THE Gujarat Assembly elections 2012 may prove to be a game changer in more ways than one. Not only is this election being keenly watched as a trailer to the 2014 General elections where political observers cutting across political lines are betting on a Narendra Modi versus Rahul Gandhi for PM contest, the battle for Gujarat may redefine the rules of how to woo voters and win elections.
The historic voter turnout of around 70 per cent in the first phase of polling for the Gujarat Assembly elections on December 13 in a state which can at best be described as moderately politically enlightened with an average voter turnout of less than 60 per cent shows the connect that the Gujarat CM was able to make with his electorate this time round. A brilliant strategist, Modi consciously chose to connect with the burgeoning youth population of the state. His 3D holographic avatars were evidently a hit with the youth who were seen thronging arenas where Modi’s speeches were being telecast. Even on the day of the elections it was Modi’s tweeted message urging people to vote, which succeeded in bringing them to the polling booths in hordes towards the latter half of the day. Jatin Patel, a college student who has exercised his franchise for the first time, said “Our CM is the best leader in the whole country. It is because of him that Gujarat today is known all over the world for its growth, development and peace. And it is also because of his efforts that we have so many large companies setting up bases in our state. This will open up new employment opportunities for us.”
Not only that, the Gujarat CM also managed to rally urban upwardly-mobile voters around him with his personal connect with each voter through effective social media like Twitter, Facebook and the web. But its not only the mediums that he chose but the message itself which have captured the fancy of the electorate. The brisk and record breaking polling witnessed in Gujarat this time clearly indicates that the BJP is not only all set to do a hat trick in Gujarat but may sweep the polls with an unprecedented majority as well. Even the most conservative opinion polls are predicting upwards of 120 seats for the BJP.
Devoid of any negative campaigning, Modi’s main focus has solely been the development agenda of a state he has personally nurtured to a new growth trajectory over the last decade. In sharp contrast, the Congress ran a highly personalised campaign with the single agenda of besmirching Gujarat’s CM’s image. Interestingly, none of its campaigns worked. Not surprisingly then, a rally addressed by Rahul Gandhi at Jamnagar saw crowds thinning half way through his speech despite the best efforts of red faced foot soldiers of the Congress party. When I asked one of those leaving the venue midway whether the function was over, he quipped laconically, “No – that Rahul Gandhi is still speaking.”
In a malicious campaign in which the mud-slinging of the desperate Congress camp plumbed new lows and included allegations of smart marketing of the state, crony capitalism and non-inclusive growth, the most despicable new low was however calling Modi a monkey. Unfazed by the humiliation heaped on him, however, the Gujarat CM acknowledged the new sobriquet as a compliment . Drawing parallels with the monkey God Hanuman, Modi said he was a proud servant of the Gujarati people – all of whom were Lord Rams!
Funnily enough, in a campaign in which the Gujarat CM emerged as a colossus, the Congress party, devoid of any leader of stature at the state level had to once again import the Gandhi family to campaign for it. Even its ads had no face to show at the local level. Interestingly, this time even the usual family albums of the Nehru-Gandhi parivar were given a go-by and local TV starlets were assiduously wooed to make paid appearances instead. That’s possibly because even the Congress party now realises that in Gujarat the collective might of the Gandhi family and its cohorts is insufficient to dent Modi’s popularity.
The new entrant into the fray, septuagenarian former CM Keshubhai Patel too is unlikely to have any impact on the final verdict. Most political observers feel the aged and ailing leader is caught in a time warp and has no connect whatsoever with the youth population. Even among the Leuva patels whom he professes to lead, the common perception is that the Gujarat Parivartan Party is running a completely issueless campaign. “The GPP keeps telling us that injustice has been done to us. But we still cant figure out what that injustice is,” said a local Patel leader in the Saurashtra area.
Given the scenario, December 20 is all set to be a historic day in Gujarat’s history with Modiji all set to get an unprecedented mandate to rule India’s most glorious, prosperous and peaceful state for the third consecutive five year term.