Brajesh Kumar finds that voters in Gujarat want the BJP to address their everyday problems, not abstract issues. This post is part of a study into the meaning that elections hold for the electorate that is currently being conducted during the state-level Vidhan Sabha elections in the state of Gujarat. The principal investigator of this project, ‘Panchayat and Vidhan Sabha elections 2012-2015′, is LSE’s Dr Mukulika Banerjee (part of the European Research Network Programme: Explaining Electoral Change in Rural and Urban India). This post first appeared on Governance Now.
The BJP candidate from Gariadhar in Bhavnagar, Keshubhai Nankaria, who is on a whirlwind campaign tour to the villages in his constituency, has had it good so far. In every meeting, the audience, a motley crowd of 25 to 30 people, comprising the village’s young and old, cheered and clapped at his every word, increasing their sloganeering whenever he opened the ‘Congress sarkar’s scam ka pitara.’
In one of the villages, around the end of the tour, he started with the same rhetorical flourish. But before he could move from 2G to Sonia G, an elderly person interrupted. “What about the roads in this village? Didn’t you have a problem reaching here? Please address this crucial problem before you talk about the misrule of the central government,” he said as Nankaria looked on. This was a bolt from the blue for this BJP candidate, and he was certainly not prepared with an answer.
How would he be?
The entire campaign that the ruling BJP has built, and is confident of bearing fruit, revolves around the abstract. The Rs 1.86 lakh crore lost to the exchequer on account of the 2G auction, Suresh Kalmadi’s role in the Commonwealth Games scam (they say Asian games here) and Coalgate – issues that have nothing to do with voters in Gujarat – fit in the definition of the abstract.
Discussion on local issues in the campaign, the party thinks, don’t matter. Nankaria and his supporters were not there to address issues that mattered – electricity, water – and that is why they were stumped when faced with a question on exactly this, the common Gujarati’s everyday problems.
Chief minister Narendra Modi’s addresses too, if you have noticed, have followed a similar pattern. In a rally in Mahuva on December 1, he launched a bristling broadside on the Congress and its president Sonia Gandhi. “The corrupt congress is eyeing the rich coffers of Gujarat and I am sure the six crore Gujaratis won’t let that happen,” he told a cheering crowd of 3,000.
This is a deliberate strategy, said a senior BJP functionary in Mahuva. “Create a fear of the congress and its misrule in the centre and force the voters to rally against it,” he said. “And if you are successful at doing that you would not have to talk about local issues at all,” he added.
With the huge, cheering response (well mostly) that the BJP candidates get while listing the misdeeds of the Congress government, the party is confident it is going to romp home a third successive time.
In fact, so confident are the party and its candidates that in areas where the candidate himself cannot make it, the party workers have been instructed to go around in two wheelers shouting ‘Bharat mata ki jai’ and ‘Vande Matram.’ “Just shout these slogans and you would not need to say anything else,” they have been told.
BJP’s confidence stems from its past experiences wherein the fear of the unknown was conjured up to success. While, in 2002 elections ‘Miyan Musharraf’ did the trick, in 2007 Sonia Gandhi’s ill-advised ‘Maut ka saudagar’ was exploited to the hilt with similar results.
Be that as it may, sooner or later the real issues at hand will have to be addressed. And as the party’s candidate from Gariadhar was interrupted, so will be many others. Questions will be raised about the local school, health center and the roads to villages – concrete basic essentials rather than abstract election promises.
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