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Modi Shining

But to give the proverbial devil his due, Mr Modi, despite the wisecracks made by his critics about the ubiquitous ‘Modi mask’, has been what he says he is.

india Updated: Dec 23, 2007 20:30 IST

Denial is a dangerous soporific. And if the 2007 Gujarat assembly election results have shown anything beyond the obvious — the obvious being the overwhelming mandate given by the people of Gujarat to the performance of Chief Minister Narendra Modi — it is that the Congress has been yet again caught sleeping. For starters, no one quite knew who the Congress chief ministerial candidate was. And while Congress spokespersons were ready to sneer at the BJP for handing Gujarat over to a single personality-based leader, they forgot to create any kind of state-level leadership of their own. Come to think of it, beyond the negative agenda of Modi-bashing, the Congress found little connect with the electorate as its leaders flown in from New Delhi waffled about the ‘lies’ of Gujarat’s development and then, almost in a sudden display of kick-boxing, pulled out the anti-communal card in an election year where very few people in Gujarat were willing to listen about Gujarat 2002. The Congress still confuses assembly elections for national polls, and as a corollary refused to strengthen the hands of local leaders like Bharat Solanki and Sankersinh Vaghela, who instead of being confined to preparing the ground for campaign rallies by Delhi’s ‘power leaders’, should have been given the free hand to engage with the electorate in a proactive manner. In fact, either Mr Solanki or Mr Vaghela should have been projected as the Congress’s chief ministerial candidate.

But to give the proverbial devil his due, Mr Modi, despite the wisecracks made by his critics about the ubiquitous ‘Modi mask’, has been what he says he is. His rhetoric was not simply of a vintage Garibi hatao variety, but of a kind that was a confirmation of what he has achieved in the last five years. Throughout the election campaign and much before, Mr Modi had been tom-tomming good governance and development. Many pundits may have smelt the hubris of a ‘Gujarat Shining’ there. But with his state performing strongly in governance and development, agriculture showing a double-digit growth, schemes like the Jyotigram power programme providing infrastructure, only blindness would have made Mr Modi seem like a non-performer. Instead of focusing on progress not reaching everyone — the adivasis who constitute a sixth of Gujarat’s population, and Muslims in some areas — the Congress expected the ‘rebel BJP’ factor, Mr Modi’s ‘inherent wickedness’, and its own self-perceived ‘magical’ quality to get them the ‘BJP votes’. Even ‘anti-incumbency’, that great bugbear of ruling parties, was taken care of with Mr Modi changing more than 40 sitting MLAs. In the micro-politics of assembly polls, the voter senses change at this very level.

The Congress has many lessons to learn from Mr Modi’s victory, the prime being that despite being a centralised leader, the Gujarat CM has shown unmatched organisational deftness (and this, without the tacit support of the RSS). To win assembly elections, especially of the ‘presidential’ kind on display in Gujarat, one needs to project and beef up local leaders. Something that Mr Modi has done plentifully while the Congress still relies on dreaming.