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Gujarat elections: time for verdict after battle royale

The key to the poll outcome is believed to be in Central Gujarat and Saurashtra, writes Vinod Sharma.

india Updated: Dec 23, 2007 03:58 IST
Vinod Sharma

The Verdict the people of Gujarat have delivered will be known on Sunday after an excruciating week-long wait that saw pollsters hedging their bets and satta players swinging from one side of the political divide to another.

<b1>In more than many ways, Poll-2007 in the state that is at the farthest end of the fuel chain was incendiary in its tone and substance. It saw the BJP and the Congress lock horns over Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s development claims and their track records in fighting terror and reaching the fruits of economic reforms to those on the margins.

Never before in recent years has an election been so much driven by one persona — that of Modi who had the Hindu middle-class rooting for him in urban and semi-urban centres. His campaign eclipsed the visibility of the Congress’s challenge and consumed in its expanse the BJP’s entity and that of its state and central leadership.

Many political observers believe the saffron party has already lost Gujarat to the cult of Modi. He undoubtedly was the saffron party’s sole crowd-puller. Others who took guard returned to the pavilion without a whimper. Only Navjot Sidhu got into the double digits with his wise-cracks.

In contrast, the Congress’s was a decentralised campaign, low in visibility and decibel when juxtaposed with Modi’s deification by the noisy middle-class. The CM spoke the language they understood, his neo-liberalism tailor-suited for the city-dweller.

Even his worst detractors agreed that Modi was a demi-god in a majority of the 70-odd urban or semi-urban seats in the 182-strong assembly. What gave the Congress hope was the 2004 Lok Sabha verdict which, when deciphered in terms of assembly segments, made it 92:90 against the saffron party.

The key therefore to the poll outcome is believed to be in Saurashtra — that saw caste rebellions against Modi — and Central Gujarat where the Congress recovered ground in the general elections three years ago. If Modi emerges triumphant, his would be a victory against the collective assault of the Congress, regional satraps such as Keshubhai Patel and the traditional BJP-RSS cadres he consciously marginalised to rear a new crop of loyal supporters in local bodies.

A slogan coined by anti-Modi NGOs — that his regime served five crorepatis at the expense of five crore Gujaratis — helped the Congress strike a chord with the urban poor, the adivasis, the Dalits and the minorities. The slugfest triggered by Sonia Gandhi’s maut ke saudagar remarks camouflaged the Congress’s soft-Hindutva. But it gave the CM a justification for downscaling his development claims and playing up the terror threat to cash in on popular communal sentiments. But after the December 16 closure of polling, Modi refrained from such rhetoric. He told HT the polls would be historic in terms of his victory on the plank of development in a violence-free environment. His early bid at image correction could have implications for the BJP’s central leadership. But that eventuality is linked to the outcome of the polls.

So, will Modi lose seats or power in Gandhinagar? There is no quarrel on the prospects of the BJP falling short of the 127 seats it got in 2002. With the party’s poll managers predicting a tally of 110, the dispute merely is on the extent of the slide.

Even the Congress’s claims of a victory aren’t based on a landslide. Its top leaders are only projecting a simple majority of 95-105. If the assessments of poll managers on either side are correct, Gujarat should prepare itself for a cliff-hanger. For the present, one can only quote Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who’d say after most elections he fought that “ab toh dabbe main bandh hai kismat hamari.” Ditto for Modi and the Congress.