Gujarat BJP Walks Into Poll Year 2022 Amid The Congress Debris and Covid Chill

| Updated: January 26, 2022 2:12 pm

Gujarat was barely recovering from the Covid-19 blues of the previous year when a trickle of cases in the March of 2021 had swollen into a nasty ocean of a second wave. That was also when, ironically, the ruling  BJP in Gujarat was celebrating its huge victories in the just-concluded elections to six municipal corporations and hundreds of smaller local bodies.   

In a little over three months after this, the then Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, his team and his party were celebrating their “five years of good governance”. This was in the backdrop of a long-stretched nightmare of piles of bodies awaiting cremation, many ambulances queuing up outside hospitals, every patient gasping for oxygen, for every single vial of the evasive injection — and all this was topped with the story of a huge cover-up of death data. It was the Gujarat High Court that was eventually working like a watchdog in the wake of a near-collapse of the State health machinery.      

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But someone at the top was watching. Knowing well the political costs of this mismatch with not only Gujarat going to the polls in end-2022 but also several key states months earlier, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in one fell swoop ejected Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and his entire team in September.

The BJP top brass had realised that all the local body election victories could not be adequate evidence of a sureshot continuation of the party’s march to power in its sixth consecutive term since 1998.  

And preparations for the 2022 poll year had begun right since July 2020 with the naming of CR Paatil as the Gujarat BJP President. After Paatil came Ratnakar as the general secretary (organisation) in August 2021.

Both Paatil and Ratnakar were Prime Minister Modi’s backroom boys in his Varanasi election. Ratnakar hails from Uttar Pradesh and was joint general secretary (organisation) in charge of Bihar. And these changes were followed by the change of guard — an unprecedented move — in the government.

The new government under Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel, who completed 100 days in office last week, appears to be in a better grasp of the situation. One instance of this is the way the State Government handled the head clerks paper leak controversy and quickly ordered a statewide police investigation. And the racket was busted in a week’s time with at least 16 arrests. Though the issue caused a huge embarrassment, the Patel Government, unlike the predecessors, quickly emerged from the denial mode and put off the exam, for which some 88,000 candidates appeared to fill 186 posts.

As for the recent spurt in Covid-19 cases, the Chief Minister is conducting regular review meetings and the government has a better idea of where the State stands. This was not the case with the outgoing ministry, which was often found floundering and managing data instead of dealing with the massive problem at the level of the emergency that it called for.

Still, the one thing common is that even the Patel Government is going ahead with all its public events in a campaign mode irrespective of the fears of a third wave. The last three days as on Wednesday saw 1,146 new Covid-19 cases, while the Omicron infections have touched nearly 100.

But the year that went by also saw further decimation of the Congress party and emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party as well as AIMIM — both walking into the space left by a directionless Congress that could not even appoint a state president from March to December. Now, the party has senior leader Jagdish Thakor from the key OBC Kshatriya community while a hands-on AICC in-charge for Gujarat in Raghu Sharma.

However, the party is yet to get its act together. The paper leak scam was exposed by the AAP whose workers also recently stormed the BJP headquarters, Kamalam. Some 16 of them even went to jail for a week, alleging police high-handedness. The Congress party, at best, handed over a memorandum to the Chief Minister, issued some press statements and held some protest demonstrations that did not make any impact. All through 2021, if not earlier, the Congress has not been able to rustle up any state-level agitation.

The principal opposition party scored a zero in the Surat Municipal Corporation elections held in February with the AAP emerging as the opposition with as many as 27 seats against BJP’s 93. The AIMIM won seven seats in the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation and 17 out of 24 it had contested in Godhra, Modasa and Bharuch municipalities, to emerge as the number two at Godhra and Modasa to push the Congress to the third position.

So when the BJP walks into election year 2022, it has this big advantage of a decimated Congress with two fringe players eating into whatever little it has. The BJP, still, is pulling out all stops.

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