The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Confidence trickles from BJP to Cong

New Delhi, Dec. 10: As curtains came down on campaigning in Gujarat today, it was time for stocktaking at the BJP and Congress offices.

The saffron party seemed a little diffident about hitting the majority mark after the initial euphoria generated by Godhra, terrorism and the sweep projected by some opinion polls while the challenger appeared slightly more confident of putting up a “good” fight.

BJP sources said they relied on communal polarisation, the vote-garnering ability and efficiency of the RSS, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal, and Narendra Modi’s persona to help sustain the edge they claimed to have over the Congress.

Congress sources, on the other hand, said even if the party fell short of a workable majority, converting what seemed like a one-sided, pro-BJP mandate six months ago into a close fight was no mean achievement.

“We came from behind and succeeded in arresting a pro-Hindutva wave,” the sources maintained.

The Congress also claimed that they “forced” the BJP to enlarge the scope of its Hindutva campaign to include the issues of development and economics after its manifesto focused on them.

However, once the BJP concluded that speaking on local issues was not helping it win new voters because of anti-incumbency sentiments, its strategy was to fall back on communalism to try and retain its core support base.

Party spokesman V.K. Malhotra indicated the outlook by alleging that the Congress had become a Muslim League clone. “In the last seven days, in all Muslim-dominated pockets, fatwas have been issued in the Congress’ favour. The fatwas looked like as though they were meant for the Muslim League,” he said, adding that while the Election Commission did not take cognisance of them, the Gujarat voters would give a “fitting reply”.

Despite Malhotra’s bravado, the BJP’s reading was that the Hindutva card had not worked and Hindus were divided more pronouncedly along caste lines this time. Sources conceded they could no longer take for granted the support of Gujarat’s two most powerful castes: the Patels and the Kshatriyas.

While the Patels were getting progressively alienated every time former chief minister Keshubhai Patel declared that Modi would be the next chief minister, sources said the Kshatriyas regarded state Congress president Shankersinh Vaghela as their bona fide leader.

The sources admitted that Modi and the VHP went “overboard” on terrorism by throwing the spotlight on Godhra and Akshardham in the Gaurav Yatra and the campaign that followed. “Their rhetoric was out of synch with the ground sentiments because after the attack on the VHP leader (Jaideep Patel in Ahmedabad), people were frightened. Far from seeing our government as their only saviour, they began to wonder why such incidents increased after Modi took over,” they said.

The Congress’ perception was that its slogan of “security, peace and economic well-being” had touched the “right chord”. “Financial stability and prosperity are inseparable from security. If you don’t feel secure and free to move around, how will you run your trade and business'” the sources explained.

However, the Congress sources were sceptical about whether the party could beat the BJP to it because, as they put it, “everything depends on voter mobilisation”. “The question is, are even the non-BJP voters sufficiently enthused to unseat Modi or are they indifferent to who will be the chief minister as they were in 1995 and 1998'” they asked.

The BJP sources rephrased the Congress’ anxiety in their own context: “For us the issue is barring our committed supporters, are the floating voters dying to see Modi as the chief minister again'” The key to victory, as the two main players saw it, lay in who pulled the majority of the “undecided” votes.

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