The Telegraph
Thursday , December 13 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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Keshu and caste hurdles for Modi

Rajkot, Dec.12: Keshubhai Patel’s Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) — a chip off the RSS-BJP block — and changed caste equations forced by delimitation are the main imponderables at play in the 87 seats that vote in the first phase of the Assembly elections tomorrow.

Gujarat has 182 seats.

In an election in which the three major personas — apart from Narendra Modi, the others are Shankersinh Vaghela of the Congress and Keshubhai of the GPP — are from the RSS, the political discourse has virtually been bereft of communalism.

Its contours and substance were outlined and fleshed out by Modi. His new addition was the emergence of a “neo-middle class”, a class of predominantly youths who, he claimed, had straddled the space from above poverty line to an aspirational zone of possessing cellphones, vehicles and even homes in the 11 years he ruled over Gujarat.

The Congress’s campaign remained largely reactive to Modi’s planks. It centred on the criticism that far from hurtling the poor into economic comfort, Modi’s “obsession” with reforms to help foster a new breed of capitalists had made the poor more indigent.

The Congress also harped on the chief minister’s predilection for foregrounding his “achievements” and fusing his persona with the Gujarat “success” narrative.

The 87 seats from Saurashtra and south Gujarat with four of the Ahmedabad district that vote tomorrow threw up a fairly mixed verdict in 2007. The BJP swept Saurashtra, the Congress led in much of the tribal pockets of the south while the BJP was way ahead in the cities and towns.

Among the plusses for the BJP are:

Delimitation’s gift of new urban constituencies.

Surat, for instance, has added three seats. Going by the relatively diminished play of caste in the city spaces and Modi’s rock-star like appeal, the BJP has a decisive edge over its rivals. Youths and women, across caste, class and linguistic lines (including migrants from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh), gravitate towards him.

The Congress’s sense of fatigue was evident in the padlocked door of its main Surat office at 9 in the night.

Voters’ inclination to look at the “big picture” and ensure a third-time win for Modi which, they believe, might promote him as a serious contender for Prime Minister in 2014.

So despite the quotidian pouring of carps against the sitting MLAs, eventually many of them said the issue at stake was Modi’s victory.

A robust organisation.

The RSS’s “covert” backing, coaxed out of chief Mohanrao Bhagwat after Modi’s Nagpur visit in October.

The minuses are:

Keshubhai’s GPP and the prospect of it scooping away the BJP’s Leuva Patel votes in Saurashtra and parts of south Gujarat. The BJP hopes to make up the expected shortfall by “consolidating” the votes of the other castes. But that might be easier said than done because a major non-Patel dominant caste, the Darbari Thakores tend to be with the Congress. The Congress can also count on the support of tribals and Dalits.

The patchy impact of Modi’s so-called development.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s opposition. In places, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal are openly canvassing support for the GPP.

Over-riding the politicalscape is Modi’s presence, accompanied by a ripping rhetoric that the Congress has barely countered, except through Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.