Assembly Elections in Gujarat and Himachal: Another Modi Victory in Gujarat Even as the BJP Loses Himachal

The year 2012 had begun with Assembly elections in the five states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttaranchal, Goa and Manipur. The year now comes to an end following elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. Governments have been changed in four of these seven states – UP has gone back from the BSP to the SP, Uttaranchal and now Himachal have been wrested by the Congress from the BJP while Goa has witnessed an independent BJP-led government for the first time. In the three other states, the ruling parties have successfully retained power, expectedly so in Manipur and Gujarat, and quite unpredictably in Punjab.

From the point of view of the rivalry between the Congress and the BJP, most crucial among these seven states were the elections in Uttar Pradesh in Gujarat. UP was of course not expected to be won by either of these two all-India parties of the ruling classes – the only point of interest was to find out if and how much the two parties could regain their lost ground. The result however revealed that both parties had actually lost more ground, being relegated further to the political margins. The multipolar political scene of UP had turned considerably bipolar, with the SP and BSP knocking out the Congress and the BJP from what a decade ago used to be four-corner contest in the state. If in 2007, the BSP had won with record number of seats in the Assembly, in 2012, it was the SP’s turn to steal the show.

A BJP victory in Gujarat was of course a foregone conclusion, and the state has sprung no basic surprise in that respect. In the two previous exit polls in 2002 and 2007, the psephological pundits had tended to underestimate the strength of Narendra Modi and this time around, most of them had quite generously predicted a sweeping victory for Modi, with projections ranging from 120 to even 140. Gujarat has corrected that excessive exuberance of the pro-Modi camp, subtracting two seats from his erstwhile kitty of 117 seats while granting two seats more to the Congress, raising its tally from 59 to 61. Instrumental in this was the emergence of the Gujarat Parivartan Party under the leadership of former CM Keshubhai Patel. The GPP, which managed to win only three seats, was perhaps effective enough to damage the BJP’s prospects in a dozen or so seats. BJP dissidents organised under the Himachal Lokhit Party also played a role in ensuring the BJP’s defeat in Himachal Pradesh.

Modi’s dangerous mix of aggressive communalism, unabashed Gujarati pride and unbridled corporate-driven economics, delivered in the inimitable Modispeak, the heady rabble-rousing rhetoric that has acquired a distinct identity, was always considered a sure winner in the given socio-economic and political balance of Gujarat where pockets of rural destitution and urban poverty are sought to be obliterated from the public vision by the dazzling display of corporate wealth, and the disturbing memories and facts of the 2002 genocide and the subsequent brutal reality of a series of staged encounter killings lie buried in the dark depths of official oblivion and conspiratorial silence.

Many political analysts believe this model can be replicated nationally and the Modi caravan is now all set to march from Ahmedabad to Delhi. But this is precisely where the Himachal results should inject a necessary sense of sobriety. The Congress managed to wrest Himachal Pradesh even as it lies badly discredited on account of mega corruption and a grave economic crisis resulting from its blatantly pro-corporate, anti-people policies. The popular anger against the corrupt and non-performing BJP government in Himachal proved more powerful and potent than the general disenchantment with the Congress. And Narendra Modi’s campaigning did little to improve the BJP’s prospect in Himachal. The idea that Modi can revive an otherwise stagnant or even declining BJP on an all-India scale certainly did not come good in Himachal Pradesh.

Die-hard Modi admirers have already begun to dream of Modi occupying the Prime Ministerial bungalow at 7 Race Course Road (Mukesh Ambani has recalled his father Dhirubhai having once described Modi as a ‘lambi race ka ghoda’, a horse capable of running and winning a long race). Modi himself is acutely aware of the Modi-as-PM campaign and does not really hide his Prime Ministerial ambition. Significantly enough, he delivered his victory speech in Hindi, attributing his victory not only to the six crore Gujaratis (even though the BJP’s vote share has never touched even 50% in spite of the well-entrenched bipolarity in Gujarat’s electoral politics), but describing it as a vindication for all Indians who wanted to prosper. He also tendered an arrogant ‘apology’ of sorts, seeking the people’s blessing to save him from any ‘inadvertent mistake’, and saying in the same breath that the people can never be wrong (read, any crime can be committed in the name of the people).

The corporate world too greatly relishes the prospect and countries like Britain and the US that had shunned Modi since 2002 have already been indicating their readiness to welcome him back. Some of the NDA allies like JD(U) may of course find it difficult to accept Modi as PM, but the loss of a partner in some state may always be offset by the return of some other estranged ally elsewhere. Many however believe that the BJP itself is perhaps less ready than its partners to project or accept Modi at the centre of its national scheme of things.

But at the end of the day, the shame and calamity of having a Narendra Modi at the helm of the Indian state can only be stopped by the people of India. The more the struggle against corporate plunder intensifies in 2013, and the more the people of India come out on the streets to secure their democratic rights, the more difficult will it be for the BJP to return to power and Modi to realise his dangerous dream.

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