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Posted at: Dec 7, 2017, 12:35 AM; last updated: Dec 7, 2017, 1:28 AM (IST)

Crafting electoral politics in Gujarat

The election is being fought on the turf of religious identity, caste categories and personality of leaders rather than on the performance of the incumbent government.
Crafting electoral politics in Gujarat
POLL DIN: An election rally scene in Surendranagar, Gujarat. afp

Pramod Kumar
Director, Institute for Development and Communication 

The outcome of Gujarat elections will be a precursor to the 2019 parliamentary elections. If this election goes the Congress way, a weak Modi will be in the fray in 2019. However, if it goes the BJP way, a weak Congress will have no choice but to transform its politics radically for its survival in the electoral game.

Earlier elections in Gujarat have shown that ideologies are relevant to win elections. And, as such, an effortless anti-incumbency campaign may not, on its own, dislodge the incumbent government. For the present election, the same is true. The only difference is that there is widespread dissatisfaction amongst the voters. As the electoral scene is hotting up, the parties in fray are trying to outcompete each other on the same turf be it religiosity, caste based reservations, caste arithmetic and religious polarization, of-course garnished with development rhetoric and populist bluster. No signs of alternate political discourse.

The expansion of the right wing politics coincided with the transformation of economy from command to market economy in the nineties. Modi’s emergence as a leader in Gujarat can be located in this transformation. Thus, the so-called Gujarat model of development in terms of economic reforms is no different from the model adopted in the country in the nineties. The difference lies in its implementation without moderating the negative impact on poor farmers, workers and people, and in its blending with the right wing ideology.

Historically, political parties, be it the Congress or the BJP, are on the same side of the neo-liberal path of development, but the electoral discourse conveniently located crony capitalism, unemployment, poverty and inequalities in policy paralysis and/or incapacity of the leadership to carry forward the neo-liberal agenda. In other words, during the Congress regime, it was attributed to policy paralysis and now, on the incapacity of the incumbent leadership to address the crises. So, whatever consequences of growth Gujarat has experienced, the same can be seen as a precursor to the things to come in other parts of India.

Gujarat has experienced faster economic growth. Has this growth been inclusive? Studies have shown that the workers received only 8.3 per cent of the value added, while the rest was pocketed by profiteers. In terms of the share of the workers' wages in other states, the value addition is better, for instance, in Kerala it is 22.47 per cent, West Bengal 21.90 per cent, Tamil Nadu 16.37 per cent and Punjab 15.27 per cent (The Hindu, September 27, 2012).

Then what is the Gujarat model of development? It is growth without moderation of inequities, privatisation of health and education. Historically, the BJP in Gujarat has nurtured regional aspirations, patronised new aspirational class filtered through the regionalised version of Hindutva, particularly post liberalisation. The whole tenor of electoral mobilisation in Gujarat has been a clever blend of Gujarat ka gaurav and Hindutva identity. 

Electoral discourse in Gujarat has three dimensions. 

1Firstly, it revolves around mobilisations on regionalised Hindutva identity leading to polarisation in 62 urban constituencies on religious lines, whereas, in rural areas on caste-cum-class lines. 

2Secondly, to counter this, Mandal versus Kamandal politics of 1980s has been invoked by coopting Hardik Patel (reservation for the Patidar caste), Alpesh Thakur (reservation for OBCs) and Jignesh (reservation and welfare for the Dalits). The opposition is relying on simple arithmetic that is the sum total of Hardik Patel, Alpesh and Jignesh will ensure the defeat of the BJP. This is not the way electoral politics works. For instance, the Patidars' manifest protest is for seeking reservation in government jobs, but the crux of the unrest is in their relative deprivation: in short, the loss of political power. Similarly, the Dalits who constitute around seven per cent may find it difficult to go along with the Patidars with whom they have major contradictions at the village level. Further, the OBCs may see their share in reservations reduced if Patidars are included in the OBC list. Then, the Patels are divided into two groups: Leuva and Kadvas. Hardik has a major support base in the Kadva Patels while the BJP in Leuva Patels. To overcome heterogeneity amongst the Patidars, the authority of religious 'dhams' is being invoked. Both the BJP and Congress are making rounds of religious dhams to overcome these differentiations within the caste groups. It is nothing, but competitive communalism.

3The third issue is the use of gaurav of Gujarat as a universal category that appears to be purer and unadulterated through a clever underplaying of the structural inequalities of caste, religion and ethnicity. And, since the Opposition has made Modi the fulcrum of the elections, defeat of the BJP in Gujarat is being propagated as a precursor to Modi's defeat in the 2019 elections. That is not liked by many voters as they see Modi as the gaurav of Gujarat.

No doubt, the voters are dissatisfied with the 22 years of anti-incumbency and the leadership's incompetence to manage the contradictions in society, economy, and politics. However, the electoral campaign could not converge the national and local issues like demonetisation and GST with local issues of unequal access to education, health, poverty, hunger, and employment. The election is being fought on the turf of religious identity, caste categories and personality of leaders rather than on the performance of the incumbent government-advantage the BJP. The electoral outcomes will be largely influenced by electoral arithmetic and electoral management.

How Gujarat ‘model’ fares

Wage data from the Labour Bureau for 2015 suggests that the average daily wage of agricultural labour is Rs 169 in Gujarat compared to the national average of Rs 230. For the rural non-farm sector, wages in Gujarat are Rs 191 compared to Rs 241 for all India. Gujarat is among the five worst states in India on the Hunger Index, and ranks 11th in Human Development Index. The state slipped from rank 9 to 13 between 2008 and 2012 in health index, and from 7th in 1996 to 10th in 2012 in composite education index. These are the natural outcomes of the neo-liberal path of development being implemented in India.


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