Gujarat hopes for stability on counting eve

After a chaotic year, Gujarat is hoping Sunday's vote count will give it a more stable government.

india Updated: Dec 14, 2002 15:12 IST

After voting for the third time in seven years Thursday, Gujaratis are hoping Sunday's ballot count brings out a government that can give them a sense of stability.

Political observers, however, feel stability could remain a distant dream.

"In the last two elections, the people of Gujarat gave the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a brute majority. In 1995 the party got two-thirds (121 out of 182) and in 1998 it got 117 seats. Yet in the last seven years we have had six governments," pointed out former Gujarat University professor and columnist Dinesh Shukla.

Pre-election surveys and exit polls have given BJP the edge, but many still believe it is going to be a close finish.

"Poll surveys in our country are yet to acquire precision. Given the variation in the two main poll surveys and exit polls and the swing of votes that they are showing, I still believe it is going to be a close finish between the BJP and the Congress," said Shukla.

He also pointed out that the state underwent political turmoil despite the BJP claiming two-thirds majority in the 1995 elections and near two-thirds majority in the 1998 mid-term polls.

After coming to power on its own for the first time in Gujarat in 1995, the BJP squandered its majority thanks to leaders who placed their personal ambitions higher than the party's future.

Keshubhai Patel took office on March 14 that year amid much fanfare. But Shankersinh Vaghela rebelled and threatened a split, angry at attempts by Patel and then party general secretary Narendra Modi to marginalize him.

Patel stepped down after a little over seven months in office in favour of compromise candidate Suresh Mehta. But the in-party rift kept deepening and governor Krishnapal Singh finally sacked Mehta after he had been in office for about 11 months.

Vaghela, who had formed his own Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP) by then, came to power with Congress support after a month of president's rule. But he too had to step down following differences with Congress leader Amarsinh Chaudhary.

Before leaving, Vaghela managed to install his protégé Dilip Parikh as chief minister till the next elections in 1998. But the RJP was routed and the Congress finished a poor second in the polls that saw the BJP romping home and Keshubhai Patel becoming chief minister again.

In October last year, the BJP leadership decided to dump Patel and appoint Narendra Modi chief minister. In the aftermath of the sectarian violence in his short stint, Modi dissolved the assembly and asked for early elections, apparently to gain from the perceived communal divide.

All this while, as politicians schemed and pulled each other down, Gujarat suffered, especially its economy.

"What political instability could do to even a sound economy like that of industrialised Gujarat is evident from a look at some economic indicators," said Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) deputy secretary general Bipin Patel.

Gujarat, which only a few years ago remained India's top investment destination since the opening up of the economy, has now slipped to the eighth spot. Sales tax revenue has gone down by Rs 10 billion in 2001-02.

"Political instability coupled with lack of vision of the successive governments has led to the economic downslide, which the next government will find it hard to arrest," said the GCCI official.

But instability has been inherent in Gujarat politics ever since the state's creation in 1960. Only Madhavsinh Solanki has lasted as chief minister for a full five-year term.

Said a senior bureaucrat in the finance department: "The need of the hour is political stability. The state needs Asian Development Bank (ADB) aid to carry out several developmental projects. One of the major conditions for the release of the ADB loan is reform in the power sector. Only a stable dispensation can take the tough decisions needed for reform."

First Published: Dec 14, 2002 15:04 IST