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Chota Sardar turns smaller
Myth of Hindu consolidation

When the 'Chhote Sardar', as Modi is called by his admirers in Gujarat, returned to Ahmedabad from Goa, he was in a triumphant mood. The BJP's central leadership stood by him in his hour of trouble, says MH LAKDAWALA

Mumbai: Why Modi deferred the decision on Assembly dissolution? The much talked about cabinet meeting chaired by Mr. Modi did not even discuss the issue, far from taking a decision on it. The cheers for Narendra Modi from his supporters are dying down. 

When the 'chhote sardar', as Mr Modi is known to his party in Gujarat, returned to Ahmedabad from Goa, he was in a triumphant mood. Not only had the BJP's central leadership stood by him in his hour of trouble, it had also become more receptive to the idea of advancing the polls in Gujarat to reap electoral benefits from the communal polarisation that was supposed to have taken place.

Even a survey at the instance of the ministry of home affairs establishes that the BJP will win with a comfortable majority (52 per cent) if Assembly polls are held in Gujarat in the near future. The survey, conducted on April 3 and 4, was undertaken by officials involving the intelligence units of the state as well as the Research and Analysis Wing of the central government, say sources. While the voting pattern reflects a communal divide in sensitive areas such as Vadodara and Ahmedabad, which have seen the worst communal flare-ups recently, other areas of south Gujarat not affected by the riots see the Hindu votes being divided between the Congress and the BJP, say the sources. However, for the state as a whole, the BJP would emerge victorious, say the sources.

Thus the situation in the state was ripe according to saffron brigade calculation to hold elections and recapture the state. Since the minimum requirement for recommending dissolution of the Assembly is a cabinet resolution, it was expected to follow the co-ordination committee's footsteps authorising the Chief Minister to take the decision at an appropriate time. But the cabinet was apparently forced to keep mum on the issue due to the threat to the stability of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance Government at the Centre and the doubts raised over the outcome of the Assembly elections. For one thing, the BJP is unsure if the Election Commission will favour its cynical gameplan. For another, the party isn't too sure of its gameplan now in the wake of reports that the Hindutva card may not pay dividends in large parts of the state. 

The people are apparently more concerned about the failure of governance on many fronts since Keshubhai Patel's time, which has now been compounded by the prolonged disturbances giving Gujarat a bad name in other parts of India and abroad. The 'small' sardar, therefore, is becoming smaller. Many of the party members of the Assembly seem less certain about the success of the BJP in the next elections as Mr. Modi and some of his urban-based party colleagues are. 

While Kutch is upset over the Government's failure to provide a meaningful rehabilitation to last year's earthquake-affected people, doubts have been raised by the party MLAs from the vast Saurashtra and the south Gujarat regions about the "Hindu card" actually translating into votes for the BJP. Not only that the Saurashtra and south Gujarat regions, which together have over 90 seats in the Assembly, are by and large unaffected by the communal carnage, the people in rural Gujarat, facing an acute shortage of water and power, are little impressed by the Government's performance to be carried away by the Hindu card. After three successive years of failure of the monsoon, water shortage has assumed serious proportions in the Kutch-Saurashtra and north Gujarat regions and the non-availability of hydel power, coupled with a simultaneous increase in demand from the farm sector to harness sub-soil water to save the standing crops, has made power supply critical. With the communal riots having hit hard trade and commerce as well as the poorer sections, doubts have been raised about their support to the BJP in the Assembly elections.

The initial euphoria is giving way to scepticism whether the "Hindu card" alone would be able to put the BJP back in power. Modi and Co. need only cast a look at the election results from Delhi's MCD polls. In the first elections held after Gujarat and Ayodhya, in the first test of that so-called 'Hindu consolidation', the BJP has been comprehensively trounced. It has lost all its strongholds in the capital; the middle class electorate, which is rumoured to have applauded the anti-minority violence in Gujarat, has sent the party packing from the capital. It may be dangerous to draw too many large conclusions from local polls but one thing is unambiguously certain: That the so-called Hindu consolidation was nothing more than a delusion in some very sick minds and that the 'Hindu votebank' is not the blind hate-filled monolith the Gujarat BJP dreams of.

It is now the First Law of Contemporary Politics that whenever there is an election, the BJP will lose. The party believed that Rajnath Singh had given it a leg up in UP but it lost its government. It thought that the opinion polls were wrong in Punjab but it turned out that they were only wrong about the Akalis; the BJP itself was wiped out. It believed that victory was within its grasp in Uttaranchal, but when the votes were counted, the Congress formed the government. Some of these reverses can, perhaps, be attributed to local factors. But when a party loses every election it fights, no matter where the election is held, it becomes clear that there is a greater, more national problem.

Put simply, the BJP is now a party on the skids. You can sense the BJP's decline in the behaviour of fringe members of the Parivar. Can it be an accident that the lunatic fringe tried to reassert itself over Ayodhya only after the debacle of the assembly elections? The lunatics really believe that a dose of good, old-fashioned communal hatred will improve the party's popularity. For instance, many middle class Hindus felt that there wasn't enough secular outrage over Godhra. The BJP noticed this but then miscalculated, reckoning that, therefore, Hindus would support retaliation against Muslims (the calculation behind all those idiotic statements about action and reaction which, it now seems, Narendra Modi did make after all). In fact, Hindus were horrified by the Gujarat riots and deeply shamed by the stories that are now emerging, of gang rape, of parents being burnt alive in front of their children and of religious cleansing of entire localities. 

The BJP is miscalculating as usual; that it would lose Gujarat anyway. But more than the miscalculation, it is the cynical desperation that takes your breath away. The frantic hunt to find any issue on which an election can be won has got to the stage where even murder, mayhem and arson are okay if they can help consolidate the Hindu vote. Sadly for the BJP, it has missed the one constant reality of Indian politics: you can only mobilise along communal lines if you are harnessing the anti-incumbency vote. Its reputation as the party of law and order is in tatters after Gujarat. The economy is stubbornly refusing to revive.

The good news from Ayodhya, as from the rest of the country, is that people are fed up with the periodic political belabouring of this non-issue. It is incredible that the BJP refuses to read the message from its electoral setbacks one after the other. The voters in various states are rejecting the Parivar brand of communal politics, with its accompaniment of violence, corruption and inefficiency. Evidence, such as it exists, Hindus are upset with BJP on the broader issue of governance. 

Improvements in governance have been voted both in Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, and misgovernance has been voted out, such as in Punjab. There is the overwhelming impression that the BJP is a party not fit to govern. Gujarat carnage will in no way help the BJP to claw back to power, if and when general elections are held, even if the Hindutva agenda is strengthened. Given Gujarat's traditional emphasis on trade and industry, it is also doubtful that a Hindutva wave will prevail over mis-governance.
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