But the Congress is strategising to attack Modi’s base camp, says VIRENDRA PANDIT

With Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi being its prime ministerial candidate, the BJP is confident it will win all the 26 Lok Sabha seats in the State.

However, the Congress is working hard to increase its 2009 tally of 11. In the coming week, the crème de la crème of the Congress is expected to land here — President Sonia Gandhi, Vice-President Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Vadra. They are likely to campaign extensively, particularly in Vadodara, where party General Secretary and Rajya Sabha MP Madhusudan Mistry is pitted against Modi.

Gujarat is the ‘base camp’ of Modi’s election machine. After a day-long hectic election schedule, the CM often returns to capital Gandhinagar, only to leave the next morning.

Modi’s wins in three consecutive Assembly polls between 2002 and 2012 had catapulted him last year to national leadership, prompting the BJP to declare him as its PM candidate in September. Over 300 candidates are in the fray for 26 Lok Sabha constituencies in Gujarat, which will go to polls on April 30.

Modi is the first ruling chief minister and OBC leader to be nominated as PM candidate by any national party.

The coming election is also being seen as an expansion of the “Gujarat model” — of politics and development — on a national scale. Over the past decade, many saw the State as the “Hindutva laboratory”. Indeed, both Modi and the BJP, in that order, are selling the Gujarat model across the country.

In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had won 15 of 26 seats in Gujarat while the Congress cornered 11. This time, however, the contest is more interesting, with the BJP trying hard to bag all the 26 seats to facilitate Modi’s drive to 7, Race Course Road in New Delhi.

But the Congress is also taking the elections seriously, at least in Vadodara. It replaced its first declared nominee, Narendra Rawat, selected after the primaries, with Mistry.

One-party system

A two-party system had emerged in Gujarat some two decades ago. Since the 1990s, all electoral battles in Gujarat have largely been between the BJP and the Congress.

With the Congress remaining out of power for nearly 20 years now, the State has the unique distinction of emerging even as a virtually one-party system under Modi. If the Modi-led NDA returns to power in New Delhi after a 10-year gap, it could be construed as an expansion of the saffron “experiment”.

Since the 1990s, on the one hand, Gujarat has emerged as an important investment destination. On the other hand, ‘Mandalisation’ came as a game-changer in its socio-political equation. With the evolution of Modi as the top OBC leader in a party once perceived as dominated by the upper castes, India’s macro-polity, post-1991, has finally reached Gujarat as well. In one of his recent election rallies in Uttar Pradesh, Modi himself said the BJP is no longer a party of the upper castes.

The KHAM move

This social re-engineering in Gujarat had begun under the Congress rule in the 1980s. While the Congress Government led by Madhavsinh Solanki launched this process through the KHAM (Khastriya, Harijan, Adivasis and Muslims) strategy, the BJP, too, witnessed its power base being gradually shifted from the upper castes and the Patels to the OBCs.

The rise of Modi, who belongs to the Ghanchi (oilseed crushers) caste, an OBC, not only in Gujarat but across India, appears to be a culmination of this nationwide socio-political churning launched by VP Singh in 1991.

Many of Modi’s political opponents — Nitish Kumar, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh — have also emerged from the same matrix of OBCs.

Blurring differences

Interestingly, with Modi hitting the all-India scene as a “development man”, all caste differences, at least in Gujarat, have blurred. They appear to have dissolved in the persona of the street smart, tech-savvy PM aspirant.

Modi and the BJP have, of late, consciously avoided his initial propaganda of being an OBC tea-vendor, particularly after the Election Commission questioned his Chai pe Charcha campaign, at a time when other political parties are still getting their caste arithmetic right.

Despite claims and counter-claims, Modi has been, ever since he became the Chief Minister in October 2001, able to benefit from government policies like liberalisation and globalisation.

His government’s “Vibrant Gujarat Summits” have also been utilised as Modi’s own flagship programme for self-projection as the next PM. For, it was in these biennial jamborees that India Inc — Ratan Tata, the Ambani brothers and others — first saw their “future leader” in Modi. His die-hard supporters include the Non-Resident Indians of Gujarati origin, popularly known as NRGs.

That is, perhaps, why Modi supporters believe that “Vibrant Gujarat” could now be expanded into a “Vibrant India”.

(This article was published on April 17, 2014)
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