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Gujarat polls: BJP going back to ‘drawing board’ at Somnath, tries soft Hindutva

Virendra Pandit Gandhinagar | Updated on January 15, 2018 Published on April 07, 2017

The BJP is trying to ride the chariot of ‘soft Hindutva’, putting to the back-burner its developmental plank   -  Vijay Soneji

Keeping everybody guessing about exactly when the Assembly elections will be held in Gujarat — due by December 2017 — the ruling BJP’s state executive committee is going back to the ‘drawing board’ for three days in the town of Lord Somnath Temple, from where its then top leader L K Advani had led the famous Ayodhya rathyatra in 1990 — his charioteer being the current top leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi — which changed the course of Indian political history.

Amid persistent speculation of early polls — which offers the ‘minimum risk’ option to the BJP in the wake of its spectacular gains in the five state assembly polls recently — the top state leadership will meet in Somnath from April 21 to 23, with party chief Amit Shah expected to be in attendance for two days. Modi himself is set to visit Gujarat on April 17, for the ninth time in eight months. He also visited Somnath recently.

The early poll supporters in the party argue that the BJP should call Assembly elections in May-June to minimise the risk and ride the Yogi Adityanath wave. “Seven months (November 2017) is far too long a time in politics. The Yogi image in UP and elsewhere could wane, or even turn negative; and so with the Modi image. This could muddy the BJP’s waters in Gujarat as well. Even the Yogi could outshine Modi, thus enhancing political uncertainty in Gujarat. Besides, farmers’ issues, rising prices, unemployment, stagnation in economy, post-monsoon woes, etc, may add to the BJP’s misery. December 2017 may not be the same as December 2012 was,” said a top BJP source.

That, despite Shah ruling out polls before November and Modi setting a target to win 150 of the 182 Assembly seats, the BJP is rather unsure of the poll outcome is borne out by the fact that the vintage ‘development’ plank is being silently pushed under the carpet by soft Hindutva symbolism. Vijay Rupani, during the last eight months of his Chief Ministership, has been photographed visiting religious shrines more times than, perhaps, at developmental scenes. Recently, he did a Yogi Adityanath as well, worshipping and feeding cows in a state where vigilantes had thrashed some innocent Dalit youths on charges of cow-killing, triggering nationwide outrage. His government recently passed the most stringent law — life imprisonment — against cow-slayers.

While VHP chief Pravin Togadia addressed a major 'Hindu First' rally in Ahmedabad on March 24, slaughterhouses in Godhra, epicenter of the 2001 communal riots, were closed recently. More UP-type populist measures, which have hogged the headlines, are likely to be taken in Gujarat as well, sources said.

Clearly, the BJP is trying to ride the chariot of ‘soft Hindutva’, putting to the backburner its developmental plank, Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, which propelled Modi to victory in the race to Race Course Road in Lutyens’ Delhi. It cannot go the whole hog with hard Hindutva issues such as the Ram Temple in the PM’s home state of Gujarat anymore as it could be detrimental to his ‘secular’ image at the national level, although architects of this proposed Temple, the Sompura family, are Ahmedabad-based!

More than any real challenge from the Congress or the Aam Admi Party (AAP), the BJP appears wary of a possible revival of crucial issues such as the agitations launched by the Patidars, the OBCs, the Dalits and others, which have weakened the ruling party’s socio-political base in the last two years. Ironically, the only thing that revived a dispirited Gujarat BJP during the last few months has been UP CM Yogi Adityanath, whom the party would use as a “star campaigner” in the Assembly polls. The Yogi’s Gurubhai, Gulabnath, a Muslim convert to Hinduism, had a base in Mehsana district, the home district of Modi as well.

Although the Patidar agitation has lost steam, there are murmurs of one of its factions launching a regional political party. If that happens, it might cut into the BJP’s vote bank at some places, bringing down the BJP’s tally.

The Congress party has already launched a yatra in the tribal areas to reinforce and secure its traditional base, which never allowed the BJP to win more than 130 seats despite the strongest saffron wave, but which added to the Grand Old Party winning 149 seats out of 182 in 1985.

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Published on April 07, 2017
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