It is rare these days for political analysts to get their poll predictions right but allow this columnist to pat himself on the back. In April, a month before it happened, The Bottom Line predicted that Mayawati will easily win in Uttar Pradesh even as everyone was talking about a hung assembly. On 10 December, this Mint column also predicted the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will win at least 115 seats as the party retains power on the back of Narendra Modi’s leadership.
But more than accurate poll forecasts, I am pleased because the BJP’s win, with 117 out of 182 seats, is also a victory for good governance and a victory for an uncompromising and personally incorruptible Modi.
The Congress party’s criticism that the election outcome is a result of communal politics and effective mobilization of voters, is a post-defeat red herring as Hindutva wasn’t the issue in this election. Gujarat’s voters, in the end, voted for development and credible leadership.
Big victory: Supporters celebrate BJP’s win in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.
In fact, the Congress party should be thankful. If Hindutva had indeed been a major issue, the party would not have picked up 11 seats to go up to 62 but actually come down to about 40 seats, as the combined onslaught of development and Hindutva would have decimated the party. Indeed, the BJP lost as many as 19 seats in the state’s central region, the hotbed of Hindutva, finishing with 19 seats and behind the Congress party’s tally of 22 seats.
The 2007 Gujarat assembly elections were unique in many ways. Seldom, in Indian electoral history, has there been a euphoric public response to an election campaign of an incumbent chief minister, who has completed more than six years in office and was asking for a record third term.
And if there was one factor that saw the BJP pull it off, it was Modi’s personal integrity, honesty and his unbending leadership. He defied the entire media; particularly the English media, ignored greedy and demanding party colleagues; disregarded the unreasonable demands of the party cadres and tamed the administration.
All this helped Modi cultivate a macho image, which blended well with his personal qualities of integrity and honesty. The effect is the making of a mass leader—with a dash of being a folk hero—who has qualities somewhat unusual in contemporary Indian politics.
The second biggest factor that swung the election in favour of the BJP was the widespread belief that the Modi-led government achieved more in five years than what the Congress party did in 45 years of being in power in Gujarat.
The Congress party’s attempts to dismiss the BJP’s claims of economic development and assertions that Gujarat lags behind on a number of development indicators, even as all the money for development initiatives in the state came from Union government’s budget, fell on deaf ears.
It was a typical tactical blunder on part of the Congress where it denied there was much development and then wanted to stake claim to having fuelled the development with Central government policies. Such openly contradictory positions clearly hurt the party.
While Modi talked of Gujarat as a progressive state and a top development and industry destination, the Congress ridiculed his claims and called it a regressive state. Modi talked of security and controlling terrorism, while the Congress talked of Shorabuddin, 2002 riots and the state’s gory past. While Modi talked of his vision and dream, the Congress continued to rake up the past and dubbed the elected Modi government as “merchants of death”.
While Modi has created a sense of euphoria in the state, Congress tried to promote cynicism and stoke up a strong “feel bad” factor in the state. For many voters of Gujarat with a strong sense of regional identity and pride, Congress’ negative campaign proved to be a virtual attack on their regional pride and dignity.
The big victory for Modi is unusual in Indian politics because he has not practised populism to win elections. Meanwhile, despite making populist promises such as offers of free colour televisions, cheap rice and waiver of electricity dues, the Congress party stumbled badly.
In that sense, Modi’s victory is also a victory for prudent economics and sensible governance.
G.V.L. Narasimha Rao is a political analyst and managing director of Development & Research Services, a research consulting firm. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org