The first phase of the Gujarat elections concluded on 1 December 2022 with almost 63 per cent voter turnout.
On the same day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a more than 30 km long road show, traversing various parts of Ahmedabad to campaign for the second phase.
The crowds lining up through the entire stretch for a political leader is not a small feat when cynicism towards political leadership is only growing globally. However, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), under Modi, has set itself as a default option for the people of Gujarat.
Modi Equals Nation
With Modi as a brand, national issues are bound to find resonance in the state election. Sometimes, so much so, that the local leadership becomes irrelevant to the voter.
India’s standing in the world appeals to the voter more than the civic issues he or she must deal with on a regular basis. This also stems from the fact that people do not see themselves as individual entities, but as part of a larger whole.
The nationalism pitch has been most beneficial to the BJP as it captures the national imagination like once Indian National Congress did during the freedom struggle.
During his chief ministership, Modi seamlessly aligned his developmental agenda with Gujarati pride or ‘asmita’. When he spoke, he made it clear that he spoke on the behalf of Gujaratis.
The discourse pulled him through propaganda wars and false narratives and brought him to the national stage.
For a business-friendly state like Gujarat, the sense of security is invaluable, which the Modi brand assures. The people of the state were the first to witness Modi’s no-nonsense approach and personally vouch for it.
With his actions, policies, and messaging, Prime Minister Modi defined himself as the most trusted leader when it comes to matters of national security and integrity.
AAP Fighting for Second Position
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is the new entrant in the political milieu of the state. Though it has molded its messaging to a Gujarati voter in the colours of nationalism and a softer Hindutva, its pitch lacks conviction.
Its state president’s unsavoury remarks on Hindu traditions or its government’s (now former) minister’s call to denounce Hindu Gods and Goddesses are not hidden from the people.
Yet, there is a constituency, mostly comprising Patidars, who wish to shake the BJP out of a sense of complacency that might have seeped in, owing to being in power for 27 long years. People speak of AAP's impact in the Varachha road constituency, one of the sixteen seats in Surat.
Most of them have heard about the much-publicized “Delhi model” which assures 300 units of free power. There is also curiosity about the education and health infrastructure in the capital under the AAP government.
Charur Gajera, a Surat’s diamond market worker, told Swarajya that the Patidar community in Varachha road are putting their weight behind AAP in this election.
However, they do not have a strong reason to support the new party. The refrain is of wanting ‘change’. They want to give the party, which has expanded to Punjab, a chance.
More than the support for AAP, there is anger against the BJP in some of the areas in Surat. From past records, it would be hard to tell how much of the anger would translate into votes.
In the previous election, when the Patidar agitation was still in people’s minds, BJP managed to win 14 out of 16 seats in Surat, the epicentre of the quota stir.
This time, the voter does not have that as a primary consideration. In the 2021 Surat Municipal Corporation elections, most of the talk after the results was of AAP winning 27 seats and Congress’ complete dismissal. But, the fact that BJP, too, increased its tally to 93 seats hardly caught anyone’s attention.
At most, AAP could replace Congress as the main opposition in a handful of the assemblies. The dip in the voter turnout in Surat, too, indicates that the claims of AAP sweeping the election, in any way, do not hold water.
In this election around 62 per cent of voter turnout has been recorded as compared to 66.79 per cent in 2017.
Nationalism Vs Freebies
During his campaign in Surat, before the first phase, Prime Minister Modi marked a clear distinction between BJP and the other parties. He said that only his party could carry out ‘surgical strikes’ against terrorism, while other parties, afflicted by politics of appeasement, could never deal with terror with a steely determination.
He made this appeal in the Patel-dominated constituency of Varachha road, which is also where AAP finds itself the strongest.
It could be of scant doubt that Prime Minister Modi knows the pulse of Gujarat. Therefore, his statement invoking national security does not come without thought.
In fact, he has muted the white noise of “parivartan” and distilled the political choice of the voters down to the question of nationalism or freebies.
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