Does BJP really need to worry about Gujarat election?

Does BJP really need to worry about Gujarat election?

Article first published in @ABP News: (click here)

A major success of the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah model of electioneering is that they have turned political predictions into a risky business. Poll after poll they have upset the calculations of the pundits. Psephologists now tend to put up their hands in despair. Opinion polls have become, as they say in Mumbai, a “time-pass” activity.

That is not to say that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah have come out winners on every outing. We have the glaring examples of Delhi and Bihar elections when they had to bite the dust and eat crow. But generally the rule has been to expect the unexpected from these two reigning masters of the electioneering game.

Thus on the last lap of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly election when Modi descended on Varanasi and decided to camp there for three days, it was seen by expert election-watchers as a sure sign of nervousness. The outcome that followed left many worthies with egg on their face.

In an almost 180 degree turn, the same pundits are interpreting BJP’s OTT (over-the-top) style of campaigning in Gujarat as a Sun Tzu-ian war strategy of not leaving anything to chance. So, if 30 BJP Ministers are going to land in Gujarat on the same day and the Winter Session of Parliament is being postponed to allow time for hitting the campaign trail by MPs, the Lutyens Commentariat is willing to take a much more benign view of it. Once eaten several times shy is what one can say, twisting an old adage, to explain their kind indulgence.

However, in the same breath, no one will deny that the BJP is fighting huge negativity on the ground. And this is no ordinary anti-incumbency. Although GST and demonetisation are being made election issues, they were at best only the triggers. Lying beneath was seething disenchantment with arrogance and yes, the unmentionable word, growing corruption at the local level as one hears from different quarters.

Someone had once remarked, partly in jest, Mulayam Singh Yadav is the tallest Muslim leader in the country and Modi a de facto Patel leader. Certainly the old order has changed in Uttar Pradesh. It would be a pointless exercise in counter-factual analysis to ask if the Patidar agitation for quota would have been handled any differently if Modi were still the Chief Minister. However, the fact remains that large sections of the Patidar community have been alienated. The BJP can only hope to split its ranks and but not entirely turn them around in its favour.

So, if Amit Shah is still exuding supreme confidence it is because of his trust in the BJP-RSS ground machinery to deliver the goods and his faith that Gujaratis will not let Narendra Modi down. It is also the Modi factor that will hold the various factions within the State BJP (certainly, per all accounts, Anandiben is not happy at the way she was treated). But the fact that Amit Shah and the BJP had to play the ultimate 'Brahmastra' of Modi is telling.

That raises the very important question about how much of Modi’s political capital the BJP is willing to expend till the 2019 Lok Sabha election. If Gujarat is proving to be tough for the BJP, the coming fixtures in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan are going to be even more challenging. Will Modi again have to carry all these States across the finishing line on his lone shoulders?

A philosopher might have said that is the destiny of Modi. From the day he was anointed as Prime Minister, every election, municipalities and panchayats included, have been a 'test' for him. For those who believe in astrology, there must be something in his horoscope that nothing is ever a cakewalk for him. Anything he says or does is always the subject of debate and criticism. It is a huge tribute to his determination and self-conviction that he comes out on top every time.

No matter the supernatural powers that 'Brand Modi' may be endowed with, it would require more than a miracle for the law of diminishing returns not to set in. To ensure that the entire onus does not fall on Modi, the leadership in all the States going in for the elections have to get their act together and start delivering much before the run-up to the polls begins.

More importantly, the Chief Ministers must ensure there are no game-spoilers before that, whether by design or bg default, which will cause much of the campaign energies to be spent on damage-control instead of focussing on the positives that are likely to come out of the mega-reforms and the welfare schemes initiated by Modi over the last three years.

Coming back to Gujarat, if Modi was battling only with GST and demonetisation it would have probably been much easier for him to pull it off on the strength of his own charisma and credibility. But the added weight of disenchantment with governance since he moved to Delhi has provided the opposition wirh a window of opportunity.

The BJP has been lucky to have one of the most inept and disjointed national opposition in recent times. But the administrative failures of its State Governments are turning out to be its biggest enemy. This has given a voice to Rahul Gandhi and spunk to Hardik Patel that was wholly avoidable.

That is why despite favourable opinion polls and a generally optimistic consensus among political observers and analysts, Gujarat 2017 is still not a done deal for the BJP. A shadow of doubt and niggling worry remains about the outcome which is almost entirely of its own doing.

The takeaway for the BJP from Gujarat even in victory would be: Do not do unto yourself what the opposition is not capable of doing unto you.

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