No more jingoism. BJP moves to real issues in Himachal campaign. But will it do that for Gujarat too?
The run-up to the recently held Himachal Pradesh state Assembly polls saw a change in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) mode of campaign that is usually dominated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah.
The question being debated among political observers these days is – did Himachal put a stop to the mode of campaign that was evident till the Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand polls and was marked by rhetoric and jingoism?
Or would Modi and Shah be back to what they are known for when they hit the turf in their home state of Gujarat?
It was very evident during the Himachal campaign that the BJP leadership had decided not to ride the rhetoric or their jingoistic bravado. They only went to the extent of calling the Congress government termites and accusing it of creating demons in Devbhoomi (land of gods).
There was no talk of '56 inches chest size'. Neither was there any jingoistic reference to Pakistan or China despite Himachal being a state that sends a very large number of men to the military as well as the para military forces.
To cap it all, there was no reference made to the surgical strikes which the BJP had played up to the hilt during the Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand elections with the latter having striking similarities with Himachal Pradesh.
Modi had talked and made a big noise about demonetisation in his rally on the Ridge in Shimla on 27 April that was seen as the BJP setting its campaign rolling in the state. But from the very next rally of his, he gave up even referring to either the demonetisation or the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) for which the BJP has been facing flak around the country.
Get closer to the ground
So ultimately, the BJP leadership had to come down to talking about real issues which in this state are – roads, water availability, health services and employment. Its punching bag remained the Congress Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh around whom the BJP tried to develop the narrative of corruption.
It was at his Rehan rally near Dharamsala on 2 November that Modi said that Himachal was plagued by five demons – forest mafia, mining mafia, transfer mafia, tender mafia and drug mafia.
“The people used to invoke deities to finish off the demons. However, now the people have power of vote to finish them off,” he said.
Just two days later in a rally at Rait he had reportedly said, “The ills plaguing Himachal Pradesh can only be cured by completely rooting out the termites that is the Congress party.”
Enough cheat-thumping & jingoism
Observers say that a high level of literacy and political awareness among people can be the reason that the Modi-Shah combination refrained from campaigning in the way they are known for.
“After all till when can you survive by just highlighting the failures of the Congress. Things have come to a point that now the people want to know what you have done in the last three years except taking disastrous steps like demonetisation and GST,” pointed an old resident of Palampur.
“They have failed to deliver whatever they have been committing to the people in the various elections. Now the time has come that they are not able to face the people as they have been exposed badly. They failed to organise a public meeting in Shimla. They cannot face the people over issues like prices shooting up, be it pulses or cooking gas. The people are now questioning what they have tried to do and where are the acche din that were promised,” says former Shimla Mayor Sanjay Chauhan who has contested the polls as a CPM candidate.
Adding to his views, his party colleague Rakesh Singha, who contested on Theog seat, told Catch – “They (Modi-Shah) have lost their shine. The campaign that began on 'Modi Modi' note eventually boiled down to 'Main aapki sewa karoonga' (I will serve you). The illusion created by them at the national-level will not last long and with the crisis intensifying they will be at the receiving end by 2019.”
Observers say that whatever be the results, it goes to the credit of the Himachali electorate that it did not take any campaign that would have vitiated the atmosphere from any of the candidates or the parties. They say that if the BJP wins it would again be the desire for a change that the Himachalis are now known to vote for and if it is the Congress in the winning seat it would be reaffirming the faith in Virbhadra's leadership.
What happens in Gujarat now?
Now comes the next question whether Modi and Shah would continue issue-based campaign in the all-important state of Gujarat or whether they would go back to their old tricks.
The first question is – will Modi choose to campaign as a prime minister, a former chief minister or the Hindutva's poster boy?
If he chooses to be the first, tradition demands that he addresses minimum rallies and his talk be centered around the achievements of the central government. But this not expected with reports coming in that he might address no less than 50 rallies in the run-up to the polls in Gujarat.
If he campaigns as a former chief minister, he will have to talk about how things have fared after he handed over the reins first to Anandiben Patel and then Vijay Rupani.
If he decides to don the mantle of the Hindutva's poster boy, one can expect fireworks right from the word go.
He has not opened his cards yet and has stuck mainly to road shows and government programmes till now where he has attacked the Congress in a 'subtle' manner, as per his standards, blaming the previous UPA regimes of trying to create hindrances in Gujarat's development by delaying permissions etc.
His detractors are already questioning this. “First he says that Gujarat saw development under the BJP regime and now he talks of the Congress not allowing Gujarat's development. Can the BJP explain its stand?” they ask.
The general perception among the analysts is that while Shah was the strategist for various state polls, Modi will take the command in his hands for Gujarat. One of the reasons for this is that if Shah is made the points man, the internal rifts in the party may play spoil sport.
In case of Modi, the party will be relying on his direct connect with the masses that have made him victorious in the last three Assembly polls and one Lok Sabha poll.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen