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Voters Speaketh – Performance Matters

December 20, 2012

The verdict is out for the assembly elections in the two states that went to the polls recently – Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. The BJP was in power in both states. While the Gujarat Chief Minister has retained power with almost identical tally as in 2007, in Himachal Pradesh the Congress has won under the leadership of Virbhadra Singh. The victory of the BJP yet again in Gujarat has rattled the Congress like nothing has. It is true that their spokespersons have put up a brave face pointing to their victory in Himachal but the truth is that Congress was desperate to unseat Narendra Modi from Gandhinagar. Modi has been their Achilles heel for long and they have not been able to find ways and means to defeat the man. This time they had gone all out and tried all methods fair and foul to somehow defeat him. The lengths to which they went to ensure a Modi defeat was unprecedented. How much money they actually spent on Gujarat all these years from funding NGO’s, the media and floating a party – the GPP (Gujarat Parivartan Party) under the old BJP warhorse Keshubhai Patel, no one will know but the truth of the matter is that Congress’s dirty tricks department was at its ugliest best. And yet the people voted Narendra Modi back to power. The long faces of the Congressmen were a sight to behold. Not surprisingly, they were as uncompromising and uncouth in defeat as they have ever been.

Narendra Modi had held a Sadbhavana Rally all across Gujarat before the elections which was a huge success. During elections he crisscrossed the state holding rallies and meetings. The people of Gujarat responded with enthusiasm. It was clear that Narendra Modi was winning. This saw some ‘high profile’ BJP leaders like Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitely joining Modi – basking in the glow of the man. Everyone wants to be a part of someone Else’s success. Congress leaders were seen condemning Modi at the drop of a hat. Calling names is easy. Giving a plausible alternative is tough. Congress did not have any leader worth mentioning who could be projected against Narendra Mod. Modwadia and Gohil were pygmies. Shankar Singh Vaghela too could not fit the bill. Interestingly Both Modwadia and Gohil lost elections by huge margins while Vaghela managed to scrape through. Amit Shah, the former Home Minister in Narendra Modi government who was implicated in a police encounter of a dreaded criminal, won by a landslide of more than 65,000 votes.

Congress has been using NGO’s and a battery of lawyers to implicate Modi ministers and supporters in legal cases, especially with regards to the 2002 Gujarat riots. One, Mayaben Kodnani, a former minister and a gynaecologist by profession has been convicted and is in prison as of now. The assault on Modi and his supporters has been relentless. Media has been a party to this unholy, biased character assassination of  Modi and his men. The number of times reprters from various TV news channels went to Juhapura, a Muslim locality in Ahmedabad where 2002 riot victims have been resettled, and tried to instigate people to run down Modi was almost laughable. The hysterical media campaign against Modi was the nadir of Indian journalism.

It was such a biased reportage and so obviously contrived that no one believed a word of what was being beamed every other day. People were being exhorted to call Modi and his government names. They still have not learned and continue to speak of Modi and his government in a contemptuous way. They fail to realize that the more they run down Modi the stronger he gets because the people of Gujarat associate themselves such with Modi that any insult of the man is seen by common Gujarati as an insult to them personally.

Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi appeared in Gujarat at the fag end of the campaign. But never did they mention Modi by name – so fearful were they of giving the man any importance. There is a history to it. Sonia Gandhi had called Modi – ‘maut ka saudagar’ (agent of death) in 2007 and that had boomeranged so badly that the whole Congress campaign had come to a naught. They did not want to make the same mistake. So they did not mention the man by name – which became equally hilarious – their refusal to name Modi. It is said that wherever Rahul Gandhi went campaigning – Congress has lost.

What has rattled the Congress most is that even after they allegedly funded and helped establish Gujarat Parivartan Party under Keshubhai Patel, it did not dent Modi’s bastion. The Patel factor was what the Congress was playing on. But it seems to have backfired. Most Patel dominated seats were won by the BJP and not the GPP or the Congress. By all measures, GPP cut into Congress votes more than it harmed the BJP.  The other thing that has made Congress have a rethink is the fact that majority of the seats which were in Muslim burrows were won by the BJP, which means that Muslims have voted for the BJP and Modi in large numbers. Clearly stating that all the negative media campaign of a ‘communal BJP/Modi’ seems to have backfired. People have prospered under Modi and that is the critical part. Muslims like anyone else want to have a prosperous life. Modi’s development model has delivered and that is good enough for them. High pitched rhetorical campaign does not impress them. One BMW car dealer remarked that he was so happy when he sold more than 54 luxury cars to Muslims past year. Clearly, the Congress did not have their ears to the ground. The politics of the Congress leaders was limited to TV studios where they run down BJP and Modi and went back home satisfied they had done their job.  Politics is more than that. You have to give a credible alternative. Congress was ebreft of ideas. Modi had delivered on economy and quality of life, brought billions of dollars worth of investments and made Gujarat a power surplus state. He had created a neo-middle class which had their own needs and aspirations increasing consumption. The wheels of economy were moving and that percolated down to the lowest. Even the tribal population, which has traditionally voted for Congress, this time voted for the BJP and Modi. One unforgettable picture on the TV was of tribal standing by the road side with their sickles high in the air and their women standing with folded hands up in the air as the Modi cavalcade passed. It was a telling picture.

