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Gujarat election results 2017: The political arithmetic has worked but the victory is pyrrhic

Numbers do not win hearts. It is the well-being and all round development of all sections of society that do. Unless the prime minister changes course and attempts to win back the hearts of those who put him in office, this victory will remain pyrrhic.

opinion Updated: Dec 18, 2017 16:09 IST
Gujarat elections,Gujarat election results,BJP
Prime Minister Narendra Modi shows his finger marked with indelible ink, as he leaves after casting his vote, during the second phase of state Assembly elections in Ahmedabad (PTI)

The arithmetic of politics has succeeded. The BJP has won, though with a lower tally in Gujarat. Himachal Pradesh has been wrested from the Congress. When power seems to be slipping away, politicians adopt all means to retain it. Unedifying statements made by politicians in the run-up to the Gujarat assembly poll show the desperation of those who will use all means to hold on to power. The prime minister forgot about the Gujarat model of development. Gujarat lags behind other states in indicators relating to education, health, tribal welfare and poverty in general. The Gujarat model widened the gap between the rich and the poor. Big industry benefited from the largesse doled out by the BJP. Large tracts of land allotted at throwaway prices may have enriched industry but the poor remained static. From being ranked 7th among 20 major states in incidence of poverty in 1994, the state’s rank steadily declined to 10th by 2011. Tribals and other backward communities continue to struggle on a daily basis for survival . Despite an increase in the height of the Narmada dam, a canal network that can reach farmers in remote parts of Gujarat is yet to be completed. As of March, 2017, 49,313 km of the approved 71,748 km of the canal system has been completed. Nearly 30% still remains incomplete. Despite claims, electricity has not yet reached all homes. Water scarcity is still a daily issue. With little to showcase, the BJP embarked upon a campaign of polarisation to garner votes. The unabashed use of money power was out in the open.

The ‘Mian Musharraf’ discourse was back in action. The prime minister questioned my role as a counsel representing a particular party in relation to the Ram Janmabhoomi issue, which was heard in the Supreme Court on December 5. My representation became a national issue because he equated it with the Congress’ position; as if farmer suicides, levels of poverty, decline in social indicators, the negative impact of demonetisation which affected lives and livelihoods were issues of no relevance; as if the irrational implementation of GST, destroying the informal sector, robbing workers of their livelihood and small industry of its earnings including the emotional protest of textile workers in Surat were issues of no concern. A quiet dinner at a Congressman’s house where Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, a former foreign minister of Pakistan, was present became a conspiratorial gathering. The prime minister alluded to discussions in the meet being anti-national. To embrace Nawaz Sharif at his inauguration and make an impromptu visit to his home was, I guess, not anti-national. Added to that was yet another script obviously based on falsehood that Ahmed Patel was suggested by the former director general of the Pakistani army to be the next chief minister of Gujarat. These were the issues that were in the forefront of the Gujarat elections. The prime minister had in mind only the arithmetic of politics.

The Election Commission also did not earn laurels in the way it handled Gujarat. First, the delay in announcing dates for the Gujarat elections helped the prime minister announce sops for the poll-bound state. Second, the rationale for having a two-phase election for the 182-member Gujarat assembly in contrast to a single phase election for the 288-member Maharashtra assembly is unclear. Third, the manner in which Rahul Gandhi was asked to explain his interaction with the media on the eve of the closing hours of electioneering, while ignoring the prime minister’s huge roadshow after casting his vote, shows an inbuilt institutional bias. The Election Commission also turned a blind eye to the prime minister’s visit in a sea plane to the coastal areas in Gujarat on election day. When the arbiter of the election process is not even-handed in its response, then democracy is in danger. The process is as important as the outcome.

That the BJP has won is the outcome of this arithmetic. Numbers do not win hearts. It is the well-being and all round development of all sections of society that do. Unless the prime minister changes course and attempts to win back the hearts of those who put him in office, this victory will remain pyrrhic. The final battle in 2019 may well be lost.

Kapil Sibal is a Congress leader and former Union minister.

The views expressed are personal.

First Published: Dec 18, 2017 16:07 IST