Potholes are shaping the election rhetoric in Gujarat

A photo showing a road being paved in Gujarat
Representational image | Twitter @boy_with_beard

This year the roads in Gujarat were in an unusually bad shape, and people stormed social media, the favourite platform of the BJP, to express their grievances.

Change is in the air in Gujarat. Anybody exposed to public places or is an active participation on social media can sense this. The change might or might not vote the BJP out of power, but the party leadership is feeling immense pressure and it shows. Right from the PM’s increasingly desperate speeches in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh to the list of BJP top leaders coming to Gujarat who are here not to reassure voters but to regain something they think they have already lost: credibility.

Many would point to the potholes on the road as the cause of people’s disappointment, leading to the social media trend, vikas gando thayo chhe (development has gone made or out of control). But that was just the last straw. The loss of credibility for the BJP government in Gujarat is hardly surprising, given the build-up of valid criticism of the so-called Gujarat model over time. What is surprising is the time it took to arrive.

After all the glitzy biennial festivities of Vibrant Gujarat, employment remained a huge concern and was compounded by a lack of quality education at all levels. Pompous sounding schemes like Praveshotsva (celebration of school entry), Gunotsva (celebration of marks & quality) did well for political promotion.

Despite tall claims of khato nathi, khava deto nathi (Neither do I indulge in corruption, nor will I allow anyone else to indulge in it) by Modi, the CM back then, there were usual complaints of increasing rates of corruption in the corridors of Gandhinagar. The Modi era in Gujarat was not a complete failure. But it was not a ‘Ram Rajya’ or the dawn of a new era either.

And this was no secret. There were reports, studies and criticism to support this argument. Pinching questions were raised (but seldom answered), even in Gujarati newspapers. But it didn’t affect the narrative Modi had weaved though. This was mainly for three reasons: his extraordinary marketing skills; he was viewed as the saviour/warrior who ‘taught a lesson to Muslims’ and Congress’ image of being ‘pro-Muslims’ party and its unusual laziness and incompetence.

The waning of the Modi-spell was evident even during 2012 assembly polls. Panic buttons were pressed. Modi’s BJP opened doors to all sorts of Congress leaders, including hugely tainted ones. A considerable number of seats were won by a narrow margin. It was Modi’s ascendancy as PM that underlined the myth of invincibility once again.

Modi’s shifting to Delhi created a vacuum in Gujarat, which resulted in the phenomenal rise of Patidar leader Hardik Patel, OBC leader Alpesh Thakor and Dalit leader Jignesh Mewani.

During the Modi regime in Gujarat, BJP MP Kanubhai Kalsariya’s successful movement against Nirma plant (and in turn against Gujarat government) at Mahuva didn’t capture the imagination of either the media or the people. But somehow, it was different for the three young leaders. Their movements put the Gujarat government in a spot. Modi’s successor Anandiben Patel had to resign citing her age and was replaced by Vijay Rupani, an obedient Sangh man.

Modi survived even demonetisation blues. But the timing of GST proved to be salt on the fresh wounds of traders, considered to be BJP supporters.

Then came monsoon. It was normal but its impact on the roads of Ahmedabad and the rest of the state was devastating. Ironically, roads have been showcased in the ‘Gujarat Model’ and a few showers left that very showpiece in tatters this time.

For Ahmedabad, the routine cycle of potholes during monsoon led to criticism of the local corporation to announce resurfacing work worth crores of rupees. Each year, the resurfacing exercise — a thin layer of tar and thin pieces of metal — was ordered, which meant a new round of contracts. Gujarati newspapers have cried foul but this cycle went on.

This year, the roads were in an unusually bad shape and people stormed social media, the favourite platform of the BJP, to express their grievances.

The iconic tagline of 2017, Vikas gando thayo chhe, popped up and spread like wildfire. The BJP soon realised their narrative of Vikas was trapped in potholes. They started replying to the social media trend with angry taunts. Amit Shah had to face piercing questions about potholes and roads.

During the visit of the Japanese PM, the roads were repaired in parts. It triggered another round of discontent: “if you can do it for a guest, why is it not possible for us?”

As a counter, the BJP has launched an aggressive campaign with the catchline ‘Hun chhu vikas, hun chhu Gujarat’ (I am Vikas, I am Gujarat). But the new slogan hasn’t caught on.
As the election comes near, focus will shift and much will depend upon the candidates’ selection. Yet, the potholes and the Vikas gando thayo chhe slogan will be remembered as a huge embarrassment.

Urvish Kothari is a senior columnist and writer based at Ahmedabad.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Surprising. I first entered Gujarat in 1973, when my father was transferred from Poona to Baroda. The abiding memory one has is of how dramatically the road quality improved as we crossed over from Maharashtra.

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