ferry service linking Saurashtra to South Gujarat. On the other hand, the Congress still suffers from lack of solid organisation at the ground. It is also said that there are more leaders than workers in the Congress party.
And then there is the factor of ‘Gujarati asmita’. Can the people of Gujarat overlook the fact that the Prime Minister belongs to their state?
Keeping all of the above in mind, can Rahul do the unthinkable and upset PM Modi’s applecart? The million dollar question can only be answered on the counting day.