UPDATE: Narhari Amin and his supporters joining BJP today will significantly lift the party’s chances of re-election. His entry will certainly help Modi as he would be able to bring in a large number of Patel votes that may have gone to the opposition. It will also weaken the threat from Keshubhai’s GPP as the party was hoping on Patel vote consolidation, especially in Saurashtra, in its favour.
There is no doubt that Narendra Modi is a master of electoral politics. But it appears he will hardly be stretched in the assembly polls slated between December 13 and 17 and the credit for that goes to the principal opposition party, the Congress. A couple of months ago it was on a high as its promise for homes for those who did not yet own a house evoked a tremendous response from people. Millions lined up to fill up the application forms distributed through party workers. It then went on an overdrive of promising freebies that clearly would have meant economic tragedy for the state but may have pulled the votes. It appeared to catch the BJP by surprise which was already stung by Keshubhai Patel’s revolt.
The mandarins sitting at 24, Akbar Road in Delhi, however, messed up candidate selection so thoroughly that the Congress has to first deal with its own rebellious partymen. It denied seats to many hopefuls who had invested time and energy in constituencies they hoped to represent. One ticket seeker said he had fulfilled every criteria, including caste equation and qualifications, required to let him contest but the party gave the ticket to a person who would never make it. The person had lost the previous two elections as well, a norm for disqualification according to the screening committee headed by CP Joshi. The calculation, he said, was to ensure the person’s caste votes in a neighbouring constituency where a party heavyweight was contesting.
The biggest tactical blunder was denying ticket from Gandhinagar South to Narhari Amin, a former deputy chief minster who commands wide support among Patels in the state. Amin Sunday vowed to ensure defeat for his party and asked his supporters to pull out of campaigning. Many senior party leaders such as Naresh Raval are backing him and several elected members of local administrations quit in protest.
Another was fielding Shweta Bhatt, Modi-baiting former top-cop Sanjiv Bhatt’s wife against the chief minister in Maninagar. It has virtually ensured Modi’s victory.
The goof up is even more stark as the BJP appeared to be a bit defensive when it announced its candidates. Most sitting MLAs had again been chosen to fight elections. Some ministers such as Saurabh Patel and Anandiben Patel who were unlikely to win from their previous constituencies were given safer seats. Considering that Modi is the sole arbiter of seat allocation in the assembly elections, it appeared like he was wary of dissidence if the order was changed drastically. Still there was rebellion and many hopefuls such as scheduled caste leader Jivraj Chauhan quit. Others such as former MLA Rakesh Rao in Kheda district joined Keshubhai Patel’s newly formed Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP).
The GPP is influential among the Patels of Saurashtra and may eat into BJP’s votes in about 50 seats. That would have benefited the Congress had the party selected the right candidates. Modi has already stolen the campaign thunder from both the opposition parties with his high-tech campaign employing simultaneous holographic projections of his speeches live to several cities. In comparison the others’ stump speeches look and sound jaded.
Monday, Narendra Modi neutralised whatever attraction the Congress and GPP’s campaign promises would have held for voters. Modi released the party’s manifesto which promises 50 lakh houses to the poor in five years, more than double that the Congress has promised. He has also promised super-specialty hospitals, 30 lakh jobs for women, doubling electricity production and road network, and interest sops for farmers.