Gujarat election results: Is winning everything?

The Gujarat election results should make Narendra Modi pause and reconsider his strategy

opinion Updated: Dec 18, 2017 20:59 IST
Narendra Modi,Gujarat election results,Gujarat model
Narendra Modi’s Gujarat model was to be a model of a new style of governance and way of conducting politics. (AP)

Two states went to the polls. But the public’s attention was focused almost exclusively on Gujarat. There was a reason for this. The Gujarat model of development was the vehicle that propelled Narendra Modi to the supreme leadership of the BJP, pushing aside the claims of a handful of former BJP presidents. It endowed Modi with a charisma not seen in India since Indira Gandhi won the 1971 war.

Leaders like Rajiv Gandhi and Atal Behari Vajpayee were popular leaders, but to be charismatic is being more than that. To be that one needs to display a personal magic that commands intense loyalty and devotion. The Gujarat model was the basis for that charisma. The Congress boldly challenged that story and dented what was becoming an enduring myth that Gujarat was the best performing state in India during the Modi tenure. The question posed before the electorate was whether that was true and the country waited with bated breath to find out.At the time of writing it does seem that the BJP has been dented, losing about a dozen seats and the Congress gaining around 16. The BJP has fallen short of Amit Shah’s target of winning 150 seats.

In what was essentially a two-sided contest, small differences in pluralities have a way of translating themselves into exaggerated electoral mandates. The 2014 Lok Sabha election results are a good example of this; the BJP’s 31% translated itself into over half the parliamentary seats. That was a multi-cornered election and in a direct contest small pluralities get even more exaggerated.

A BJP spokesman refused to accept the Gujarat trends as a setback. In his definition, a setback is a defeat and he rhetorically answered by asking: “How can an electoral victory be a setback?” Actually a setback is a blow taken in the course of seeking a larger objective. In this case the closeness of the margin in the prime minister’s home state, is indeed a setback on the road to a victory in 2019.

Was this then a Pyrrhic victory, which is defined by the dictionaries as a victory that is not worth winning because the winner has lost so much in winning it? There is no doubt Modi invested hugely in winning Gujarat. He held 34 public meetings, setting aside many larger governance issues pertaining to the country. But Modi expended such monies and times in other state elections as well. But more costly than anything was that he chose to take the low road by distorting words and seeing sinister meanings in social discourse with visiting Pakistanis.

This then takes us to the question whether we have had a prime minister or leader like this in this country, in an almost perpetual electioneering mode? No state or no level has been unimportant for him. He campaigns as hard and as intensively in every state and any level of elections. In a first, we saw a prime minister campaign in municipal elections and gain victory for his party. The streets of Delhi nevertheless remain as garbage-laden and the stagnant waters as dengue- and chikungunya-laden as before. So is his tenure all about just winning elections?

If that is so, Gujarat should make him pause and reconsider. He lost Bihar in the hustings and regained it by political footwork. He lost Goa and Manipur in the hustings and gained them again by political footwork. He lost Punjab convincingly. He hopes to win Karnataka by entrusting the local party to a leader with the unenviable reputation of being one of the most corrupt chief ministers that state has had. Not only is he considered corrupt by a Lokayukta, he is also known to be blatantly casteist.

Narendra Modi’s Gujarat model was to be a model of a new style of governance and way of conducting politics. We are still awaiting that. Gujarat has just shown its impatience.

Mohan Guruswamy is an economics and policy analyst

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Dec 18, 2017 20:45 IST