Is there a new ‘2017 feeling’ in Gujarat? Has the tide really turned? | Opinion
‘Fifty-fifty’ said a wise observer, sharing an assessment. ‘Things could change but as of now, it is, fifty-fifty’. Two years ago, it looked like Gujarat was never, ever, going to change its ruling party. Why, even as of one year ago, no one could have even imagined, let alone visualised a changecolumns Updated: Nov 25, 2017 08:04 IST
Bau thayun is the Gujarati for bahut hua or enough is enough.
And that is what much of Gujarat feels today about its ruling dispensation. The Bharatiya Janata Party has had its day in Gujarat, almost continuously, since 1995. And two decades is a long time.
Much of Gujarat, I have said. Not most, certainly not all of it. How much that ‘much’ is, no one can say. Quantifying feelings is neither easy nor feasible.
Elections in Gujarat are still a few weeks away and, who knows, it could give a majority once again to the Bharatiya Janata Party banne hathe, ‘with both hands’. That is, with generosity. It could return it with a reduced majority, ochhu karine, even a much reduced majority, bau-aj ochhu karine. It could give itself a hung assembly. Or it could show it the door.
No one can predict Gujarat’s resolve.
But there is no denying that much of Gujarat is feeling quite fed up.
‘Fifty-fifty’ said a wise observer, sharing an assessment. ‘Things could change but as of now, it is, fifty-fifty’. Two years ago, it looked like Gujarat was never, ever, going to change its ruling party. Why, even as of one year ago, no one could have even imagined, let alone visualised a change.
So, what has happened in these last few months for someone to actually say there is a ‘fifty-fifty’ chance that the people of Gujarat may opt for a change of government? What has brought this feeling about?
But before going into that, it is important to recall that the Congress was mauled in the last Gujarat Assembly elections of 2012; it was not, as is thought, decimated. While the victorious BJP won 116 seats out of a 182 – a solid victory for incumbent chief minister Narendra Modi – and his party’s vote share of 47.90 % was convincing, Congress’ seat share of 60 and vote share of 38.90 % was not one to sneer at. A look at the state’s map for the 2012 results, constituency-wise, looks like what it was – almost equally coloured between the two. And so it is not as if we are talking of a state which went the whole hog one way. It did not. Gujarat’s 38.90% including its minorities that voted Congress and those that voted for other non-BJP parties, remain more or less in the same frame of mind as they were in 2012. And the 47.90 % who voted BJP in 2012 ? What of them? It would seem they are now introspecting. They are now feeling, evaluating, re-visiting their ‘2012 feeling’.
So, to return to the question: What has brought about the seemingly new ‘2017 feeling’ ?
Five broad ‘things’.
First, ‘anti-incumbency’ (AI). This is active as a sentiment. But AI is not in itself sufficient to become so strong a force as to topple a government in elections. For the AI feeling to become such a force something more than prolonged incumbency is needed. For that, an incumbency plus, an AI+, is needed. That AI+ feeling about the state government is coming from a sense of political sterility notwithstanding administrative stability. And inspirational vacuity, with leadership appeal moving to the national capital.
Second, corruption. That nightmare of any government, is hovering over ministerial reputations. I would like, earnestly, to believe chief minister Rupani when he defends himself against charges brought against his own Hindu Undivided Family (among others), by SEBI. The damage, in terms of public perception, will take time to be undone. And the elections are to happen before that relief comes.
Third, demonetisation and GST. The small trader has been hurt by both. ‘It is a problem for the short term alone,’ he is assured. But the elections are happening in that short term.
Fourth, BJP cadres’ dismay over the impact of these two steps. In its cadre’s disenchantment lies real cause for the cadre-based party to worry.
And fifth, the miniaturisation of Gandhi and co-option of Patel. These are beginning to hurt Gujarati pride. It is unable to take the converting of the Mahatma into a paper-mascot for the Swachha Bharat Abhiyan. Likewise, the use of Sardar Patel for partisan ends. The taller they try make that tall leader look, the more difficult they find it to clamber up on his shoulders.
Whence the feeling, in much of Gujarat, of bau thayun.
Will that feeling turn the tide in favour of the opposition ?
The end of the year will end the speculation.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi is distinguished professor of history and politics, Ashoka University
The views expressed are personal