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The return of Narendra Modi

Amid speculation that Gujarat was slipping out of his clutches after the party’s debacle in the Lok Sabha polls and a municipal election, Modi’s efforts to shed the image of a ‘dictator’ within the party worked. Salil Mekaad reports. What worked, what didn't

india Updated: Sep 23, 2009 01:58 IST
Salil Mekaad

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has achieved a turnaround in Gujarat, clinching an emphatic victory in the assembly bypolls — five of seven seats.

And, in the process, it managed to leave behind the bitter taste of its below-expectation show in the Lok Sabha elections. It won 15 seats — 14 in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls — against Modi’s claim that 24 of the 26 Lok Sabha seats in the state would be his.

Hit by internal bickering, the Congress failed to utilise an opportunity to end chief minister Narendra Modi’s aura of invincibility.

Amid speculation that Gujarat was slipping out of his clutches after the party’s debacle in the Lok Sabha polls and the Junagarh municipal elections, Modi’s efforts to shed the image of a ‘dictator’ within the party worked.

The bypolls were held in the politically important regions of Saurashtra and north and central Gujarat and the party selected its candidates with care and built its campaign upon the ‘Modi, Hindutva and development’ plank.

The Congress, on the other hand, was a picture of disarray. State Congress spokesman Arjun Modhvadia said, “We could not muster resources to match the BJP machinery in the seven constituencies. We tried to expose the state government, but failed at the organisational level.”

As the Congress failed to keep its flock together, Modi used the bypolls to win back a section of the state party that had accused him of neglecting workers at the grassroots.

“This (BJP’s victory) proves that elections are won by a party, and not by individuals,” Modi said soon after the results were declared.

With the BJP top rung listing Modi’s projection as future Prime Ministerial candidate as one of the reasons for its Lok Sabha drubbing, the chief minister made a tactical retreat from campaigning during the bypolls. And state party chief Purshottam Rupala was put in charge of the campaign.

Over the years, Dehgam and Danta in north Gujarat and Chotila, Jasdan and Dhoraji in Saurashtra have been perceived as Congress strongholds, with the Congress wresting these assembly berths in 2002 and 2007.

This year, the BJP lost Kodinar in Amreli district in southeast Gujarat and failed to make a mark in Dhoraji in Rajkot district. But it wrested Jasdan and Chotila in Surendranagar.

The party also made inroads in Danta in Banaskantha district in north Gujarat, Sami in Patan and Dehgam in Gandhinagar; both in central Gujarat.

Unlike the last Lok Sabha polls, where candidates were chosen keeping in mind local equations, the Congress bungled up the selection this time, leading to a high degree of dissidence.

During the last Lok Sabha elections, the BJP miscalculated by leaning too much on Modi. Trying to settle scores with his detractors, Modi, too, made mistakes, fielding some Congressmen who had failed to get a ticket from their own party. The move backfired.

The loss in Rajkot was, however, a shocker. The party had to work overtime in Gandhinagar for L.K. Advani, whose victory margin reduced.

But in the bypolls, Modi’s tactical retreat worked. He gave credit to his party colleagues for the victory, silenced his critics and reached out to sore workers.

What worked, what didn't

With the party at his side, Modi now wants to reach out to the Leuva Patel community, comprising mainly of landlords, as well as the Dalit Koli community mainly involved in weaving, fishing and other traditional business actitivities. Together, the two account for about 25 per cent of the state’s 50 million population.

He also plans to dent the Congress’ traditional vote bank of OBC (other backward castes) and Scheduled Tribes in south and central Gujarat. Bolstered by the bypoll results, Modi is once again sure of the ground beneath his feet.