The one big takeaway for all political parties is that there is no anti-incumbency if a government is keen on delivering. If it is a responsive government which cares for the people and has development as its mantra. People want jobs, education, roof over their heads, clean drinking water and other basic necessities. It would be wrong to assume that Modi has given all of this to all the people. But the fact of the matter is that he has given his best and tried honestly to deliver. People understand this and appreciate his efforts. They gave him a third chance to deliver and to keep doing the good work. The man has done some remarkable work and it shows. Besides law and order situation in Gujarat is such that women can go out at night and feel completely safe.  These are tangibles that make a difference. It is said that since Modi was being projected by the media as a possible prime ministerial candidate therefore the people of Gujarat voted for him. This is just not true, for had he not delivered he would not have been voted back, whatever his chances at the top executive job may have been. It was his performance that got him another term.

Himachal Pradesh and its simple mountainous people showed that they could not be taken for granted either. The Prem Kumar Dhumal government of the BJP has been shown the door and Virbhadra Singh has been made the chief minister for the sixth time.. The BJP is trying to project this as being victim to a trend in the mountainous state that Congress and the BJP come to power alternatively, but the truth of the matter is that the Dhumal government failed to deliver. Their performance was poor and there fore the people voted for a change. Like in Gujarat the Congress helped float a party of the disgruntled elements of the BJP called the Himachal Lokhit Party. HLP has won one seat but has done much damage by eating into the BJP votes. Yet it would be unwise to let this be an excuse for the defeat of the BJP in Himachal. The fact that people decided to vote for the Congress even when there were serious graft charges against Virbhadra Singh shows that the Dhumal government’s credibility was suspect. The BJP in Himachal did not work hard enough and was not responsive enough to the needs of the people. The voters booted them out.

The one big lesson is what Narendra Modi had been talking about all through – that the agenda will be development and human progress rather than communal or casteist politics. The people want a better life, a more wholesome life and access to all the basics like clean drinking water, sanitation, education, health and general growth. People want jobs. If their aspirations are not met then they will not tolerate. I think the high pitched BJP campaign against Foreign Direct Investment in retail was not liked by the people of Himachal. They want big stores in their state so that their produce of fruits and vegetables get a fair price. BJP’s belligerence was not liked by the people of the state. I reckon, the Congress must have noticed this and would try and hasten the reform process in the remaining 18 months to the general elections. Manmohan Singh government is on the right track when it is going ahead full steam with the reform process. If the results from Gujarat and Himachal are anything to go by, their best chance of returning to power is if they set the economy right, which can happen only if the investment climate is made conducive and pending projects are cleared as fast as they can possibly be. If the UPA is able to create at least 5-10 million jobs in the next year (not impossible by Indian standards) then they will have a fair chance to return to power. I think Manmohan Singh understands this ground reality.

One last conclusion that most political parties especially the BJP need to draw is that one does not need to appease the Muslims to get their votes. A fair deal is what they want. Modi did not go with a begging bowl to ask for the Muslims to vote for him. He did not field a single Muslim candidate. Yet they voted for him. He had been fair with them and while he did not go out of his way to appease them yet he did what he would have done otherwise for any other community. They appreciated the fact that they were being treated fairly and not specially. BJP needs to learn from this in the buildup to the 2014 elections. Which means that projecting Modi as their PM candidate will not be a bad idea. It will consolidate the Hindu votes and the Muslims will follow suit once they see Hindus voting en bloc. It is being said that Gujarat is a unique case and what worked in Gujarat may not work in the rest of India. I think that is untrue. The realities of Gujarat are the same as that of the rest of India and making Gujarat an exception will hurt BJP. If Modi is made their poster boy, it will do two things – force Congress to come up with their prime ministerial candidate and in effect make Rahul Gandhi commit himself, and secondly consolidate Hindu votes. Maybe, it will not be a consolidation of Hindu votes but a consolidation of votes of the millions of Indians who want development, security and a strong and progressive India. And that, I am afraid will mean most Indians, as India is a country of youth. That is BJP’s best chance. As for the NDA allies not rallying around Modi – well they will now that he has won a record third time. Already I hear conciliatory voices from JD(U) and other parties. Anti-Congress sentiments are also very strong as the Congress has stepped on almost everyone’s toes at one time or another. Congress is not very popular as it were. Comparatively the BJP is a more ‘liked’ party in political circles. With Modi busting minority-ism, parties may be more than willing to join hands. I see a more cohesive India in the years to come.

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