Here are some things you need to know about the Gujarat elections.
1. The Congress has not won a majority in Gujarat since the Babri Masjid was taken down by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) warriors. This is the single most revealing, most important fact of this election. The Ram Janmabhoomi movement was the event that transformed politics in the state. Gujaratis subscribe to the BJP’s anti-Muslim message in full. Those killed by Muslims at Godhra were ordinary Gujaratis returning from kar seva in Ayodhya. Gujarati voters anticipated such a party as the BJP, which would reflect their distilled sentiment. Those who call Gujarat the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS’) “laboratory for Hindutva” don’t understand who the science teacher is here and who the student.
2. To ascribe to his greatness, genius, charisma and ability, chief minister Narendra Modi’s electoral success is to not know that immediately before him were other BJP geniuses, none of whom lost an election either and all of whom sat on majorities. Anybody remember Suresh Mehta? What about Dilip Parikh? Four chief ministers came and went before Modi, removed not by the Gujarati voter, but by internal politics. Through all of their leaders’ mischief against one another, breaking and remaking the party, BJP ideology found solid support from Gujaratis because Gujarat is a BJP-minded state. Modi has triumphed because he stilettoed his internal competition, BJP men who built the party in the state. Kashiram Rana won six Lok Sabha terms from Surat and never lost an election but was not given a ticket by Modi.
3. Modi sits on top of an anti-Muslim consensus. His popularity flows from this. A quick demonstration: There’s no need to go further than observing the vocabulary employed. The most common phrase is “Dekho dekho kaun aaya. Gujarat ka sher aaya!” (Look who has come. It’s Gujarat’s lion). Why the macho imagery? The truth is that he is the lion of Gujarat because the state stood aside while violence was done to Muslim Gujaratis.
The second name for Modi is Chhote Sardar (I am certain he seethes at “chhote”). This is charged with the same sentiment because Gujaratis believe, wrongly, that Vallabhbhai was against Muslims.
Those who think Modi is popular because he has brought great economic change to Gujarat know little about Gujarat and nothing about Gujaratis.
Modi the greatest man since Gandhi? I accept that. Modi the saviour of the Indian nation? Accepted. Modi the sexiest man since Dharmendra? Accepted. Modi the greatest economist since Milton Friedman? Accepted.
But Modi is still popular for showing Muslims their place.
4. Your minister for women and child development is in jail for murdering women and children. Your minister for home is forbidden from returning home because he might influence the police. Your anti-terrorism chief is in jail for murder and blackmail. Does this bother Gujaratis? Not really, and this will not be an issue in the elections. In no other state of India is this possible. Being exposed so thoroughly would have meant shame and flight for Modi in another state. Here, it is a demonstration of his credentials.
5. This is why Modi fights the election against the demonstrably secular Rahul and Sonia Gandhi. Secular is a bad word in Gujarat (no, really. In Gujarat, “secular” means “pro-minority” and “anti-Hindu”).
6. Gujarat has India’s highest per capita consumption of Aastha channel and CNBC-TV18. A deeply devout state that is deeply immersed in making money.
7. The Congress chased away Patels from their party. Who gave up their ancestral lands for the Congress? Patels. It was Patel sacrifice that made satyagraha successful in Bardoli and in their fatherland in Kheda and Charotar. The British did not play with the law like Indians do and those Patels who didn’t pay tax at Vallabhbhai’s calling lost their lands forever. But they did it because the Congress stood with them. Why have they gone away now?
8. Deliberately for the last 30 years, the Congress pursued the village competitors of the Patels, the Kshatriyas. The BJP is the party of the Patels (four of Modi’s nine cabinet ministers are Patels). The Congress is the party of the Kshatriyas. Congress chief Arjun Modhwadia is Kshatriya, before him Bharatsinh Solanki was Kshatriya and his father Madhavsinh. In the Union government, the big Gujarati leader Shankersinh Vaghela is Kshatriya. The Congress must try and bring the Patels, especially my fellow Leuva Patidars, back.
9. The caste mathematics favours the BJP. The Congress alliance, called Kham (Kshatriya + Harijan + Adivasi + Muslim), is frayed. Many Harijans and Adivasis are attracted to Hindutva because it is inclusive. Unless the Congress introduces new thinking it is guaranteed to lose.
10. Gandhi did not do what Gandhi would have done. Mohandas would have gone on a fast in the centre of the city and shamed it into stopping its violence. Sonia was and remains passive for the following reasons. First, all of these things we have seen, she already knows. Politicians understand electorates better than the media. There’s no point fighting your voter. Second, she is vulnerable because we hate her for being foreign and Christian. She is lonely. She took the approach of pragmatism, where principle was required. It is shameful that an RSS man, Shankersinh Vaghela, was made the biggest Congress leader in Gujarat.
In a land that worships saints, one principled stand, devoid of politics and founded only on humanism, would have established her morally, and Gujaratis care deeply for that.
We are bigots, true. But we can be reformed.
Aakar Patel is a writer and a columnist.
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