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Gujarat elections: Rajkot rally illustrates how PM Modi is asking for votes

It is the personal touch and connect with the Gujarati electorate that the BJP hopes would overcome anti-incumbency, its fractured social coalition and the economic stress.

assembly elections Updated: Dec 05, 2017 08:22 IST
Prashant Jha
Prashant Jha
Rajkot, Himdustan Times
Gujarat elections,Assembly elections,Narendra Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during an election campaign rally at Surendranagar in Gujarat on Sunday.(AP)

It was only at the end of a 43-minute speech that Narendra Modi mentioned elections.

Late on Sunday evening in Rajkot, in chief minister Vijay Rupani’s constituency, a seat where he is supposed to face a tough challenge, Modi said vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on December 9 — the first phase of the two-phase polls in Gujarat.

“I appeal to you. Gujarat is on the path of vikas. Your own son is in Delhi. You have a person there who you can call and say, ‘Narendrabhai, this needs to be done’,” he said.

“You have the first PM who knows hundreds of people by name in Rajkot. Will it make a difference or not? It will ... You have it good both ways. The CM is from Rajkot. The PM has gone from Rajkot.”

The appeal came on top of a narrative that weaved together national, provincial, and local. It focused on evoking memories of pre-BJP rule, catered to the middle class, given Rajkot’s urban flavour, and continued to emphasise Modi’s Gujarat connection.

It is this narrative, the personal touch, and connect with the Gujarati electorate that the BJP hopes would overcome anti-incumbency, its fractured social coalition and the economic stress.

The build-up

Opposite the Silver Heights building at a Rajkot crossing, the crowd trickled in the evening. The ground was full, and women turned out in high numbers.

Three slogans stood out on the stage — “I am Vikas, I am Gujarat”. This has emerged as the party’s key campaign theme. “Gujarat is my soul, India is my God” from the Prime Minister’s speech on Day 1 of his Gujarat campaign. “To Me, Religion Means Nation First”: a slogan in English.

For over an hour, the crowd waited, became restless. Organisers sought to get the public to rehearse slogans welcoming Modi. The response was feeble.

Rupani took the stage. His message: having Modi at the Centre helped the state. He reeled statistics comparing Congress rule in Gujarat to what the BJP had achieved. And he said Congress could not see vikas, or development, because it was “wearing Italian glasses”.

Just then, the crowd roared. The mood changed. Modi walked up to the stage.

The connect

The rehearsal proved unnecessary, for people broke into a “Modi, Modi” chant spontaneously, smiled, applauded. Modi took the stage, and asked in Gujarati. “Khem Chau?” The response ricocheted from all corners: “Mazaa ma.”

Modi began by expressing gratitude to Rajkot — not just for “turning out in large numbers” but for putting him on the path of political success. Modi first fought assembly elections from the city.

“Never did I think I would become an MLA, a CM, or a PM. And it all started because Rajkot elected me for the first time,” he said.

He switched gears thereafter and asked the audience if India was being celebrated globally.

“Is it being celebrated in US?” The crowd said: “Yes”. In Japan? In Germany? In England? Each time, the public answered in the affirmative.

Why? “It was because you have elected, after 30 years, a government with a full majority,” Modi said.

Arguing that India and Indian capacity was being respected, he highlighted the improvement in the ease of doing business rankings; the Moody’s upgrade; and the Pew’s Survey suggesting a majority of Indians have faith in the government.

“Now tell me, if this happens, won’t some people be inconvenienced, won’t they lose their sleep, won’t they resort to lies?”

The audience laughed as Modi began an attack on the Congress and urged it to “introspect”.

“The country is not ready to accept you today,” he said.

From the global, Modi switched to the provincial. He provided statistics on government budget, education expenditure under Congress in Gujarat and now.

Then he moved to the national. Modi said his government has accorded special focus on the middle class. “Every middle-class family wants a house. No government thought of it. We decided to give relief on interest rates for houses up to ₹ 9 lakh, and ₹ 12 lakh ... One sickness, one heart attack can destroy a family. We ensured that a stent that was being sold for ₹ 1.5 lakh is now being sold for ₹30,000.”

Now tell me, Modi asked, with a smile, would those whose earnings dropped not be angry with us? The crowd laughed.

Modi then asked the audience if they had lost from demonetisation. “It is because you did not have black money ... Take this from me, those who looted from the poor will not be spared.”

And he ended with a barb at the Congress. “When Indiraben lost elections, she began going to temples ... Congress today is demoralised entirely,” he said, hinting obliquely at Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi’s temple visits during his Gujarat election campaign.

Hindustan Times caught up with those who came to listen to Modi. This was, of course, a group sympathetic to the BJP. Milan Bhai, a stock market broker said: “It would be wrong to say this election is not a challenge. But we will win comfortably because of whom you heard, Modiji.”

As the Prime Minister continues his Gujarat campaign, it is this message he is taking across the state. Whether it will resonate enough will be known on December 18, when the results are announced.

First Published: Dec 04, 2017 18:05 IST