Saroj Sharma in Gandhinagar
WITH barely a week left for the Gujarat Assembly elections, Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s juggernaut seems unstoppable, decimating any opposition it encounters on its path to a sure hat trick win in the state.
When, and not if, the Gujarat CM romps home to victory, he would have made history as the longest serving CM of the country’s most developed state.
To give credit to the Gujarat CM, Modiji’s campaign has been a finely calibrated one, designed to strike a chord and connect with the BJP’s mass following in the state. The campaign has also been designed to woo the growing population of youth in the state. In this context, the BJP’s month long Vivekananda Yuva Vikas Morcha yatra has been an astounding success attracting a groundswell of people wherever it went. “Wherever Modiji went, the response to his yatra was overwhelming,” reveals a BJP state unit leader. The tech-savvy CM’s latest initiative to connect with voters through simultaneously beaming of his speeches making effective and intelligent use of 3D technology has also been a huge hit specially with young voters.
But while Modiji’s victory in the forthcoming elections is a foregone conclusion for political observers who have been studying his spectacular innings over the decade that he’s been at the helm of Gujarat’s polity, what does come as a surprise is the fact that with each successive tenure, there is a complete lack of any credible opposition.
Take, for instance, the state of disarray of the state unit of the Congress party. Bereft of strong leadership, the Congress has always been a house divided with petty personal ambitions of its state leaders sabotaging its chances of presenting a cohesive, viable alternative. A flashback to circa 2007 shows the desperate Congress President Sonia Gandhi coin her infamous “maut ke saudagar” sobriquet for the Gujarat CM- a term which cost the Congress the elections five years ago.
Quite clearly, the party does not seem to have learnt any lessons since then and its armoury seems devoid of any weapons with which to dent the popularity of the Gujarat CM. The choice of candidates itself is a clear indication that the Congress has no game plan for the Gujarat elections. Picking up a political greenhorn like Shweta Bhatt, whose only claim to fame is the fact that she is the spouse of Gujarat’s most controversial IPS officer Sanjeev Bhatt to contest against the CM directly from the Maninagar constituency shows the bankruptcy of leaders in the Congress stable. Shweta Bhatt’s damsel-in-distress and wronged homemaker act is unlikely to cut any ice with women voters who constitute a chunk of Modiji’s mass following. Obviously, the Congress camps are oblivious to the fact that the thrifty Gujarati woman voter is a politically enlightened, discerning, shrewd and intelligent voter who is difficult to fool. Few of them, if any, are likely to forgive or forget Sanjeev Bhatt’s unfounded allegations of the Modi government’s alleged role in the 2002 Godhra riots. The fact that his spouse has been chosen to contest the elections only gives credence to the theory which has been doing the rounds that Bhatt is a Congress stooge who has been shadow boxing for the party in Gujarat in a bid to keep the memory of the riots alive.
As for its remaining motley bunch of spent forces like Shankarsinh Vaghela, Arjun Modhwadia and its Shaktisinh Gohil, none of them has the qualities to emerge as a worthy contender for a Colossus like Modiji. What has made matters worse for the Congress is the interference of the party’s high command in the affairs of the state unit which, this time round, has cost them the loss of one of their most visible faces – former Deputy Chief Minister Narhari Amin. A popular grassroots worker and sports enthusiast who had a long innings at the helm of the Gujarat Cricket Association, Amin has chosen to sever his ties with the Congress after more than 20 years, disgruntled at being ignored by the Congress High Command during ticket distribution. Accusing the Congress leadership of ignoring senior leaders of the party, Amin has thrown his weight behind Modiji and has joined the BJP along with hundreds of his grassroots workers and supporters from the Congress camp. Observers feel Amin’s crossover would only serve to highlight the bankruptcy of leadership in the Congress rank and file.
That’s not the only factor which is likely to swing votes in favour of the BJP. Fly by night parties like former Gujarat CM Keshubhai Patel’s freshly minted Gujarat Parivartan Party, a rag tag bunch of disgruntled septuagenarians, and national parties like the BSP, JD(U) and NCP which are fielding contestants are also unlikely to dent the ruling BJP’s vote bank. In fact, observers feel that the presence of so many inconsequential parties in the fray would only convince the electorate that their main agenda is to play game spoilers and vote stealers and this is likely to consolidate the vote bank again in favour of the ruling BJP.
Pertinently, it's not only a bankruptcy of leadership which is afflicting the Congress in Gujarat but a bankruptcy of ideas as well. Small wonder then that it's election manifesto reads like a me-too of the Sankalp Patra presented by Modiji a few days ago. From low cost housing to employment generation for women and youth to electricity generation and provision of safe drinking water, the Congress election manifesto is almost a photocopy of the BJP’s poll manifesto.
Given the scenario, the writing on the wall is there for all to see. December 20 will give Modiji’s BJP government a thumping mandate to lead Gujarat to even greater heights of prosperity and development over the next five years.
THE Congress gameplan to repeatedly assail the Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi was out in the open, when the party fielded Shweta Bhatt, the wife of suspended IPS officer, Sanjiv Bhatt against the Gujarat Chief Minister.
