Eye on elections, Narendra Modi back in Gujarat
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed crowds in his home state of Gujarat on Saturday, having already addressed 17 public events in the poll-bound state since March in a reaffirmation that winning elections is what drives the current dispensation.
On Tuesday, Modi will address the Garib Kalyan Karyakram, a Union government event related to welfare of the poor, from Shimla in Himachal Pradesh, another state where polls are due late this year.
BJP general secretary Arun Singh told the media that Modi would be “addressing the country” through the Shimla event, which appears part of a voter outreach campaign the BJP has lined up to mark eight years of the current government.
“The BJP has decided that party leaders and workers will listen to the Prime Minister (the Shimla address) at (all the) subdivisions in the country,” Singh said.
Past Prime Ministers too have used official events to indirectly seek votes but, many political observers say, not on the scale of Modi.
Poll-bound states tend to witness a flurry of official events by the Prime Minister, mostly relating to project inaugurations or foundation-stone laying.
Large crowds are mobilised, often using the party machinery — as was done on Saturday for Modi’s inauguration of a multi-speciality hospital in Gujarat’s Rajkot district, BJP sources said.
The hospital has been built by a trust dedicated to the Patidar community. The event, which Modi attended in his capacity as Prime Minister and which was covered by the central government’s publicity arm PIB, appeared an outreach to the Patidar community that makes up around 12 per cent of Gujarat’s population.
The BJP is trying to win back the Patidar or Patel community, which is believed to have turned its back on the BJP in the last Assembly elections.
“I have left no stone unturned in the service of the motherland because of the values and education I received here. The people of Gujarat taught me how to live for society,” Modi told the event, appearing to pander to Gujarati pride.
The BJP has always sought to turn Gujarat elections into a referendum on Modi rather than on the state government’s performance. The intent is higher this time given that the BJP’s tally fell to 99 in the 182-member House in 2017, compared to 115-odd in 2012 when Modi was chief minister.
The 2017 setback owed largely to Patidar anger and Hardik Patel’s agitation for reservation for the community. Hardik has already quit the Congress and the BJP is hoping to induct him and consolidate Patidar votes.
Modi has therefore turned his attention to Gujarat rather early this time, given that the polls are due only in December. Party leaders said the state would see many more events featuring the Prime Minister in the run-up to the elections.
After the hospital inauguration, Modi travelled to Gandhinagar to address a seminar of the leaders of various cooperative bodies and inaugurate a fertiliser plant belonging to the state’s powerful and electorally crucial cooperatives.
Union home minister Amit Shah, who holds the cooperation portfolio at the Centre and is likely to be the BJP’s chief strategist for the Gujarat polls, attended the event.
After Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, a bunch of states will be voting next year. These states — which include Karnataka, Telangana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Tripura — can soon expect to see the Prime Minister visiting them for official events.