The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is all set to take the debate on nationalism a notch higher in Gujarat by holding the Bharat Mata Gaurav Kooch – the Mother India pride march – at 18 places across the state on its foundation day, which falls on Wednesday.
Besides commemorating the party’s 36th anniversary, the event will set the tone for the state assembly polls next year.
The significance of this move can be gauged from the fact that three Union ministers – health minister JP Nadda, human resource development minister Smriti Irani and petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan – will preside over rallies held in Ahmedabad, Surat and Vadodara.
The celebrations will begin with booth-level meetings at 40,000 places across the state in the morning. Later in the day, party workers will attend government functions in various areas to mark the launch of the Maa Annapurna programme under the National Food Security Scheme. In the evening, the party will hold the three-km Bharat Mata Gaurav Kooch, which will begin with people singing Vande Mataram. Later, they will unfurl the Tricolour amid chanting of the ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ slogan.
The conclusion of the march will wrap up the day-long celebrations.
The rallies come close on the heels of the BJP national executive meet, during which the party leadership had given every indication that nationalism would top its agenda in the coming years. It was also one of the main talking points at farmers’ conventions held in various parts of the state recently.
The party played video clippings related to alleged anti-national sloganeering at the Jawaharlal Nehru University during a convention in Vadodara on March 28. Addressing a similar convention in Surat the next day, party chief Amit Shah asked workers to take the issue of nationalism from door to door.
Nationalism took centre stage at all eight such rallies held by the BJP after it was routed in the countryside in the local body polls. The reasons cited for its bad performance were erratic supply of water and electricity, unsatisfactory cotton MSP, and an agitation launched by the politically influential Patidar community for OBC quota.
In the November 2015 local body elections, the BJP won just 60 of the 230 taluka panchayats while the Congress captured 124. Of the 31 district panchayats, Congress bagged 23 while the BJP won just six. Though it retained six municipal corporations, the party’s vote share declined significantly even in those areas.
In contrast, the BJP had won 30 district panchayats and 176 taluka panchayats in 2010.
The party had bounced back to power under firebrand leader (and incumbent Prime Minister) Narendra Modi in the 2002 state assembly elections, which were held in the backdrop of the communal riots. The Hindutva card helped the BJP – which faced challenges such as anti-incumbency and factionalism – bag as many as 127 seats. Significantly, the party had lost a crucial by-election just before the riots.
However, in the two subsequent polls held in 2007 and 2012, which the party fought on the development agenda, its seat and vote shares declined. Today, given the leadership vacuum created by the relocation of Modi and BJP leader Amit Shah to New Delhi, retaining power never seemed this challenging for the party since 1995.
As the Bharat Mata Gaurav Kooch begins, it remains to be seen whether the BJP’s newfound nationalism card works as efficiently at garnering votes as the Hindutva one.