The fake encounter of Sohrabuddin Shaikh—wanted in connection with many crimes including murder, extortion, kidnapping, drug peddling—by three police officers has caught the attention of the national media.
Had it been a fake encounter in any other state, the issue would have vanished from public memory in just two days. Because the fake encounter happened in the state of Gujarat ruled by Narendra Modi, it never ceases to die.
Narendra Modi is the favourite whipping boy of the media, as he pursues unconventional politics. The national media never lets go an opportunity to rebuke and reprimand Narendra Modi. Despite this, Modi has ignored media all these years, whereas every politician in the country cultivates and kowtows to it.
Strangely, every time, the national media attacks him with all its might, he emerges stronger among his core constituencies in Gujarat.
The issue of fake encounters has been a subject of intense debate in Gujarat in the recent years. The state Congress has highlighted the issue of encounters in a big way in the assembly and outside.
In Gujarat today, the widespread perception is that encounters—fake or real—are a legitimate way to kill terrorists. However, Gujaratis are amazed as to why the case was not hushed up. Only intellectuals and human-rights activists seem to differ with this perception and are aghast at the manner of killings. There is a huge disconnect between public opinion in Gujarat and the national media as well as intelligentsia.
Given his government’s track record, Narendra Modi is widely expected to win the Gujarat assembly elections scheduled later this year by a big margin on the strength of his government’s performance.
Narendra Modi has offered a good government over the last five years and even his worst critics acknowledge this.
Gujarat has the fastest-growing economy and the best infrastructure. Sample this: While neighbouring Maharashtra is struggling to provide power even in the nation’s commercial capital of Mumbai, Gujarat provides 24 hours of domestic power supply in all its villages, a feat that is unparalleled in the country.
Narendra Modi petrifies the Congress like nobody else. He is one leader who has foxed the Congress leadership every time. He has forced the Congress to toe his line many times in the past. Sonia Gandhi had to adopt a soft hindutva stance by visiting temples and shrines before commencing her 2002 assembly election campaigns in Gujarat.
And, when Narendra Modi turned hawkish on the issue of the Narmada dam, the state Congress followed suit and rallied with him against its own government at the Centre for fear of a backlash in the state.
When Modi spoke out against actor Aamir Khan who had made some public statements about the dam, youth Congress in Gujarat followed in his tracks and launched public demonstrations against the film star.
The Congress party thinks that it now has an issue that it can use to its political advantage. But what it doesn’t seem to realize is that the party is already perceived to be ‘soft on terror’, thanks to the inordinate delay in the hanging of Mohammed Afzal Guru after the Supreme Court’s judgement more than seven months ago in the Parliament attack case and its inept handling of the Mumbai serial blasts.
This is one of the principal factors behind the disenchantment of the urban middle classes with the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regime at the Centre.
The UPA government—egged on by the Left parties—has been looking for an opportunity to dismiss Modi’s government and impose President’s rule in Gujarat on some pretext or other.
Knowing its designs, Narendra Modi has always been prompt in taking corrective action whenever the Supreme Court was involved. With blood on their hands in the special economic zone flare up in Nandigram in the Left-ruled West Bengal, the communists now have lost the moral authority to seek any such intervention in Gujarat.
The whole country thought that Gujarat would give a thumbs-down to Narendra Modi and vote his government out of power for the communal clashes that followed the incident in 2002, but he proved his doomsayers wrong.
Machiavellian Modi knows how to convert adversity to his advantage. When Modi links Sohrabuddin with the Latif gang, Dawood Ibrahim and the Mumbai blasts that killed several Gujaratis as well, you can well guess how the Gujaratis are going to respond.
Fighting Narendra Modi on performance alone willprove to be difficult for the Congress in Gujarat. Fighting him on the twin issues of governance and hindutva—a heady cocktail that appeals to the state’s voters—will prove a nightmare.
G.V.L. Narasimha Rao is a political analyst and managing director of Development & Research Services, a research and consulting firm.Your comments on this Monday column, which will alternate between the intersection of business and politics, and pure politics, are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.