For a one-sided election as Gujarat’s seems to be, Narendra Modi should not be a worried man. I have been on the road for five days now in South Gujarat and except for the rallies of various leaders, there are no signs of an election anywhere — no posters, no buntings even at rallies and absolutely no sound and fury of a poll fever.
Some put it down to the ‘Seshan’ factor. But there have been elections before and even after former Chief Election Commissioner TN Seshan meddled with the carnival spirit of elections in India, which have managed some sort of festivity around campaigning.
When I first drove into Gujarat about a week ago, I thought that the deafening silence was due to the fact that the BJP knows it will win and the Congress is resigned to the fact that it will lose. Hence, neither party feels the need to open up its coffers to indulge in wasteful expenditure for what should be a foregone conclusion.
But now I am having second thoughts. The Gujarat chief minister seems unduly riled by the Congress campaign and rather nervous about the voter turnout. Otherwise why would there be an appeal at his rallies to all the people to come out in large numbers on voting day? That it was not just the usual electoral rhetoric was underlined by this strange and heartfelt appeal by one of his close supporters: “Remember, we lost Uttarakhand by one seat and Vajpayeeji’s government fell by just one vote in 1999. You must all make sure that that does not happen again.”
That had me sitting up in wonder — if Modi expects to sweep Gujarat again, why that fear? And why such a public expression of that doubt? Something just does not add up here.
The answer is perhaps to be had in the fact that unlike previous years, this time round there are some issues that unite both urban and rural Gujarat and among the most important of these is the problem of drinking water supply. Modi might claim that he is making adequate arrangements to meet the shortfall, but the long and short of it is that high-rises have to wait for hours for water tankers to load water into their overhead tanks (there is no tap water supply) and villages rarely have such tankers coming in at all.
There are other issues but the Congress is not wrong in pointing towards the huge gap between the haves and the have-nots in Gujarat. Modi talks ad nauseam about his six crore Gujaratis, but more and more of them are now beginning to wonder if they are really a part of that six crore people he lays claim to. Obviously, Modi knows about the loud whispers rising against him and it rankles him — for he has started getting personal about Congress leaders, including Sonia Gandhi, while the Congress for it’s part is playing it cool by not mentioning any names but only pointing at the shortcomings of Modi’s regime.
I, too, am beginning to be convinced that Modi’s Gujarat shines only for the Tatas and the Ambanis and a handful of crony capitalists while a vast majority of the less privileged are strangers in their own homeland. That’s the sum of the conversations I have had with the people and I have seen the deprivation with my own eyes. So if I were to believe my own eyes and ears, I am afraid that Modi could be making the same mistake that the BJP did when it lost its government to the Congress in 2004.
Clearly, there can be many a slip between the cup and the lip. And that could be as true for Modi as for the BJP or even the Congress.