Finally the Hindutva and secularism card has been put on the backburner after a long time in the forthcoming Gujarat assembly elections by the two leading political parties- Congress and BJP.
In a sensational statement, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi gave an open challenge to all by saying that if he is guilty of collusion in the Gujarat riots then he should be hanged. While adding more to the surprise, Congress party spokesperson Rashid Alvi said it is not necessary that 2002 riots will be an election issue for the Congress party this time.
With Narendra Modi not missing a single chance to fetch means of development in Gujarat and Congress not gunning Modi on his Godhra backgrounder, it would really be very interesting to see the issues that will dominate this time the Gujarat Elections.
Gujarat is tipped to be a virtual straight fight between the BJP and the Congress. Narendra Modi’s prime ministerial ambitions will also depend on the outcome of the ensuing polls. The results will also determine the might of BJP and pave its path for the 2014 General Elections. Gujarat is the most important state since the elections in UP, where Congress and BJP were shown the door by Samajwadi Party.
On the one hand where Congress would be hoping to dismantle the Modi government from its 10 year reign, BJP will be fighting tooth and nail to keep Congress at bay. Dissidents in BJP have also complicated matters in Gujarat and also for Modi. The ex-BJP strong man Keshubhai Patel is also hoping to upset the Modi applecart with his newly formed party, Gujarat Parivartan Party.
Interestingly according to a poll survey, across the all segments of voters in Gujarat, the supreme cause of concern for the Gujarati voter has quite stunningly turned out to be the issue of inflation and price rise. The Congress will have reason to be quite worried about it. Inflation as an issue, beats its nearest competitor of water supply by a huge gap.
Housing - The shelter for all
Congress has lambasted the Modi government for failing to provide any kind of affordable housing in its 10 year reign. The issue of Housing has suddenly turned into a prime election issue. The Gujarat Congress has promised to provide 100 sq yard to the poor masses in the rural areas and the housewives. It has already launched the scheme and received overwhelming response. The party received 16.42 lakh forms in response to its scheme. Congress has squarely put the blame on the BJP government for reducing the Gujarat Housing Board to a defunct organization.
The scheme has even shaken the BJP leadership, with the Congress also accusing of reducing the staff of the low cost housing wing from 1396 to a mere 208. On the scheme of Congress, BJP has said that it is a fraudulent scheme to mislead the voters. Modi categorically stated that Congress had not fulfilled their earlier promises, so it is highly doubtful that the housing scheme will also take off. Modi has refuted the allegation of doing nothing on the housing front, saying that they have built 16 lakh houses in his tenure, while the Congress has only done 10 lakh in its four decade rule. Modi further said in the next three years he is going to turn Gujarat into a ‘slum free state’.
Inflation - The demon of Price Rise
If Congress is taking BJP on the housing turf, BJP is scathing in its attack for the surge in the inflation and tremendous burden of price rise on the common man. Modi has attacked Sonia Gandhi and the government in the centre for the irresponsible price hike across the board. He has warned that doing nothing could prove to be the nemesis for the Congress.
There is no urban or rural divide over the issue of price rise, and this issue has turned out to be the most important one concerning the voters of Gujarat. The voter believes that the Congress is responsible for the price mayhem in their lives. With this mindset of the voters Modi can take a sigh of relief as this will open a huge window of opportunity for BJP to take down the Congress on the issue of inflation. Well! Modi seems to be already gathering public support by hitting on this issue. He has been saying in the rallies ‘Soniaji’ should apologise to the nation for the rampant inflation.
Water - The lifeline
The water crisis of Gujarat is a huge election issue for the voters as well for the political parties. The perennial water woe of Gujarat has left the people of the state in sheer despair. The state government’s inadequate efforts to deal with the subject have created ire among the people.
Though Modi has been taking vital steps to tackle the menace, but the problem refuses to perish. With the drought setting in the first half of 2012, the matter only turned worse. The people’s woes have made this a huge election issue. Apart from the drinking water problem, the farmers have also been facing the problem of irrigation due to lack of proper water supply. The parched ‘Saurashtra’ is worst hit with many farmers ending their lives for lack of livelihood. ‘Saurashtra’ being a stronghold of Modi’s bete noire Keshubhai has only compounded his troubles. Though Modi has announced a 10,000 crore Saurashtra Narmada Avataran Irrigation Yojana (SAUNI), BJP’s problems seem far from over.
Malnutrition - Food is scarce
During Modi’s tenure, according to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), the percentage of underweight children in the State went up between NFHS-2 (1998-99) and NFHS-3 (2005-06). The NFHS-3 tells that 47% of children below the age of three in the State were underweight. That figure was 45% in NFHS-2. That’s about twice the average for sub-Saharan Africa.
Modi fell into a big trap when he said in an interview that teenage girls in the state are malnourished because they are giving more importance to their waistline rather than health. But while giving this excuse he forgot that the count of malnourishment is done usually for kids and infants. Despite of the above factor it will be interesting to see that whether Opposition can play up this issue to give Modi a fight and gather voters sympathy or not.