iconimg Sunday, March 29, 2015

Smruti Koppikar, Hindustan Times
Ahmedabad/Rajkot, December 07, 2012
Mandate 2012 may have taken some sheen off Narendra Modi's rah-rah narrative, creating spaces for people other than Modi-baiters to discuss him and for the brave to criticise him.

Dwarikanath Rath experienced the change - stark change, he calls it - from the 2002 and 2007 assembly elections as he went campaigning in Ahmedabad earlier this week.

Rath, Gujarat state chief of the Socialist Unity Centre of India, is a marginal player in the high-stakes electoral game but has a handful of candidates every election and heartily campaigns for them.

"People actually welcomed us into their homes, heard us for a while, then said 'we understand what you're saying but we are BJP voters'. Last time around, they wouldn't even us allow us in or would tear up our handbills and throw them at our faces," Rath said.

"People have begun to evaluate him and his work which itself is a major shift from what we heard 10 years ago," said Prakash Shah, well-known Gujarati columnist and member of the Movement for Secular Democracy.

The numbers of those dispassionately evaluating Modi may be small and their voices may not be heard above the pro-Modi din, but this is an important shift, he added.

This section of Gujaratis, both Rath and Shah said, are important because they're BJP voters and aren't identified as Modi-baiters.

The Congress' Shweta Bhatt, Modi's rival in Maninagar, said, "Many people tell me they've benefited nothing from Modi's rule. He seems to have concentrated on very few areas and classes that are sufficient to keep him in power. But people are speaking up now."

"In this election, I have had BJP candidates come to place advertisements in my paper and freely discuss Modi's negative traits and the hype he has created around himself, as long as I don't write it," said the editor of a popular Gujarati daily in Rajkot. He had found that it was taboo earlier to discuss any aspect of Modi with local BJP leaders.

These voices are few, and the space is small so far but it could grow, especially if the BJP bags fewer seats this election than five years ago.