No one doubted victory of the BJP and Narendra Modi in Gujarat. But this time it is no cakewalk !
When the first phase of elections ended in the western state on December 9, predicting the final outcome became fraught. A second stage in the election is set for December 14, with the victors and the vanquished to be announced four days later. Lalit Thummar, president of the Amreli Diamond Merchants' Association, said this time it is no cakewalk for the BJP.”
His association represents enterprises that process and export most of India’s diamonds, which constitute a significant part of all international trade in the precious stones. Thummar believes that two key decisions of the government led by Modi undermined prosperity in the state. The first was a decision to withdraw high-value banknotes from circulation in November 2016, purportedly to fight black market operations. And he cited as second major factor the goods and services Tax (GST) introduced in July this year. The middle class, mid-level entrepreneurs, traders and small business people who were Modi supporters had been most adversely affected, Thummar explained. Observers say the result of the Gujarat election could affect the stability of the national Modi government, not least through exacerbating ongoing leadership struggles within the BJP.
This, in turn, threatened to impact on general elections scheduled for 2019.Social analyst Parthbhai Bhatt noted that the BJP, sensing trouble, had announced a relaxation of the tax regime. But it remained unclear as to how far that would mitigate against self-inflicted political damage already done.
Bhatt noted that the Prime Minister took the state electoral battle seriously as a defeat, or even a poor performance, could erode his support base across the nation.BJP poll strategists are promoting the message that economic growth and greater social justice have been achieved at a state level along with the tackling of corruption.
The BJP’s rival opposition Congress Party, which has been out of power in Gujarat for 22 years, sees an opportunity to revive its electoral fortunes nationally by exploiting anti-incumbency feeling within the state.Nationally, Congress suffered a shocking defeat to the BJP in 2014. Congress was reduced to 44 seats in the 543 seats national parliament. This was despite having run the government in New Delhi for most of the period since independence in 1947.
Congress winning the Gujarat election, or bettering its current position of 60 seats, would provide an impetus for the party and its new leader, Rahul Gandhi, to become a serious contender for power nationally in 2019, Bhatt said. And a victory in Gujarat would be made sweeter for Congress by the fact that the state is considered a stronghold of the BJP and Modi, who was its Chief Minister from 2001 to 2014.
Sensing an opportunity, the Congress Party has struck at BJP weak points such as the new tax policy.Congress leader, Randeep Singh Surjewala, told ucanews.com that the BJP had made the tax system complex and difficult to implement.Modi has thrown himself into the thick of campaigning, addressing a series of rallies ahead of the second phase of voting on December 14.Some pre-poll surveys indicated that there would be a close fight.
One survey predicted that the BJP would gain 91-99 seats in the 182-member house and the Congress Party 78-86.
The BJP is faced with a tight contest partly because Hindu political unity has frayed. And some leaders of Dalit groups, formerly known as untouchables, have disassociated themselves from the BJP.Hindu vigilante groups formed to protect cows, an animal they revere, have attacked Dalit people in recent years for transporting cattle or dealing in their hides.
And two groups of the Patel Hindu caste that make up the Patidar community have complained that the government has ignored their demand for more seats to be reserved for them. Agitation on the issue took a violent turn and some Patel youths were killed. A number of their leaders were jailed.
Rameshbhai Valia, a Gujarat bank employee, said after two decades of BJP rule it could be time for a change.