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The much-anticipated three-way battle

|Gujarat | Updated: September 25, 2022 19:40

Deepal Trivedi

It is a clash of models in Gujarat. The BJP has been consistently in power for about 27 years in the state, bar 1996 when Shankersinh Vaghela became the Chief Minister for a year with outside support from the Congress. In any other state, anti-incumbency, slackness and people’s desire for a new party in a democratic manner would have been the norm. 

But then Gujarat is different.

Ironically, the majority of voters do not mind re-electing the BJP for another term. Gujarat was the first state where the BJP “earned” an absolute majority and formed its government in 1995. As of now, the BJP is the strongest political party in Gujarat and is poised to win another term. 

Elections are scheduled in December for 182 seats in Gujarat. The 2017 elections saw Congress deliver its best performance in 32 years, bagging 77 of the 182 seats. Several of its MLAs, however, defected to the BJP.

So, why this phenomenal interest in Gujarat’s 2022 elections? For the first time since 1990, the state will witness a serious triangular contest. In the 1990 Assembly elections, the Janata Dal, BJP and Congress were pitted against each other. Congress won 33 seats, the lowest among the three. Though no party got a clear majority, Janata Dal had bagged 70 and BJP won 67 seats. The JD-BJP government was formed in Gujarat back then.

This time it is the BJP, Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party that Gujarat has to choose from. In the last 32 years, no other party has challenged the BJP’s election machinery the way AAP has.

This is a clash of different models. If the AAP is determined to implement its Delhi Model, the Congress is keen to replicate the Rajasthan Model in the state. The BJP’s faith in the Gujarat Model remains absolute. 

Let us see what each model offers to the average Gujarati.

BJP’s Gujarat Model

It’s all about development, progress and prosperity. That’s what the BJP claims. What BJP does not say anymore is that it stands for Hindus and their interests. 

The BJP certainly doesn’t pride itself on pluralism – not that Gujaratis are complaining. Interestingly, even Muslims aren’t that grouchy about the ruling party.

Numbers tell their own story: Gujarat has 9.67% Muslims and 0.96% Jains. 

The Christian population in Gujarat is lower than that of the Jains. Known for intense polarisation, Gujarat is dubbed the Saffron laboratory of India, with the BJP and RSS experimenting with their social engineering strategies in the state. 

It’s undeniable that the Gujarat Model, while invisibly but strategically affirming its muscular Hindutva tone, is pro-urban, pro-entrepreneurship and pro-upper caste.

The urban population in Gujarat has been on a steady rise. Currently, Gujarat’s urban population is 44% as opposed to 37.4% in 2001. The increase in urban population and the delimitation exercise the BJP undertook in 2009 have worked to its benefit.

When PM Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, he smartly amalgamated various Hindu castes, including the poorest of the poor into a sort of hierarchical Hindu unity. The BJP invokes ‘Gujarat ni Asmita’, the pride of the Gujarati identity.

So, plurality is dismissed and pseudo-secularism prevails. 

Call it fear, genuine love for the pro-Hindu, or the need to extract favours, several Muslims have sworn loyalty to the BJP, post-2012. 

It explains how BJP recorded thumping victories in the 2019 Loksabha elections. The BJP had bagged all 26 seats – a feat in itself – completely wiping out the Congress. Things would’ve been different in Gujarat today had Narendra Modi and Amit Shah not sacked their earlier chief minister Vijay Rupani with his entire cabinet in 2021.

With Rupani’s sacking, the BJP has delivered a clear message: ‘Corruption will not be tolerated. Even if he is the Chief Minister of Gujarat, he will not be tolerated if he is corrupt or inefficient or both.’

Meanwhile, the Modi appeal in Gujarat hasn’t dimmed after 2014. He remains the charismatic, vote-catching phenomenon of Gujarat’s BJP.

Since Gujarat is the first state where the BJP seized an absolute majority in 1995, it remains the RSS favourite. The Modi fervour appeared to have reached a fever pitch even as the Gujarat Model was replicated at the Centre and in the states where he was in power. 

The Kanya Kelavani (girls’ education), central government schemes for innovation, startups and incentives for new industries – schemes borne out of the Gujarat template – have been introduced in Delhi.

AAP’s Delhi Model

The Aam Aadmi Party has successfully launched itself with vigour and smartness, something the Congress, as the main Opposition in the state, has failed to do for over two decades.

Currently, the Aam Aadmi Party’s campaign in Gujarat has turned into – to quote Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal – a “mass movement” against the ruling BJP in the run-up to the Assembly elections.

Both AAP and Congress are trying to woo various sections of the society but the AAP scores in convincing messaging and conveying it with conviction. Unlike the Congress, the AAP has taken to the streets in Gujarat. From aggrieved policemen to state transport drivers, people in Gujarat have reason to approach AAP for solutions to their problems. 

Demands for better pay scales, grade revisions and better working conditions amongst other things remain the causes for agitation. 

Disenchanted Gujaratis are demanding a change. AAP, through its Delhi Model, is making promises to hike the salaries of several government services, ranging from police to state transport staff. 

