Gujarat is all set as the battleground for political parties today, as voters gear up for phase one of the state polls.
As Gujarat goes to polls in the most politically heated climate this winter, The Horus Eye takes a look at the most seasoned politicians, who have campaigned hard to make their stories stick.
Stepping away from opinion polls, statistical trends, and historical analysis, this election season has been rife with some interesting commentary by the politicians.
While the BJP is looking to secure a record-breaking seventh term, the Congress is hoping to break the monotony of becoming the perpetual opposition in the state. The Aam Aadmi Party would probably be happy with any dent it can make.
Experiencing a refreshing three-way contest this time, what are some of the “foot-in-the-mouth” claims, blames, and promises we heard this time?
A Colourful Bhajpa Sankalp
As the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, Gujarat has received special attention from the Centre ever since the duo took their seats in Delhi, in 2014. During this campaign season alone, and today still with a roadshow in Ahmedabad, PM Modi has visited Gujarat more times than any other national leader, and exponentially more times than Rahul Gandhi and his party attended the Parliament this year. While the Modi wave continues to flow strong in Gujarat effortlessly, at least on the visible surface, the Union home minister’s influence somehow always seems demanding. With good reason or not… is another debate. While his understanding of politics remains spot on as he gives due credit to the Congress’ presence in the state, his understanding of the liberal youth’s mood may not be as impressive.
Bringing up the 2002 Gujarat riots at a rally in Kheda district’s Mahudha, Shah said, “During the Congress rule in Gujarat (before 1995), communal riots were rampant. Congress used to incite people of different communities and castes to fight against each other. Through such riots, Congress had strengthened its vote bank and did injustice to a large section of the society.”
“But after they were taught a lesson in 2002, these elements left that path (of violence). They refrained from indulging in violence from 2002 till 2022,” he added, supposedly referring to the Muslim population of Gujarat. Former bureaucrat EAS Sarma has approached the Election Commission over the speech, on the grounds that it is potentially in violation of the model code of conduct. Although most in Gujarat would attest to Shah’s statements as mere facts that they themselves witnessed in and before 2002, indirectly invoking religion could also invite penalty for the leader. Even if the BJP’s manifesto leaves less to the imagination with the promise of implementing the Uniform Civil Code and scrutiny of the Waqf Board’s assets at long last, Shah’s statement, even though sprinkled with truth and anger over the massacre of Hindus in Godhra, is foundationally communal and not fitting of a national leader.
On the other hand, more colourful claims were made by the local BJP leaders. At a poll meeting with the voters in his constituency, Lalu Parghi, the BJP’s candidate from Danta, Banaskantha, said, “Elect me and I will ensure liquor bottles are sold at every nook and corner in baskets.” A minister in former chief minister Anandiben Patel’s cabinet, BJP’s candidate from Mehsana, Shankar Chaudhary said, “If a cop in Mehsana stops you, tell him you are Shankar Chaudhary’s voter… no one will harass you.” Facing a tough contest this time with the divided Chaudhary vote, Home Minister Amit Shah had promised an important portfolio to Shankar Chaudhary if he gets elected. According to Ahmedabad Mirror, suspended BJP MLA Madhu Srivasta, who is fighting independently from Waghodiya this time, reportedly said to his supporters in a meeting, “If someone harasses you, just inform me. I will shoot the person.”
Congress’ Sympathy Waters Run Deep
As controversial and unacceptable the home minister’s statements may be, he has a point when he talks about the grand old party’s sympathy politics and the opposition vote bank, a model that has served them since independence, and more so since May 21, 1991. The party’s Patidar weapon especially lost substantial clout when Hardik Patel joined the BJP earlier this year. Making headlines last week, Congress candidate from Rajkot Indranil Rajguru said, “In my opinion, there is Allah in Somnath and Mahadev in Ajmer.” Addressing the public gathering at Jangleshwar, he went on to chant, “Allahu Akbar (Allah is the greatest).” Providing an explanation after his comments went viral across social media, Rajguru said, “A clip of mine saying ‘Allahu Akbar’ has surfaced. In the same clip, people should also listen to 5,000 Muslims chanting ‘Har Har Mahadev’.” While trying to maintain the perpetual Congress vote bank, Rajguru seems to have tried to make a flimsy attempt at equating the places of worship, becoming yet another addition to the list of leaders not shy to invoke religion against the discipline of the MCC, and insulting both groups in the process. Although not picking a side perhaps comes natural to him considering his short-lived stint with the AAP earlier this year.
