| Vajpayee being greeted by Modi at a rally in Ahmedabad on Monday. (Reuters)
North and central Gujarat, Dec. 9: The BJP’s brains trust for the elections is gambling heavily on the party making deep inroads in north and central Gujarat even if it were to take losses in Saurashtra and Kutch.
Not surprisingly, the Sangh parivar has meshed into one in the districts of Panchmahal (Godhra), Sabarkantha and Ahmedabad. The result is that electioneering here is brazenly communal, the appeal for votes is to Hindus only.
To further fuel the Sangh charge, a VHP leader said efforts were on to deploy Sadhvi Rithambhara. The sanyasin, known for her vitriolic speeches, is expected to address meetings in this zone.
The Sangh Parivar today ratcheted up its campaign to a shrill pitch seeking to whip up a “counter backlash” after what they said was a fatwa issued by Muslim ulemas on Id day.
Half-page advertisements in major Gujarati dailies have been booked for tomorrow. VHP volunteers dispersed among weddings taking place in Ahmedabad today and distributed handbills.
The “counter backlash” is sought to be whipped up by the Sangh as part of this effort to ensure a late swing as campaigning closes tomorrow.
BJP leaders admit in private that their campaign in Gujarat has gone from crest to trough to crest. The crest was last scaled during Modi’s Gaurav Yatra but subsequently, they felt that development issues and a systematic Congress campaign was aimed at undermining the pro-Hindutva sentiment.
North and central Gujarat is also the “riot-zone”. Most of the 79 constituencies identified by the Election Commission as highly sensitive are here. Of these 79 constituencies, the BJP has sitting MLAs in 42 and the Congress in 33.
Together, north and central Gujarat account for 102 seats. The Gujarat Assembly has a total of 182 seats. The BJP won 52 out of 58 from Saurashtra and Kutch in 1998. In the north in 1998, the BJP won in 37 of 52 seats and the Congress (including the then RJP) in 15; in the central, the BJP won in 28 and the Congress in 13, the balance going to Independents and others.
This is also the region of swifter political shifts in recent times. In the 1999 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress took a lead in more segments in the north than the BJP. (North & central districts include — Mehsana, Patan, Sabarkantha, Banaskantha, Ahmedabad, Panchmahal, Kheda and Baroda).
The VHP has rolled out vans with equipment for video shows on the Godhra carnage, despite the poll panel rulings. Indeed, the faces of VHP/BJP workers at the village level are one and the same.
In 1985, the Congress’ Madhavsinh Solanki put together the “KHAM” alliance — Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim — that saw the party to power. Over the years, the Sangh at first chipped away at it and is now threatening to wipe out even its remnants.
“You will find ‘Hinduvaad’ only in Gujarat,” rues Moinuddin Hanif, who runs a grocery in Himmatnagar, Sabarkantha, and is also the mohalla intellectual. “Elsewhere, there is casteism.” To him, ‘Hinduvaad’ means “militant, Muslim-beating Hinduism”.
It is the overcoming of KHAM by the BJP that saw it to power. In the pogrom that followed Godhra and the consequent consolidation of Hindu votes the Sangh expects, the ploy adopted is a time-tested tactic, re-used to generate a movement that will withstand anti-incumbency. The anti-incumbency factor is evident here, as in Saurashtra, but here the urban youth lapse more quickly into Hindutva lingo.
For now at least, the “caste” leadership of the Hindutva forces — such as the visibly more prosperous Patels — is making concessions to mobilise tribals and backwards.
This mobilisation has not come about overnight, but through a systematic and sustained campaign by the VHP, primarily on the Babri Masjid issue. The campaign has taken the form of special pujas and other rituals — functions that are not overtly political.
In this mobilisation of Hindus irrespective of caste, Narendra Modi’s BJP in Gujarat is the very anti-thesis of Laloo Prasad Yadav’s RJD in Bihar. Where Laloo Prasad whittled down the saffron challenge by widening and deepening caste rifts, Modi has used faith to meld antagonistic castes together. Yet, both Modi and Laloo Prasad portray themselves as anti-establishment even as they rule.
Modi is always harping on the “Gujarati asmita, Gujarati Gaurav” just as Laloo Prasad turned the BJP’s allegation of “jungle raj” in Bihar to whip up a regional sentiment. For both, also, that target is, one way or other the Election Commission: Laloo Prasad versus Seshan in 1995 and Modi versus Lyngdoh in 2002.