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Analysis: The undercurrent favours Modi
Sheela Bhatt
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Gujarat Elections 2007

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December 14, 2007

The Gujarat assembly election campaign ended on Friday evening. The state is witnessing a political undercurrent in favour of Chief Minister Narendra Modi [Images]. However, his critics and an analyst like Achyut Yagnik stoutly argue against such a claim. Yagnik says, "Modi's charisma may be there, but there is no undercurrent in favour of Modi."

Here are some pointers favouring Modi:

# Undoubtedly, there is no political leader in Gujarat who has been as popular as Modi since its inception in 1960. Madhavsinh Solanki had charmed the poor and Kashatriyas, but his influence was still, limited in Congress pockets.

Chimanbhai Patel was, largely, a Patel leader. The rest of them had theirs pockets of influence, but none could match Modi's clout over young minds and women.

In the last five years, after appropriating the Hindutva title, Modi has calibrated his communication with people through the language of development. That has clicked with people because the subtext of his act says that under Modi rule you could make money without many political, communal or social disturbances.

There is madness in crediting Modi for every good thing happening in Gujarat. In the last five years, the rains have been good, the Sensex is zooming up, agricultural income is booming and real estate is making middle-class families millionaires. Many middle-class voters told, "Modi shuknaiyal che. (Modi's rule is auspicious.)"

This shows that people are ready to re-elect Modi. In his election meetings, women and youngsters gather to see him. Their faces evoke emotions. They look pleased to see their leader. The relation of trust between Modi and his fans is certainly there.

In Gujarat's political circles, PAKSH means Patels and Khastriyas. Traditionally, they oppose each other with vengeance during election time.

Modi has transcended their political rivalry and is expected to divide them successfully this time. As soon as Keshubhai Patel declared Modi his enemy, Kashtriyas thought why strengthen Keshubhai by backing BJP rebels? Better to trust Modi or Congress' non-Patel candidates, their community leaders argued. The Koli Patels' stance is the only mysterious factor and will be known only after elections.

When the Congress argues that Modi's leadership is not as much identified with the poor, Dalits and tribals as with urban, middle class and upwardly mobile voters of small cities, it is quite believable.

But one can't ignore the fact that today is his moment.

# Modi's pluses and minuses are the only talking points of this election. Modi, being the experienced and cunning election strategist, has written the role for himself and has trapped not only his party but has captured the minds of Congress leaders too.

This is the amazing factor of this election. Jagdish Thakore, Congress candidate says, "We criticise Modi in our speeches. That is enough! Our poor voters like it."

The 2007 election will be known as the Modi versus Modi election. Modi is in the battleground selling his own virtues, while Congress is moving in lanes and bylanes of Gujarat highlighting Modi's vices, weaknesses and lies.

People are asked to vote for Modi's virtues or against Modi's lies. Right now, except amongst the poor people and the have-not classes, the Modi magic works. Modi has staunchly identified himself with Gujarat as Bal Thackeray did with Mumbai in the 60s. He is raising regional parochialism to new heights by repeating, "I am ready to die for Gujarat." "I love my Gujarat." Etc. etc.

# In and around Baroda, Ahmedabad and other urban centers a large section of voters believe that during the Modi government they have remained free of curfews. They think absence of communal tension and riots mean more development and Modi is capable of giving them peace on the communal front.

Modi and his ministers are proudly claiming success for having given "curfew free Gujarat, fearless Gujarat." They say, "Modi means development, Congress means aantakvad. (terrorism)."

On other hand, Muslims and many Congress voters, particularly urban Congress voters also acknowledge that when Modi is in the CM seat, it means, "Tofani ne j monitor banavyo che. (Miscreant is the monitor of our class)" and that guarantees peace in Gujarat.

Modi with his touch of arrogance claims in his speech that unlike the "Manmohan- Sonia sarkar" he has successfully foiled the terror attacks after Akshardham. This argument is appreciated by average people. Modi is asking: Why has the United Progressive Alliance government not been able to stop the terrors attacks all over India while Gujarat has been able to thwart terror attacks? Only one man has died due to terrorism in Gujarat after Akshardham, Modi claims.

