OPINION | Gujarat: Modi roadshow can become the gamechanger
Gujarat Assembly Elections 2022: For nearly four hours, the roads of Ahmedabad, the nerve centre of Gujarat, witnessed a spectacular show on Thursday evening. Prime Minister Narendra Modi covered 50 kilometres with a cavalcade of vehicles, while his supporters showered petals on him. The cavalcade passed through 13 key assembly seats- Naroda, Thakkarbapa Nagar, Nikol, Bapunagar, Amraiwadi, Maninagar, Danilimda, Jamalpur Khadia, Ellis Bridge, Vejalpur, Ghatlodia, Naranpura and Sabarmati.
It started from Naroda and ended in Chandkheda. There were men, women, children, senior citizens, mothers carrying kids with them, standing on both sides of the route, eagerly waiting to have a glimpse of Modi. Supporters sang and danced to drumbeats, there were fireworks, and it appeared as if it was not an election campaign, but a victory procession. Modi’s popularity in his home state needs no elaboration, and the people of Gujarat have been voting for him and his party consecutively for more than two decades.
There were slogans of ‘Modi, Modi’ and ‘Dekho Dekho Koun Aaya, Gujarat Ka Sher Aaya’. BJP leaders claimed that this was the longest roadshow by any Indian politician ever. BJP candidates, from whose areas Modi passed through, were jubilant, certain about their victory, while there was a glum response from opposition candidates. The love and affection showed by common Gujaratis during the roadshow underlines Modi’s wide acceptability as a leader statesman. The opposition leaders had no such star campaigner to counter Modi. The lexicon of Gujarat politics is clear on one point: the party that wins most of the seats in Ahmedabad rules Gujarat.
There are 21 assembly seats in Ahmedabad, and in the 2017 election, BJP had won 15. Its strike rate was nearly 70 per cent. The 2017 elections had witnessed a strong fight between BJP and Congress. BJP formed the government after winning 99 seats while the Congress was second with 77 seats.
In 15 out of 33 districts of Gujarat, Congress had won more seats than the BJP in 2017. BJP was ahead of Congress in only 13 districts. In three districts, both parties scored almost equal number of seats. But it was in Ahmedabad that BJP scored the decisive edge. There is a large number of voters from Patidar community in Ahmedabad. In 2017, the Patidar reservation movement was at its peak, and BJP was on the backfoot. Yet, the party won 15 out of 21 seats in Ahmedabad.
This time, BJP plans to make a clean sweep in Ahmedabad. This is the reason why Prime Minister Narendra Modi spent four hours traversing 50 km through the roads of Ahmedabad. The constituencies through which his cavalcade passed include Ghatlodia, where Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel is fighting a battle against Congress Rajya Sabha MP Amee Yajnik.
I had queries from several people asking why Prime Minister Narendra Modi is spending so much time and energy on Gujarat elections. Some of them asked why Modi, after addressing rallies during the day, decided to take out a 50-km long road show. If you listen to the arguments from Congress leaders, they will say that BJP is now in a weak position. They say, had the BJP government worked better during its 27 year-long-rule, Modi would not have been devoting much time and energy.
If you understand Modi and Gujarat, you may find these arguments childish. Is Rahul Gandhi not campaigning in Gujarat because Congress is heading towards a landslide victory this time? Is Kejriwal travelling the roads and alleys of Gujarat for the last several months because he thinks AAP may win this time? There is no logic in such arguments. Had Modi spent less time and energy on campaigning in Gujarat, the same leaders would have said, BJP is losing and that’s why Modi has run away.
Let me tell you, devoting maximum time and energy in election campaign has always been the basic quality of Narendra Modi’s character. Compared to 2017, Modi is addressing lesser number of rallies this time. Five years ago, he addressed 34 election rallies, and this time he plans to address 27 rallies. It is also true that compared to other leaders, Modi’s stamina and energy has always surprised his rivals.
As prime minister, Modi has onerous responsibilities and he needs time to attend to matters of state. There have been prime ministers in the past, but no other prime minister participated so actively in election campaigns. The difference is: Modi enjoys campaigning and contesting poll battles. He feels joy when he goes among the people. He never tires.
Secondly, Modi always fights an electoral battle with a finetuned strategy. This has been his USP, and that is why he has been scoring consecutive electoral victories. If you compare him with, say, Rahul Gandhi, Congress’s biggest campaigner, you will note the difference. Rahul visited Gujarat for a day, he addressed two rallies and left. How can Congress win with such a leader? Rahul’s Bharat Jodo Yatra may be a good effort, but if the main campaigner is not visible in Delhi and Gujarat, how can his party workers get the zeal and enthusiasm?
I think opposition leaders have not yet understood Modi fully. They are unable to decide whether to copy Modi or do the opposite. That is why, Modi is always ahead in the race and he continues to win the trust of the people. There lies the reason behind the success of Thursday’s Ahmedabad roadshow.
Modi has one more advantage. His rivals unknowingly give him a handle while campaigning. Modi grabs the point and uses it as a big handle to turn the voters towards him. Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge described him as a ‘Ravana with 100 heads’. Modi picked up this comment and linked it with Gujarat’s pride. He is now telling voters in his rallies to “teach the Congress a lesson for insulting Gujarat”.
I do not know when Congress leaders will realize that abusing Modi, and that too, in his home state Gujarat, is always counter-productive. If you describe Modi as ‘Ravana’ in Gujarat, the people will not tolerate. Remember, how nearly two decades ago, the then Congress President Sonia Gandhi had described Modi as ‘Maut Ke Saudagar’(merchant of death), and the Congress had to bite the dust at the hustings. Remember, when Mani Shanker Aiyar described Modi as ‘Neech’ during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections?
Modi knows how to convert the election game by highlighting such insults. In Modi’s home state, if you use the word ‘Ravana’ for him, it will immediately touch the emotional chords of Gujarati voters. Congress has a good base in Gujarat, it has an ideology. Instead of using insulting words, the Congress leaders could have criticized him and his party on issues and promises, and the party could have reaped gains.
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