High-stake elections begin in India’s Gujarat

Author: Sanjay KumarSat, 2017-12-09 20:54ID: 1512831332099267000NEW DELHI: A hugely significant regional election in India’s western state of Gujarat got underway on Saturday. Eighty-nine of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state’s 182 assembly seats were up for grabs in the first phase. The remaining 93 seats will be contested on Dec. 14.
No other state election in recent memory has attracted as much national and international attention as Gujarat’s is currently.
What is at stake is the political standing of two important national players: Modi and the Congress Party’s President-elect Rahul Gandhi.
The BJP has been ruling Gujarat since 1995. Modi served as the state’s chief minister for more than 12 years before he moved to Delhi as prime minister in 2014. For the first time in that period, however, the right-wing party seems to be in trouble, and Modi faces a genuine challenge to his authority in his home state.
Large-scale discontent across different social groups has given the BJP reason to be nervous. Gujarat’s predominant caste, Patidar, which comprises around 13 percent of the total population and has been the traditional backbone of the BJP, has revolted against the party on the issue of rising unemployment in the state. Castes designated as Other Backward Class (OBC) make up more than 40 percent of the population and have also been on warpath due to the decline of agriculture and the government’s lack of support for farmers.
In the last month, Modi has spent most of his time in Gujarat, and it is unusual for a national leader to focus so heavily on a provincial election. More than half of his Cabinet ministers, around 40 of them, have also been roped in to provide logistical support to the BJP.
The reason is simple: It is a question of political survival for Modi. A poor showing in his home state will take the shine off the BJP government and could have severe political ramifications for the ruling party in Delhi.
On the other hand, Gandhi has been gaining huge traction in the state and — for the first time in two decades — his party seems to be in contention. Riding a wave of popular support, Gandhi, who will soon take charge as party president following an uncontested nomination, has also spent much of his time recently in Gujarat, interacting with all the disparate caste and social groups, who are disillusioned with the incumbent BJP.
“Modi is under great pressure,” said Dr. Hari Desai, a political analyst based in Ahmadabad. “The election is significant not only for Gujarat but for the entire nation, because if Modi loses the elections he loses the 2019 general elections. He could lose his leadership position in the party even before the next election.”
Talking to Arab News, Desai said: “Even if Modi wins but his victory margin is less vis-à-vis Congress, it would be a defeat for an all-powerful man and he might lose the political narrative at the national level.”
Most of the opinion polls give the BJP an edge, but with a reduced margin of victory.
Achyut Yagnik of the Center for Social Knowledge and Action, a social NGO based in Ahmedabad, told Arab News: “What is at stake is the political prestige of Modi and Amit Shah, the president of the BJP, who also hails from Gujarat.
“A victory for the BJP with a small margin would also be a defeat for Modi. It would dent Modi’s larger-than-life image and make him politically vulnerable.
“Gujarat is no longer a cakewalk for Modi,” he said. “The younger generation is unhappy because Modi always supported big industries at the cost of small and medium industries. In the last two years, 25 percent of small-scale industries closed down, creating unemployment.”
Analysts agreed that whether Congress loses or wins, Gandhi’s image is in for a huge makeover.
Desai called Gandhi Modi’s “main challenger in national politics,” adding, “Rahul is quite focused and asking tough questions of Modi. The BJP is trying hard to divert attention from core issues and focus on emotional issues, like religion, but Gandhi has not given space for Modi to maneuver this time.
“Gandhi has emerged as a popular leader in this election and this will impact national politics.”
Gujarat’s election results will be confirmed on Dec. 18. They could decide the future of Indian politics.
Main category: WorldTags: IndiaNarendra ModiElectionBJPRahul Gandhirelated_nodes: India’s PM Modi faces test as his home state votesCommunal forces shown the door in key India electionsBollywood turns political in India election season

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