Ranjona Banerji: The 'low'down on the Gujarat polls

Updated: Dec 20, 2017, 06:45 IST | Ranjona Banerji

Something has changed in the air and it is too late now for the Indian prime minister to talk about bringing 'development' in Gujarat

So, who won in Gujarat? I'll tell you what didn't win: The endless whining of the prime minister. "Oh, the Congress did not let me develop Gujarat even though I was chief minister for 12 years, Oh the Congress plotted with Pakistan to make a Muslim chief minister of Gujarat, Oh the Congress has called me a low (neech) person, blah blah blah." Then there's BJP president Amit Shah, who had promised 150 seats to his party. Now, Shah says that when he made that promise, he had not taken into account the Congress's "low-level" campaigning.

BJP president Amit Shah believes that the party lost out on votes because the Congress’s "low-level" campaigning worked. Pic/PTI
BJP president Amit Shah believes that the party lost out on votes because the Congress’s "low-level" campaigning worked. Pic/PTI

This is a remarkable admission. The BJP chief feels that the BJP lost out on votes because the Congress's "low-level" campaigning worked! If this is indeed true, then what does it say about what the people think about Modi and Shah? That they approve of "low-level" campaigning? I am stumped.

Why not go through the campaign for Gujarat and search for "low". The BJP had implied that Rahul Gandhi was the son of Babbar and Khilji, thus making him a - much-hated for the Hindutva voters - Muslim. There are enough WhatsApp forwards about how both Jawaharlal Nehru and Feroze Gandhi were actually Muslim, and being Muslim is anathema to Hindutva bigots, obviously. Then there's a former Indian prime minister, a former vice-president of India and former Indian Army chief and several retired Indian diplomats conspiring with a former Pakistan foreign minister to make a Muslim - Ahmed Patel was never in the running - chief minister of Gujarat.

If it comes down to suspended Congress member Mani Shankar Aiyar's needless comment about Modi being a "low" type of person, then that was the extent of the Congress's "low-level" campaigning. Which means that either the electorate liked it, and this is according to Amit Shah, or the electorate did not, and Rahul Gandhi was correct to suspend Aiyar.

Whatever the reasons, the Congress did better in Gujarat than it has since 1985, with 77 seats in the Gujarat Assembly. The BJP could not cross 100, down from 115 in the last Assembly. So, a sixth win for the BJP, but with considerable damage to its once secure vote base.

The real winners, though, are the three young men who fought against caste, social and religious injustice without proper political bases, although later with Congress support. Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani were relentless and unstinting in their attacks on the existing system, the BJP and unfairness of development so far.

In spite of that so-called 'sex CD' leaked out to somehow belittle Patel, in spite of the constant attacks on his demands, Patel, too young to contest, garnered massive crowds at his rallies, beating the ruling party hollow. Similarly, both Thakor and Mevani spoke to a rising anger, especially in the young, about how development claims were hollow and how traditional, hide-bound society remained tilted against them. Mevani, more than anyone else, also spoke about how badly Muslims had been treated in Gujarat.

Something has changed in the air and it is too late now for the Prime Minister to talk about bringing "development" in Gujarat. He was chief minister of Gujarat for 12 years and has been Prime Minister of India for three-and-a-half. In all those years as chief minister, and in his run up to becoming Prime Minister, Modi boasted ceaselessly about the development he alone had brought to Gujarat and how the 'Gujarat model' would be replicated across India. Come election time in Gujarat, he tells the people of his own state that the Congress stopped him from developing Gujarat? What power for a party that has a mere 45 seats in the Lok Sabha!

This lack of graciousness in either victory or defeat - and make no mistake, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh are victories for the BJP - is a typical characteristic of the macho Hindutva bigot. Whether in real life or on social media, they seem forever festering in their own prejudices.

They may mask it in sneering jeering comments that they think is humour or they may lash out at religious minorities, but they rarely seem happy - unless they are crowing over someone else's misery. In this election, judging by their responses, from the top to the bottom, there is deep unhappiness on display. Gujarat has clearly let Modi and Shah down with this close election. One almost feels sorry for them!

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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