A very close race starts in Gujarat | india | Hindustan Times
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A very close race starts in Gujarat

Economic reforms, discipline and an autocratic approach have all dented Modi’s popularity, reports Rahul Sharma.

india Updated: Dec 11, 2007 04:12 IST
Rahul Sharma

It is a battle between a bloody past that still haunts the country and a rich future that Gujarat Chief Minister Narender Modi is promising.

When people step out to vote in the first round of assembly election on Tuesday they will have to choose between a Modi who is accused of inciting anti-Muslim riots that killed more than a thousand and a Modi who says he has given them a better life — more water, more electricity and more job opportunities than any of his predecessors.

His efforts to develop the state seem to have boomeranged on Modi. Attempts to improve people’s daily life have turned them against him to some extent as they are now expected to pay for electricity. In the good old days they could string a wire and steal power and nobody cared. Now they are hauled up if they do.

In Vallabhipur, a medical shop owner said he had electricity but would not put the lights on. Why not? “Will you pay for it?” he asked a group of editors travelling in the Saurashtra region. Is it this contradiction that prompted Modi to once again unleash the communal card after Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s comments that “merchants of death” and fear governed the state in reference to the 2002 riots? Difficult to say, but after the initial rush of blood Modi has mostly retreated behind his development plank again though he has been unsparing in his criticism of Sonia and the central government.

At a rally last Friday near Bhavnagar, a confident Modi got on the stage, almost pirouetted, waved at some 10,000 very vocal supporters and launched into his main foe, accusing her of protecting terrorists. He told the crowd that he would not let anyone touch Gujarat.

But it is more than Sonia that Modi needs to worry. While his supporters are confident of winning another mandate when the votes are counted on December 23, the rebellion within the party and the virtual non-participation of the RSS activists are expected to hit the chief minister hard. There is also a feeling that government and police officers, unhappy over Modi pushing them to work harder, may turn against him.

The BJP needs 92 in the 182-seat assembly to form a government. It has 130 seats in the current house. “We should get 125 seats,” said Bharat Pandya, the sitting BJP member of the legislative assembly from the Dhandhuka constituency, who is contesting his third term. “The news is all Narendrabhai, rest is advertisement,” he added.

A top state BJP leader thought differently. “There is a mini-emergency in the state. Gujarat is afraid,” he said on condition of anonymity. “It’s a very close race.”

Revolt within his party
is another headache for Modi, who will be contesting only his third election. Former chief minister Keshubhai Patel is sulking at having been sidelined. As one who holds sway over a substantial chunk of the influential Patel community, he has the capacity to eat into Modi’s BJP vote bank in Saurashtra.

“The index of opposition unity is high,” said a Left leader referring to a proper seat sharing deal between the UPA members, a contrast from 2002 when the Congress and Sharad Pawar’s NCP fought separately. “But the index of domestic unity is low.”