Opinion: In spite of GST, how Modi won Gujarat

Rahul lost; Modi won but this was not the kind of win the prime minister was expecting for his party. Photograph:( Others )

Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India Dec 18, 2017, 11.09 AM (IST) Madhumita Saha

Gujarat for Modi is pride. While winning in Uttar Pradesh was important for the BJP because of the sheer number of seats it added to its kitty, at Gujarat, winning was symbolically and politically significant. Winning in Uttar Pradesh came with the promise of bringing in development. In Gujarat, the BJP was fighting to perpetuate and extend the state's development model all over India. 

 

This was the first time that Modi has been campaigning in the state, not as a chief minister. Since the ouster of Anandiben Patel and the ascension of Vijay Rupani as the chief minister, the image of the party has taken a beating in the state. This election, the BJP's sole strategy was to resell Modi as a brand. For nearly two decades, it had taken it easy, relying on Modi's image, record and high rhetoric. But, this year, it has been forced to push its entire party machinery into the battle. The way BJP state machinery mobilised people at the grassroot level, linking the anger and expectations of common people to those in the central command, reminds us of the electoral strategies of the Left in the state of West Bengal.

 

Uttar Pradesh was easy because the BJP was only needed to point out the glaring lacuna of Mulayam-Akhilesh's Samajwadi Party and Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party. But in Gujarat, the election was all about getting the popular mandate on continuing the Gujarat model of development, which in recent times have come under tremendous attack from many prominent economists. 

 

BJP's battle in Gujarat has been direct and personal. In Uttar Pradesh, the battle was fought against a number of leaders; Modi mentioned SCAM-S for Samajwadi (party), C for Congress, A for Akhilesh (Yadav) and M for Mayawati. But in Gujarat, the salvo was unambiguously fired against Congress and Rahul Gandhi over dynastic politics and the party's "need" to play caste politics. 

 

Barring the exception of responding to Mani Shankar Aiyar's "neech" comment, the BJP, as well as, Prime Minister Modi stuck to the development rhetoric. Modi himself had given the slogan – “I am vikas, I am Gujarat” -- to emphasise that the BJP will own its development model. Modi focused on roads, water and irrigation, law and order, electrification, public expenditure on education, and industrialisation.

 

But it was not a blanket appeal based on development, Modi made a very specific class-based overture. So while to the middle-class in the cities, he spoke of the government’s schemes for affordable housing and reduction of stent prices. To the poor, he spoke of new toilets, and used it to demolish the Congress narrative of how his sarkar was one for the rich. 

 

Both GST and demonestisation became crucial planks of Modi's promise of a clean government in Gujarat. Negatively affected by these two reforms, the Baniya class of Gujarat was expected to vote against the BJP. In fact, soon after the tax was rolled out earlier this year, several trader organisations took to protests, including the textile traders of Surat.

 

From the trends so far, as well as, according to the claims of the BJP leaders, the Party has swept all the 12 seats in the industrial region. This is shown as a proof that the discontent around GST has not turned voters against the BJP. Modi has, in the final analysis, successfully fitted GST and demonetisation in the larger narrative against corruption. 

 

Apart from presenting GST and demonetisation as integral to national good, Modi to assuage anger of the Gujarati businessmen, have cut down tax rates on many Gujarat-specific items, including sewing thread of man-made filaments and thread of man-made staple fibres, synthetic filament yarn (nylon, polyester), food items such as khakhra and namkeens, among others.

 

The anticipation of Congress, that the simmering anger will be fatal for Congress on the election day has proved to be wrong. 

 

Narendra Modi successfully turned the 6 per cent wavering voter of Gujarat through his emotional appeals and politicking against which the INC failed to come up with an appropriate electoral strategy.

 

It was mostly in the second phase of the campaign that Modi successfully appealed to voters sentiment and through political polarisation the BJP to an extent diffused the anger against demonetisation. But having said these, we can't say that this was an easy election for the BJP. Congress gave the party a very steep fight. The Patidar defection, as well as, the incumbency factor played a crucial role in preventing BJP from sweeping the state. 

 

A win is a win. At the end of the day, Congress lost. But some loses may actually indicate a win in not so distant future. 

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)

 

 

 

Madhumita Saha

The writer is an academic-turned journalist. She taught history at Drexel University and New York University before joining WION.