Over a sumptuous round of chakris (a Gujarati form of melting-soft murrukkus), mathiya (a Diwali speciality that looks a lot like fried papad), other savouries and a wide variety of sweets, we are gathered in the house of a Gujarati businessman in Ahmedabad.
The occasion, a Diwali get-together, is an excellent opportunity to gauge the mood of this group – actually a no-brainer – about Narendra Modi and his development model in Gujarat and his prospects in the Assembly elections for which voting begins in three weeks.
Bela Bhagat, a primary school teacher, married to Baiju Bhagat a successful lawyer, is the most vocal fan of Modi in the group. She moved to Ahmedabad about 12 years ago from her home town of Kolkata after her marriage. “Within five years I could see visible development happening in Ahmedabad and in the rest of Gujarat. And it is in such sharp contrast to my home city of Kolkata.”
Incidentally, Modi has been Chief Minister of Gujarat for around the same period – from 2001 till today.
“Will Modi become CM again? Of course, that is absolutely certain. But where we want to see him is in Delhi – as the Prime Minister of India.. I’d say he is on the threshold of doing that,” she gushes. Others in the group nod appreciatively as she adds: “This summer I went to Kolkata and was shocked to see no development has taken place. If the Left was bad, Mamata has done nothing either. Today Ahmedabad is the best city to live in India.”
Bharat Jani, a manufacturer of anti-corrosive cement, is all smiles as he says that Modi will sweep the elections. “He is the best CM in India, from the state of the roads, the flyovers, health care facilities to the ease of doing business, he has brought around overall development.”
A couple of young women in the group say Ahmedabad is the safest city in the world, and a woman can be out late in the evenings without any problem. The nonchalance with which the 2002 riots are brushed aside is shocking. There are only murmurs, even though uncomfortable, about “that is in the past and should be forgotten”. Only Baiju admits that a non-secular label is not a good one for Gujarat to have, but he is most happy about life in Modi raj.
When I repeat the crux of this dialogue to social scientist and human rights activist Achyut Yagnic, chief of Centre for Social Knowledge and Action, he grins and says: “Oh yes, this is Gujarati parochialism to the fore. The Gujarati middle class, specially the urbanites, are all for Modi”.
So isn’t there going to be a wave for Modi’s BJP, I ask him.
“What I see around me in not a wave. Yes, what we do have is a wave of publicity but then Modi is a master propagandist.”
Yagnik has no doubt that the BJP led by Modi will emerge victorious, but he is certain its numbers will come down. “Improve upon its present 121 seats? That is out of the question. In a house of 182, 92 seats are required for a simple majority. Even the inner circles in the BJP say they will get around 105 seats and not more.”
The reason why Modi is headed for a third victory, says Yagnic, is simple. According to the 11th Census, the urbanisation in Gujarat is 43 per cent, compared to the average of 32 per cent in India. “The urbanites in Gujarat love him, and the entire middle class of Gujarat is with him, so it will be easy for him to win,” he says. “But this time the Congress is much more active and aggressive and I think the factionalism and inner fighting in the party has also come down.. so it will do better than in 2007,” is his verdict.
But J.V.Momin, an AICC delegate and former general secretary and ex-vice president of the Gujarat Congress, disagrees. “Infighting continues and there are so many groups within our party. We will improve upon our present number of 53 MLAs, but not by much. That is the sad truth.”
Surprisingly candid, he says unfortunately over the years Congress has allowed its traditional vote banks – Muslims, Dalits, ST and SC – to move away from it. On Muslim candidates, he says he has asked for 11 tickets “but we are likely to get only seven seats. With great agony and as a senior Muslim leader, I say that we are not satisfied with this decision. Last time the Congress fielded six Muslim candidates and five of them won.”
(To be continued)