Additionally, the AAP has promised to implement the education and electricity subsidy model in the state. What’s more, Kejriwal has visited Gujarat more often than Modi. In September alone, Kejriwal visited Gujarat five times. He has made a host of promises, which includes free electricity up to 300 units per month, a job for every youth, a Rs 3,000 monthly allowance for the unemployed till they find employment, and Rs 1,000 for all women above the age of 18.

Citing the Delhi Model, he has also promised a “grand makeover” of the government-run schools in Gujarat, free and quality education to children and free healthcare services to the state if voted to power.

Gujarat is AAP’s new territory but the party has done its homework on local issues. That Union Minister Amit Shah had to inaugurate a government school in Ahmedabad is a testimony to the way AAP has wormed into Gujarat’s psyche. 

Also, the Delhi Model’s subtle leaning towards Hindutva is garnering praise in Gujarat. AAP plans to offer not only a viable alternative to the nearly defunct Congress in Gujarat but the party has also promised qualitative change in governance. The quintessential BJP voter, disillusioned with employment, price rise and inflation, is naturally curious. 

The typical Gujarat Hindu voter finds Congress’ minority appeasement a big put-off. On the other hand, AAP’s silence on Shaheen Baug or any other minority-focused protests is earning them brownie points in Gujarat, which has no qualms about flaunting the high-brow raw Hindutva image. If BJP is Ram Bhakt, AAP is Hanuman Bhakt. The general impression is that the AAP cadre has successfully percolated into the Gujarat psyche.

Congress’ Rajasthan Model

It was nowhere in sight till AAP promised the Delhi Model in Gujarat.

The Congress still believes it has a strong grassroots level organisation in Gujarat, which is a fallacy. It has been eight years since PM Modi used the Gujarat Model to catapult himself to power in Delhi as India’s Prime Minister. 

Yet, for now, the Congress is geared up to expose how shallow and fake the Gujarat Model is. The problem is the Gujarat electorate is not ready to lap up this reasoning. Moreover, Congress’s less aggressive logic of how BJP-AAP are country cousins is lost in BJP and AAP’s high pitch campaigns. 

The Congress is trying to convince the electorate of how Modi for PM and AAP for Gujarat is a typical RSS strategy to dent Congress votes. 

The Congress says it is the Punjab Model that the BJP-RSS wants in Gujarat. Essentially, it means that if the BJP cannot get into power, it will prop up AAP and keep Congress away at all costs. This is not entirely untrue. The AAP is more likely to damage the Congress than the BJP which is comfortable in Gujarat.

Sadly, instead of promoting the Congress, the party is more focused on debunking BJP and AAP’s models. The Congress is investing energy in establishing why these models are fake and how extensive marketing is being done at the taxpayer’s expense.

The Congress lashed out at the inefficiency of AAP’s Mohalla clinics but only after the BJP became critical of it. The Congress also tried to dissect AAP’s education model, citing how the party was allocating resources to only 54 schools, thereby being unfair to over 950 other schools. The Congress, in the past, had experienced that negative publicity during campaigns backfires in Gujarat, which has steadfastly voted for the BJP all these years. 

Now that AAP has emerged as a force to reckon with, the Congress is vehemently attacking the party, saying its model is more about publicity than public interest. So far, only Ashok Gehlot, the Congress election in-charge of Gujarat, has stayed away from all the bickering. Instead, he has challenged his energies to present the Rajasthan Model.

The Congress manifesto, which will be out in October, will focus much on the Rajasthan Model and how it benefits the middle, lower middle and poor strata of the society. Deepak Babaria, an old favourite of Rahul Gandhi, has been entrusted with the task of finding out what the people of Gujarat, especially the poorest of poor, want from the country’s oldest political party.

The Congress was the first political party in Gujarat to announce the restoration of OPS (the Old Pension Scheme), which is a bone of contention in the state. Arvind Kejriwal has also promised the same. Mukhya Mantri Chiranjeevi Yojana, an impressive public-centric scheme where Rs 5000 cash is granted to all those who take road accident victims to hospital, is another aspect of the Rajasthan Model that the Gujarat Congress will be keen to implement.

In addition, the good Samaritans are also given certificates for their good public deeds. Called Chiranjeevi Jeevan Raksha Yojana, it bears striking similarities to the US medical system. Under this scheme, a resident of any Indian state injured in a road accident can avail of free treatment for 72 hours in private and government hospitals affiliated with Chief Minister Chiranjeevi Health Insurance Scheme. Health is the major thrust of the Rajasthan Model. 

To woo the rural population and milk cooperatives, Gujarat dairy farmers have been promised a Rs 5 bonus for every litre of milk procured, similar to the Rajasthan Model. The Congress is keen to implement the Rajasthan Model in the electricity sector as well by offering subsidies. It has promised daytime power to Gujarat farmers instead of the night supply provided by the ruling BJP. 

The party has also promised to deliver Rajasthan’s Model of Generic Medicines. In Rajasthan, the government provides essential drugs free of cost through 15,000 Drug Distribution Centres in prime locations across the state. 

Furthermore, upholding the Rajasthan Model, the Congress wants to offer Rs 5 lac insurance cover for every citizen. Naturally, the party hasn’t ceased to remind us of Gujarat’s failure to address health issues when the Covid pandemic was raging. 

Now, it’s abundantly clear: a gripping election warfare awaits us in December.

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