A beleagured Congress had systemetically organised a hate campaign against Modi since 2002. It has tried all possible tricks to dislodge the chief minister, who in fact continued to grow from strength to strength. If Modi wins, this will be his third consecutive electoral victory.
Sanjiv Bhatt hit the headlines when he filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court of India against Modi for his alleged role in the 2002 Gujarat riots. He made allegations against Modi and SIT. Bhatt was eventually suspended for allegedly “neglecting” his duty. He was recently charge-sheeted for murder in a custodial torture case by a court in Jamnagar district.
All the while Bhatt tried to project the picture of a sincere cop, whose motive was to highlight the truth. The suspended officer had indicated that he had no political agenda.
However, the Congress’ sudden move to pitch Shweta Bhatt to contest the Maninagar seat of the Chief Minister raised many eyebrows. Questions are now being asked whether, Bhatt was a mere “pawn in the hands of Congress.” Of course Shweta Bhatt has denied that.
Lets look at what the Congress said in 2011, when Sanjiv Bhatt moved against Modi.
The Congress spokesperson, Mr Manish Tewari targeted Modi for orchestrating the 2002 Godhra riots and said that the submission of police officer Sanjiv Bhatt in his affidavit in the Supreme Court was a well-known fact for the last nine years. Tewari went on record saying “ “It is an open fact that what happened in Gujarat in 2002 were not riots but state-sponsored massacre of minorities. It was slaughter of humanity. If IPS Bhatt has said so, then we expect the Supreme Court would look into it.”
Replying to the BJP charge in 2011 that that Congress was behind Bhatt’s moves, Tewari had replied: “ “BJP thinks it can speak a lie hundred times and turn it into truth. If it had any morality, it would have sacked Modi in 2002 and submitted him to the court of law. It is the shamelessness of the lead Opposition party that it is backing a chief minister who ordered a massacre in his state.”
Cut to a Congress rally in Gujarat in January this year. At Surendranagar city in the state posters featuring suspended IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt were put up. The poster appealed to people to join the Congress in their fight against chief minister Narendra Modi.
When asked members of the Surendranagar district Congress committee claimed that posters were put up for the Congress’s Satkarma fast against Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s Sadhbhavna fast. District Congress members claimed that they had put up the hoardings after obtaining consent from Bhatt.
However, Sanjiv Bhatt and Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee president Arjun Modhwadia were quick to deny the involvement either of the Congress or Bhatt himself.
The posters put up in Surendranagar read that Bhatt has ideology and is not a politician, while Modi who is a politician has no ideology. “There cannot be any compromise and hence let the battle continue - “Sanjiv Bhatt, IPS,” the poster proclaimed. Bhalaji Solanki, the Surendranagar district Congress president had gone on record saying that , “We had put up the hoardings couple of days before and these were sent to district Congress by Bhatt himself. We just got them painted large and put up all over Surendranagar city.” This is what Bhatt had said then. “ The picture and the poem of Bhuchung Sonam which was quoted in my letter to Narendra Modi are in the public domain and can be used by anyone....”
On October 2, 2011, a story in the local English daily in Gujarat appeared saying “ Congress leaders meet Sanjiv Bhatt’s family.” The story read : “ Congress leaders Shaktisinh Gohil and Narhari Amin today visited family of suspended IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt who was arrested on Friday for allegedly threatening a constable and fabricating evidence. It then quoted Narhari Amin saying : “I and leader of the opposition Shaktisinh Gohil had one to meet Bhatt’s family and extended our support and sympathies to them.”
He went on to add : “We have family-like relations with the Bhatts for so many years. It is unfortunate that a serving IPS officer is treated like this.”
There are many such instances, which raises several questions of a possible link between the IPS officer and Congress in the past. Both sides, however, continued to deny any nexus.
BJP reacted sharply to Congress move in fielding Shweta against Modi. BJP spokesperson, Praksh Javdekar alleged “Congress is exposed thoroughly today. Whatever Bhatt did in last 10 years, the whole architect, script writers and directors were the Congress.” So far Congress has remained silent. But tried to speak through its candidate, Mrs Bhatt, who denied the allegations and said : “ “My fight is for truth, to establish democracy, please support me.”
Local observers feel that fielding Shweta against Modi was yet another blunder for the Congress in the state. “ Congress seems to have nobody who is as strong and powerful as Narendra Modi. So, they thought of fielding Shweta, whose husband is fighting a battle against Modi. But, with no political acumen, it will be hard for Shweta to win against Modi,” local experts feel.
Some feel, the this election, could be Modi’s “toughest battle.” Yet the experts give him an edge not merely because the Opposition, particularly Congress has no leader to match his calibre, but also how Modi worked to develop the state. Also in a corruption-ridden country, Modi has given a corruption free administration.
Congress is dreading Modi’s victory. The party realises that the third consecutive victory could launch the Gujarat chief minister into the national political scenario. That Congress is staring at a possible defeat was also evident from the fact Rahul Gandhi has been kept away from holding any rally in the state.