Nadim, Congress worker in Juhapura area, told, "Secular people of entire India and the entire media is with us in our fight against Modi, but if Congress comes in power where will we go to lodge complaints? The Congress has done unthinkable when they gave tickets to BJP rebels in this election. They were the leaders of the riots that killed Muslims."

"We will never like Modi. We will never vote for him but we are safer under his rule," he said.

Hanif, government servant and his friend says, "We have peace without justice under Modi's rule. We have opted for peace."

# The Modi government has created the "feel good" factor by giving electricity supply in all homes of Gujarat. There is a vital difference between the 2002 situation and now.

He has failed in setting up new power plants or haven't changed infrastructure fundamentals. Poor people are finding electricity charges quite steep and a section of farmers is unhappy because their power supply is diverted in the domestic grid.

But, a large number of people do mention that the government has given them electricity. For Modi, whatever good government or its wings have done in the name of development is exclusively credited to "Modi" and is helping him to connect to people at this crucial time.

# In last five years, the supply system of drinking water has improved. "No water source" villages do have reliable system of water supply, now.

A large number of villagers told that they have a tap in their homes for the first time in their family history.

Again, there are problems in many areas. The water supplied by government is not of good quality and at many places water is stored in tanks. But, there is perceptible improvement in the entire drinking water system.

# One of the most corrupt sectors of any state government is always the public works department. Gujarat is no different, but in the last five years a lot of work has been done and much faster.

The quality of new roads in the interiors is questionable.

Modi is obviously bluffing when he says, "I am not corrupt, I don't allow corruption" because even his ministers say "off the record" that, "we have freed common men from paying bribes. What they mean is corruption is there, but its pattern has changed."

His ministers are not above the charge of corruption. Modi's party is visibly cash-rich. In normal times, he himself spends public money as if he is king of the kingdom called Gujarat.

Money plays an important role in his hype through mass-communication and in his craft of building of political perceptions (like the perception that he is vikas purush) for use of the media. But, still, the fact is that people are in a mood to believe that he is not corrupt. In this election, his clean image will give him many marks.

# There are several reasons why Congress will fair better than 2002 when it got 51 seats out of 182.

Modi is without any doubt pro-reforms and a right-wing ruler. He has discontinued widow pension and has asked his administration to give them training. Now, trained widows are not getting any work and have been stranded without that little pension.

There are many such situations where Modi has created zero deficit budgets at the cost of poor people's privileges.

His penchant to give permission to new education institutes is appreciated, but he gives permission to self-finance education bodies and not to schools which plan to run on government grants.

As a result in tribal areas, poor people have ended up paying school fees for the first time ever.

But, still the overall thrust of Gujarat society is such that Modi will score points.

The hidden social fight of upper/middle class versus the poor people is taking a new direction in Gujarat. Modi is benefiting out of it.

He has successfully created hype over his social schemes which are actually reallocation of funds under new names.

The Narmada canal is another issue largely going in his favour.

Although the canal work is not completed and there are proofs of corruption in another state level canal scheme named Sujlam-Sufalam, the craving for infrastructure is so intense all over the state that the corruption issue is not getting people's attention.

In spite of corruption at the higher level (quite Western/American style), Modi has ensured that at the lower level and panchayat level ordinary people get computerised copies of their land ownership (called in Gujarati -- saat-bara na utara).

The e-government is a pet subject of Modi and its help in systemising land records does make an impact on young people.

To repeat on a broader level, Modi is selling dreams in villages and towns where his development hasn't reached yet and where his right-wing economic thinking is hurting poor people.

The Congress has countered his attempt to sell starry ideas, but his charisma attempts to control the damage of robust Congress opposition in many places.

While in urban areas Modi's offer to have a "curfew free Gujarat" is clicking with people who love the multi-fold appreciation of their stock, homes and land prices.

If you look at the emotional connection between Modi and his audience in his election meetings, it is easy to predict that Modi is all set to win.

"Even if he wins, his party will lose," Yagnik reacts.

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