Analysis

Modi’s Gujarat-Ego Burst!

What should be assumed from satisfaction spread by Sangh Parivar regarding the government run by Prime Minister Narendra Modi? Certainly, democratically, Modi does not need a “report card” of this nature and that too from the saffron brigade.

Irrespective of whether Sangh Parivar is genuinely satisfied or not, apparently it considers it imperative to spread this message about Modi government. Ahead of assembly elections in Bihar, the Sangh Parivar was probably not prepared for negative publicity regarding Modi and his government. Following completion of a year in office, there has been a gradual increase in criticism of Modi government having failed to live up to its electoral promises. The matters have been made worse with a Patel boy from Modi’s own home state of Gujarat, having burst onto the political front.

Hardik Patel has certainly succeeded in giving a major political jolt to Modi by creating impression of the political rug being pulled down from the latter’s feet in the state that is supposed to be his comfort zone. Undeniably, Patels, the group Hardik represents, constitute a significant electoral force in Gujarat.

Till Hardik emerged on the scene, all seemed perfectly fine for Modi’s political image as well as his electoral campaign, with Gujarat being referred to as a “model” state. Now, Modi will not be able to indulge in this rhetoric for quite some time.

Gujarat has been regarded as Modi’s political stronghold as he was the state’s chief minister for three consecutive terms before he joined the national fray. In the Lower House of Parliament, all 26 legislators from Gujarat belong to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Hardik’s political strength can be partly linked with Patels being 12 percent of Gujarat’s population. They are viewed economically as a strong community in the state. Had they not been afflicted by economic problems in Gujarat, they would not have supported Hardik’s demand for their being listed as Other Backward Communities (OBC) to ensure reservation in jobs and other sectors. Gujarat’s diamond industry, dominated by Patels, has faced a slump in recent years. There have been massive job losses in this sector as several diamond-making units have either shut down or scaled down their operations. Unemployment has prompted young Patels to join Hardik in his anti-Modi campaign. The major support rendered by farmers to Hardik is a grim indicator of the distress faced by the agrarian economy in Gujarat.

Politically, economically and socially, the setting in Gujarat has been just perfect for Hardik to attract the support of Patel community and also gain considerable media attention. While this has helped him in weakening the political base of Modi, it is not yet strong enough for his own political success at the national level. Rather, several political cards played by Hardik have only discouraged parties of other states from rendering their support to him. For instance, initially, the Bihar-based leaders Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad supported his call for Patels’ inclusion in OBC-list. However, soon after Hardik called Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray his idol and praised Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) Raj Thackeray, they chose to keep their distance from him. MNS leader had launched an anti-Bihari drive in Maharashtra a few years ago, targeting workers in Maharashtra from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Hardik’s statement that India is only for Hindus and Muslims like (former president) Kalam will not be troubled has also raised questions about communally-oriented political strategy that this Patel-boy may be harbouring.

Though Hardik has every reason to adulate the success of his political communication in attracting support of Patels in Gujarat, Shiv Sena leader’s appreciation, possible support from groups in other states desiring OBC status and substantial media attention, it is as yet too early for him to be over-confident about its long term success in Gujarat as well as at the national level. His anti-Muslim stand and liking for Shiv Sena have already restricted prospects of his succeeding at the national level. It may be recalled, when Modi decided to join the national fray, he deliberately chose to don a secular mask. Hardik is apparently still not politically shrewd enough to judge the possible negative and positive impact of the cards he is playing to gain popularity and media attention. There is also the possibility of Hardik primarily playing the role of a political pawn of some group and/or party keen to weaken Modi’s political position.

Cards played by Hardik have punctured Modi’s political image which may damage the prospects of BJP performing well in Bihar assembly elections. However, it is as yet too early to expect a grand success for Hardik in Gujarat or at the national level. In Gujarat, 146 communities listed as OBC are against Patels’ inclusion as the 147th, as they are apprehensive that this may shrink their quota.

Hardik’s entrance on the political scene may best be viewed as Modi’s political examination having begun in his home state too. Now, Sangh Parivar’s satisfaction and Modi’s promises carry little importance for voters as they want results!   

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 September 2015 on page no. 11

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