NARENDRA Modi’s hat-trick in the current state elections might, by all measure, be a foregone conclusion, yet the most important issue that serves the BJP in Gujarat is the strategy adopted by the chief minister to propagate a progressive agenda in his state. Unlike any other state in the country Gujarat under Narendra Modi has consistently managed to field economic and national issues during elections against petty vote-bank issues propagated by Congress party in the state.
Even if it is quite popular for political parties like the DMK in Tamil Nadu or Mayawati/ Mulayam Singh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh or the Left in Kerala and West Bangal to announce freebies like laptop computers, bicycles for girls, grinding machines, gas connections, etc, Modi has assiduously desisted from making any such offers to the electorate. Also, just as in 2002 and 2007 elections he had promised to provide clean and transparent administration without any provision for vote-banks politics like free power supply to farmers. All through his chief ministership in the last two terms Modi has promised quality, two phase and load shedding-free power supply all over Gujarat. This has ensured that the power producers and state power distribution companies have never been in the red even as a healthy system was built up. It is made quite clear that people have to pay for the products and services that the government provides by way of infrastructural systems but with the promise of quality and quantity. It is only too well-known that multi-lateral agencies like the World Bank, IMF and the United Nations have time and again paid rich accolades to the state government’s efforts to provide inclusive and extensive public welfare schemes and infrastructure.
Let’s take a few issues that have dominated during this state Assembly election and compare it with the parochial and often insidious campaign mounted by the Opposition parties which include the Congress as well as the Left.
When Narendra Modi wrote to Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh on December 12 about the fear that is prevalent in people of border districts about the idea widely floating in the diplomatic circles of handing over Sir-Creek to Pakistan he touched upon a valid issue of national interest. It came in the wake of reports that the government of India is about to decide on the issue on December 15. Many defence experts have conceded that Dr Manmohan Singh’s government has the propensity to play soft when dealing with an aggressive Pakistan with the hope that turning the other cheek would make the neighbouring country see light. Siachen glacier issue is also being touted by the central government track II negotiators as an item on which India will compromise even if it goes against the wishes of our armed forces.
After the prime minister reacted to Modi’s letter with unusual and unnecessary anger the game plan was becoming clear. Dr Singh, most foreign affairs experts would concede, wants to leave a legacy behind him – and that of solving the Indo-Pak issues which have simmered for nearly 65 years. Narendra Modi’s questions were not answered in any detail in the prime minister’s letter though most observers would state it on record that such a proposal to hand over Sir-Creek to Pakistan has been hanging fire for some time now.
Speaking at a public meeting in Bapunagar in Ahmedabad during an election campaign, Modi said that he had to raise the issue one day before the election day because he had information that the PM will make an announcement on Sir Creek on December 15. The prime minister’s anger was reflective of his irritation of having been preempted on his decision to compromise national interest for the sake of placating a terrorist state.
Modi said that Gujarat had not been taken into confidence even as Sir-Creek issue is not about Gujarat’s security alone but also nation’s security. Modi’s speech at Bapunagar was cut-and-dry: “You (Dr Singh) say negotiations were on since 1998. By bringing Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s name, do not try to mislead the nation. In 2001 Pervez Musharraf came to Agra and that time he did not raise Sir Creek nor did Atal Bihari Vajpayee allow him to raise Sir Creek issue during the discussions.”
He added for good measure, “after elections I will give the voice of the people of Gujarat. Shall we let the hand-over happen? Our nation and its security are threatened and this is what you are doing behind the scenes? For me Sir Creek is not about elections but it is a part of our body and you cannot take away a part of our body!”
Many of the news analysts have questioned the timing of the letter of Modi one day before elections. But, in addition to the expected December 15 reaction of the prime minister notwithstanding, they also fail to realize that elections are about raising national and economic issues and not talk about communal and divisive issues as the Congress party does in every election.
On the other hand, the introduction of India’s most well-known allrounder Irfan Pathan at one of Modi’s election rallies on the last day of campaign set the cat among the pigeons for Congress. Congress accused BJP, and Modi in particular, of playing communal card, meaning Irfan Pathan’s Muslim identity. First, Irfan Pathan was not at any BJP rally in any Muslim dominated constituency. Second, the Congress has been for a long time been using Raj Babbar and former Indian cricket captain Mohammed Azharruddin in several election campaigns in Gujarat. Raj Babbar belongs to Uttar Pradesh and Azharruddin belongs to Hyderabad. At least Irfan Pathan is a Gujarati and has every right to support Narendra Modi.
The fact that Narendra Modi has successfully devised an electoral campaign which encompasses national and economic issues and is inclusive of religious, caste and various other minorities only emphasises that India has not seen a political leader like him in the past. The 3D campaign which has caught the attention of the international media and has become a rage on networking sites on internet reveals yet another example of Modi’s forward thinking leadership. Now the Gujarat election results on December 20 will reaffirm India’s commitment to the comity of civilized and democratic nations.