Another Congress candidate, Chandanji Thakore from Siddhpur, Patan, conveyed without mincing any words, “Only Muslims can save this country.” While claiming that the shared video was from 2019, Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi said, “Thakore was talking about Hindu-Muslim unity and had said the country will progress only when members of the two communities live together. This point has been edited out from the clip.” While it may be regarded as a successful spin, Thakore’s words, even if they are from three years ago, do not depict any intention close to Hindu-Muslim unity. “We gave them (BJP) votes believing they will do something new… But not just us, the entire country was cheated… Only the Muslim community can save the country and the Congress party,” he said in his original statement.
As Congress heir-apparent Rahul Gandhi has been occupied in “uniting” an India not broken in the first place (unless he agrees that Pakistan and Bangladesh should eventually be part of an undivided Bharat once again), party president Mallikarjun Kharge took upon himself to make a trailblazing speech. As if not projecting a local leader and having a non-Gujarati speaking campaigner had not taken away enough points, Kharge went on to mention his caste and insult his community and the PM in the same breath. “He (PM Modi) keeps saying he’s poor… we are also poor. We are even poorer than him. We are classified as untouchable. At least people drink your tea, which is not true for us,” said Kharge at a public gathering in Dediapada, in Narmada district. The Congress’ top leader managed to forget that the prime minister also belongs to an OBC community, while also failing to use the stage to make the point against crimes against SCs, in which Gujarat is one of the top scorers. Kharge also failed to inspire the community with President Droupadi Murmu’s example once again, missing yet another chance to negate tokenism and champion India’s first Dalit woman president. With regard to who is “poorer”, PM Modi’s 2019 Lok Sabha asset declaration lists his salary from the government and regular interest from the bank as his sources of income, amounting to a little over Rs 2.5 crores. Simultaneously, in his 2019 declaration, Kharge lists himself as an advocate, disclosing assets worth over Rs 20 crores.
Voters in Gujarat are polling for 89 of the 182 state assembly seats today in the southern part of the state, along with the Saurashtra and Kutch regions. The remaining 93 seats, mostly urban, will go to polls on December 5, with counting for all scheduled for December 8.
‘Revdi’ And AAP
Free electricity, water, healthcare, i.e. getting everything but working for nothing has become synonymous with the Aam Aadmi Party. From promising to supply Narmada waters to every household in Kutch, to just “giving” Rs 40 per day to cattle-herders as if the on-road chaos was not enough, Kejriwal is riding high on the Punjab horse. Although promising to take care of the basic amenities and providing Rs 3000 to unemployed youth till the time of employment, he seems to have no detailed plans to ensure that the system is not taken advantage of like in Punjab, where CM Bhagwant Mann asked the Centre for additional funds within a month of taking the reins.
The AAP, elected with an overbearing majority in Punjab, has seen a decline in approval with jailed ministers getting VIP service and the recent lathicharge on farmers protesting outside the CM house. However, this has not deterred the party from making unproven claims of corruption. The theatrics have not been accepted as popular with the people of Gujarat, who along with the BJP and the Congress are convinced that contrary to experts and analysts’ beliefs, there are only two parties in the fray.
Claims, blames and promises are staple for the election season. The recent “Raavan” remark on the prime minister has invited much criticism from the right, and much applause from the left, leaving aside taking account of the developmental progress and realities, and fighting each other on merit for one people – the Indian voters. Is ‘Raavan’, with all his knowledgeable and dharmic prowess, the best we can do?
The Horus Eye is a weekly column written by Divya Bhan analysing current affairs and policies. This column does not intend or aim to promote any ideology and does not reflect the official position of The Sparrow.