Gujarat, which goes to polls in a month from now, may serve as a virtual referendum on twin reform measures of Narendra Modi government, demonetising high value currency notes and the goods and services tax (GST). Modi’s home state will decisively indicate as to what’s in store for the ruling BJP at the Centre and Gujarat, where the party has been in power for over 22 years.
Interestingly, elections to the 182-member Gujarat state assembly will also test the efficacy of the opposition campaign against the BJP government on the twin subjects. Virtually all opposition parties have found the DeMo and GST a convenient stick to beat Modi with after having failed to make a dent into saffron strongholds in the last four years after the BJP’s comprehensive victory in the May 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The Gujarat electorate, it is presumed, will also make its choice known on Rahul Gandhi as leader, campaigner and prospective Congress president who’s making an all out effort to prop up an alternative narrative and stitch a large coalition against Modi.
If ground reports were anything to go by — even though it is premature to prophesise — Congress efforts to whip up a frenzied campaign against demonetisation and GST in Gujarat may not cut much ice with the electorate. Till date, Congress has not been successful in enticing Gujarat’s textile and diamond traders, many of who are nourishing a grouse against Modi’s twin decisions. Given that most traders in this western state have conducted their businesses by word of mouth and loose cash, Congress has plans to breach the BJP’s core base and turn the tide against ruling party that is up against serious incumbency.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley as state election in-charge and Piyush Goyal, who hails from the trading community, have been strategically drafted by the BJP to negate the impact of any campaign by the Congress amongst the traders. India’s oldest party senses an outside chance by concentrating on trading hubs like Surat, Rajkot and Vadodara, the former constituency of Modi, to mobilise people against demonetisation and GST. Extensive road shows and rallies held by Rahul Gandhi in Gujarat seem to resemble the strategy adopted by Congress in UP in alliance with the SP, a tactic that failed to prevent BJP from romping home. There is no reason to suggest why it could work in Gujarat, despite the fact that the Congress is not as weak in Gujarat as it is in UP.
The moribund Congress is banking on the youthful Hardik Patel and his nascent Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS). Alpesh Thakore and Jignesh Mevani appear to have been roped in to wean away the Patels and backward classes from the BJP fold. The BJP appears to be aggressively pushing the envelope showcasing the Modi government’s performance at Centre and in the state.
While campaign against corruption and in favour of demonetisation and GST continue to dominate the saffron camp’s narrative, the party may have to ultimately fall back heavily on Modi’s charisma, voter appeal and Gujarati pride. Whatever the outcome, Gujarat electorate’s verdict will have national ramifications casting its shadow on the assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka, apart from Lok Sabha polls in 2019.