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Reading Gujarat's message right
B S Raghavan
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December 23, 2007
The expected has happened and the Bharatiya Janata Party has romped home to an impressive victory for a third time in succession in Gujarat, smashing the biggest bogey of Indian politics -- the anti-incumbency factor. Only time will tell whether Gujarat too will see a pattern similar to the one in West Bengal, where the same dispensation (the Left parties) has had an uninterrupted spell.

For the present, there is no denying the decisive nature of the BJP's landslide win. It has been uniform in its scope and sweep. It has not just that prevailed in rural, urban and tribal constituencies, but also it has been able to override the revolt of some heavyweights within the party in their strongholds. Indications are that it may even improve its popular share of votes from what it was in 2002.

There can be no question that the party owes its laurels to its star performer: Narendra Modi [Images]. The electoral battle was, from start to finish, dominated by him. He spared no effort, in fact, he went all out and laid his leadership on the line to get the succulent electoral plums to drop into the party's basket. There is no getting away from the fact that the triumph in Gujarat was almost entirely his handiwork. And not without reason.

On all accounts, he is a brisk, tough, no-nonsense political leader who is also an effective administrator and a man of vision. He is widely credited with giving Gujarat five years of purposeful governance marked by increased flow of investments, efficient implementation of welfare schemes and development projects and people-friendly service delivery. More than all, there has been not a whiff of corruption or scandal associated with him. His charisma, therefore, was derived, not from superficial PR build-up, but from the solid stuff of integrity, leadership from up front and ability to relate to the people at large.

Hinge of fate

The inability of other parties contesting the election to project anyone matching him in calibre and competence made it a cakewalk for the party. Also, Congress President Sonia Gandhi [Images] made the blunder of playing into his hands by the use of intemperate phraseology in attacking the state government including 'jhoote (mendacious), beiman (shameless) and maut ka saudagar (merchants of death)'. Another luminary of the same party, Digvijay Singh, made things worse by his mention of 'Hindu terrorism'.

This was the hinge of fate of the whole campaign. It gave an immediate and powerful emotional handle to Modi to turn the tables on the Congress and paint it as a party going soft on terrorism and compromising national security for the sake of capitalising on Muslim vote banks.

He was also able to invoke Gujarati pride, as N T Rama Rao did in Andhra Pradesh in 1983 to send the Congress into the wilderness within nine months of forming his Telugu Desam Party.

From that point on, Modi never allowed the initiative to slip out of his hands. Never since India's Independence has an election for a state assembly been watched not only by India but all over the world so intensely. The reason is the prevalence of the feeling commonly held among the public and perceptive analysts alike that the significance of the result extends far beyond the success of a party or an individual.

The smug, self-serving and corrupt political formations in the rest of the polity, ineffectually running a soft State and feathering their own nests, will be in for trouble if they do not read the message of the electorate of Gujarat right. They will miss its purport altogether unless they purge themselves of their hang-ups and fixations of the past.

It will be simplistic as well as unwise to portray it as a case of secularism versus Hindutva.

The message from Gujarat is that people want to see in their leaders the time-honoured values of intellectual honesty, personal integrity, performance-oriented governance and straight dealing. They do not any longer want to put up with politicians who speak differently from different corners of the mouth and soft-pedal the looming dangers to the nation from hostile forces and traitorous groups.

So long as those they elect as their servants are sensitive to their concerns and meet their expectations, they do not care whether they are votaries of whatever labels are affixed on them. For, regardless of what the political and media pundits may say, from the people's perspective nothing can be more excruciatingly oppressive than a government that does not govern or a government of the crooks, by the crooks and for the crooks.

B S Raghavan is a former civil servant. He now lives in Chennai.

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