Hitting the campaign trail in poll bound Gujarat, Prime Minsiter Manmohan Singh in his first rally in the tribal town of Navsari district on December 09, 2012 played the minority card, saying that the time had come to liberate the state from divisive politics. He emphasized that the minorities were feeling ‘insecure’ in the BJP-ruled state stating, “Unlike the Opposition we do not play politics of dividing the people. Such type of politics is bad in itself and for a longer period of time cannot be beneficial for a political party.”
However, if poll pundits are to be believed then the minority card and the 2002 post-Godhra riots are no longer significant issues in the Assembly elections in Gujarat in 2012. It may be an issue if and when Narendra Modi makes his transition to national politics and plans to take a go at PM’s chair. Modi has other issues at hand to tackle the incumbency factor and the Congress would do better to take on the CM on issues where he has much to answer like the handling of the drought situation.
For a party that has been out of power in the state for more than fifteen years, the Gujarat Congress has been trying its best to take on Modi on his home turf. But at the moment it seems that their best may not be good enough at least in 2012.
Not so long ago the Congress issued an 18-point ‘chargesheet’ against the Modi government and accused it of practising loot and corruption. It charged the Gujarat government of misleading the people in the name of development, safety, providing affordable housing, health and education. State Congress president Arjun Modhvadia accused Modi of not speaking on local issues and instead targeting the shortcomings of the UPA government at the Centre. However, Modi has been almost treating the local Congress leadership in the state in an indifferent manner, though he has been quick to attack and rebut their Central leadership - be it Sonia Gandhi or Manmohan Singh.
The Congress has been besieged by its own troubles and has found it hard to deal with it too. From infighting to rebellion to protests over ticket distribution to advertisement faux pas, the Congress’ cup of woes has been full as far as these elections are concerned. The defection of former deputy chief minister Narhari Amin has been a setback of sorts for the Congress. To top it all the party does not have a strong face to take on Narendra Modi, the man who is increasingly looking unassailable.
Some of the problems that the Congress in Gujarat is facing are the same problems that the party faced when it went to the polls in Uttar Pradesh earlier this year and in Bihar in 2010. The party does not have a strong local base in the state; there is personality clash among the local leaders; there is no big leader in the state to take on Modi; and the Congress has not named its chief ministerial candidate. Congress president Sonia Gandhi has made a couple of trips to the state but again as it was proved earlier, air-dropping of national leaders just before the polls will not help in garnering votes. The modern day electorate is increasingly voting for leaders who work with them and for them.
Also, the national leadership of the Congress has been hesitant in fielding their general secretary Rahul Gandhi in the poll scene. The man who has been more or less been projected as the future PM of India has been lying low as far as Gujarat was concerned. He finally landed in Modi’s backyard on December 11 but not before the CM had thrown enough taunts – like “the prince is reluctant to come to Gujarat” - in his direction. The Congress for sure did not want the Gujarat elections 2012 to be a Modi vs Rahul fight as the Uttar Pradesh debacle must be fresh in their minds. As far as they are concerned, the Rahul-Modi face-off can wait till 2014.
Rahul chose his words carefully while exhorting the voters to vote for a regime change. While on the one hand he highlighted the high points of the UPA government like the RTI, on the other hand he referred to Modi almost discreetly saying that the present Chief Minister of Gujarat was absorbed by his own ‘ambitions’ and that one man could not run Gujarat. “A real politician makes your dreams his own dreams. Your CM doesn`t want to listen to your dreams. In this state only one voice is heard, your voice is not heard at all,” he said. However, listening to Rahul one almost gets the feeling that the Congress general secretary has hit the campaign trail a bit late in the day, while Modi has been at it tirelessly.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi too has been slamming the Modi government in her election rallies though her attack on the man has been veiled. After ‘Maut ka Saudagar’ fiasco in the last edition of Assembly Elections, Sonia has been careful not to bite Modi’s bait and has been cautious with her words and has focused mainly on the developmental schemes of UPA, even though the CM has thrown open challenges to Manmohan Singh, Sonia and Rahul stating that he was ‘ready for any contest’.
Sonia Gandhi has instead harped on the central funds that have been doled out to Gujarat and how it has been misused. The line that she has toed has been - “The UPA government has given sufficient funds for several schemes on agriculture, development, and water harvesting and land improvement projects to the state. According to news reports, `hera-pheri` (wrong-doing) is going on.” And – “The UPA government had waived loans of farmers, besides giving them other facilities. Then, why farmers in Gujarat are still under debt? The answer to this question is explicit. The policies of Gujarat government are `jan virodhi` (anti-people).”
Whether the UPA chairperson’s so called home-truths will work with the masses or not and whether the harping on the issue of development will reap dividends or not will only be revealed once the ballot boxes are opened on December 20. Whether the Congress accepts it or not, Narendra Modi has become synonymous with development in Gujarat even though there may be areas where the trickle down affect has been slow if not absent.
One of the factors from which the Congress must be hoping to benefit must be the factionalism within the state BJP and the split with Keshubhai Patel. The newly floated outfit Gujarat Parivartan Party can prove to be troublesome for Modi and the saffron party, especially in Saurashtra. BJP won 30 out of 52 seats in Saurashtra in 2007 and after Keshubhai’s exit, the Congress must be hoping to benefit from the spoils.
In its efforts to woo the electorate the Congress has offered free rural plots and laptops to students. For a party which has been out of power in the state for the past 17 years, the desperation for a revival of fortunes is evident. The last Congress government was headed by Chandulal Mehta in 1995. However, if the buildup to the winter elections in Gujarat is any indication then more likely than not the party, which is looking without an agenda at the moment, will be left out in the cold this time around too.
Amidst all this, the man who is in focus in these elections has been unflustered and has gone about his campaigning as if nothing can stop him from being the Chief Minister of Gujarat for the fourth time in a row.