Seeking a third straight term, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has begun his electoral campaign in right ernest.
While criss crossing through 150 Assembly constituencies during his Swami vivekanand Yuva Vikas yatra, Modi largely harped on his government’s developmental agenda and indulged in Sonia Gandhi bashing, but he realises that this time around, it will be difficult to discount the caste equations, particularly the anger among the Patel community voters in the Saurashtra region.
The region which has 58 seats, is one of the largest voting constituencies. Both the Congress and the ruling BJP understand that they need to win at least 50 per cent of the total seats here to get a clear majority in the Assembly. Sensing a general mood of indifference towards the BJP in Saurashtra, the chief minister was focusing hard on the other regions.
“If you see the route of the Vivekanand yatra, he has concentrated more on the central, south and north Gujarat and not moved around so much in the Saurashtra region,” said political analyst Vishnu Pandya. It’s an indication that Modi wants to offset any loss of seats in Saurashtra with gains in other regions, particularly central Gujarat. The BJP legislators are also vary of the rural voters and this was one of reasons that many of them are preferring to move to safer seats in the urban areas where the victory is more assured.
“This time there are several factors especially in the Saurashtra region that could dampen the dream run for Modi and his partymen,” pointed out another analyst Achchyut Yagnik. Citing some of the factors that could go against Modi and his party, Yagnik said, that for one, Modi does not have the support of the powerful Patel lobby in this region.
“Several verdicts of the post Godhra riots have been delivered and in most of the cases it is the Patels who have been convicted,” pointed out Yagnik. He said that most of them have not forgiven him for this. Moreover, the Patels have found an alternative in the form of former chief Minister Keshubhai Patel who has floated his own party.
As far as the caste equations are concerned, the Koli community which constitutes a large number of voters are demanding 22 seats, while the Patels, who claim to be in majority in the region, are demanding as many as 30 seats.
Apart from the caste equations, the ruling BJP faces the heat because of issues like scarcity of water, spate of suicides by the farmers and the rising crime rate. There’s a strong feeling that Modi’s development mantra has been confined to cities like Ahmedabad and Surat and the Saurashtra region has been neglected.
“People are tired of false promises and propaganda; they just want to see the change now,” says former chief minister Keshubhai Patel, the founder of the newly formed Gujarat Parivartan Party.
Dubbed as ‘the Congress’ B team’ which the Congress hopes will split the BJP votes, the Parivarthan Party will be hoping to open its account in the forthcoming Assembly elections. Keshubhai Patel, a strongman of the region, has been touring extensively, and blaming Modi for not keeping his promises made to the farmers.
The Congress, on its part, is also trying to gain much of the lost ground by articulating the growing resentment among the people. Congress president Sonia Gandhi during her recent visit harped on what she termed as ‘rampant corruption’ and also tried to point out how the region had been neglected from the so called development in the rest of the state. “If there was so much development as the chief minister claims why are the farmers committing suicides?” asked GPCC chief Arjun Modhwadiya who also is a leader from this region.
However Dilip Sanghani, Gujarat’s law minister who also represent the BJP from Saurashtra, said, “The Congress which has lost is base here is making unfounded allegations...Like in previous elections the people will come out in large numbers and vote for the BJP and the party will continue to retain its majority in this region.”
The good news for the BJP, however, is that in the last decade or so, its vote share in the region is on the rise, while for the Congress it has been declining. In 1962, the BJP could not even open its account, but its tally jumped to 20 seats in 1990.
The party got its highest tally in 1998 with the number rising to 49. It however slipped to 43 seats in the last Assembly elections in 2007. On the contrary, the Congress, which had its highest tally of 45 in 1985, slipped to 14 in 2007. But what remains to be seen is whether Narendra Modi will be able to continue the dream run for himself and his party when the elections are held in December and whether it will catapult him to national politics.