Editorial: Battleground Gujarat

Srinagar: Ever since Narendra Modi rose in India’s political firmament and went on to become one of the country’s most powerful Prime Ministers, Gujarat has assumed a political significance that is  disproportionately higher than the other states. But this significance is more symbolic than electoral in nature. Gujarat has just 26 parliament constituencies, lesser than so many other states. Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, not to mention the top of the pile Uttar Pradesh have  more Lok Sabha seats. But Gujarat still matters. And it is due largely to the  PM Modi and the president of his party Amit Shah. The duo first conquered Gujarat and then moved on to enact this  spectacular political feat at the national level and where, as of now, it seems impossible to dislodge them. But could they be toppled in their home state where they have been invincible for the past one and a half decade? This is a question that has currently riveted India. And as the ongoing election campaign in Gujarat winds down to the voting days, the suspense across the country is growing. And the people are even expecting a big upset. And there is a reason for it. And it is the sudden rise in the political stock of Rahul Gandhi. Or so it seems.

Campaigning in the state, the Congress Vice President has come across as a politician who appears to be a giant killer – albeit not quiet there. But there is no mistaking the fact that he has acquired the gravitas he appeared to have been sorely missing.  There is much that has changed in the way Gandhi has carried himself in this election.  His speeches have drawn attention of one and all and even at times put the otherwise rampaging saffron party on the defensive. And it seems to have been made possible by the change in his style of communication with the people. He has tried to copy Modi’s style of speech delivery and in turn sought to beat the PM at his own game.

What is more, he has even tried to beat Modi’s  ideological appeal by appropriating aspects of his Hindutva philosophy, choosing to ply a softer version of it.  He has also paid more attention to the framing of his arguments enabling him to generate a bigger ideological contestation than he did earlier. But it is true, Gandhi still seems a long way off from matching Modi’s overarching political persona. A deft blend of ideology and a development agenda and Modi’s larger than life leadership may yet again get the BJP another election win, increasing the odds  that he might steer his party one more  spectacular triumph  in 2019. In fact, the BJP could even get a stronger majority than it did in 2014 polls. But a possible loss in Gujarat would be a mother of all setbacks for the BJP. More so, for the PM Modi personally. So, the coming few days are crucial for India’s politics and it could very well determine the electoral outcome in 2019.  




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