Modi wanted Congress-mukt Bharat, gets Congress-yukt Gujarat

A Congress party spokesperson waves the party flag during a ceremony
Picture used for representational purposes | PTI Photo by Vijay Verma

Despite the two clear victories for the BJP, Monday’s results have opened up the political space which had seemed locked and sealed until the summer of 2019.

The BJP would be right to declare their mission Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat a total success and launch one full-throated celebration. Why is its response, therefore, muted? In his press conference today, instead of beaming his usual, post-conquest smile, BJP president Amit Shah had a frown, and a few complaints: with the Congress party, about how it “coarsened” the campaign in Gujarat.

Now, this is a first since the heady summer of 2014. Since then, any contest with the Congress (notably Haryana, Maharashtra and Uttarakhand) has been a walkover for the BJP. And where the Congress did a little bit better but fell short of a majority, as in Goa and Manipur, the BJP simply walked across, gravy train in tow, and conjured up a government of its own. So far, the only post-poll comments on the Congress had been jeers, mocking pity and ridicule for its “crown prince”.

The Congress has been thrashed in Himachal and lost a sixth consecutive election in Gujarat. Yet it has given the almighty national ruling party a cause to complain. That is what makes this election different.

Three things are crucial to this: place, timing and the social algebra, in that order.

Place, because Gujarat is the political karmabhoomi of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Both, especially Modi, have a demi-God status there and the very fact that they got such a fright is change. It has shown the people of Gujarat and the rest of the country that the prime minister can be challenged within his state. Until this campaign peaked, nobody in his party would have imagined their numbers falling in the first state election under Modi as prime minister.

Modi has a unique position in Indian politics. He is the first state leader to rise to the top at the Centre, and on his own steam. No prime minister of any durability until now, Nehru, Indira, Morarji, Rajiv, Narasimha Rao or Vajpayee represented a state. Modi rose from Gujarat, a mid-sized state, about one-third of UP and just a little over a half of neighbouring Maharashtra’s size. When he goes back to his fellow Gujaratis and makes an emotional appeal, you do not expect him to be run this close.

Timing is important because this coincides with the anointment of Rahul Gandhi as Congress president, so delayed it had become a joke. It was also affirming his reputation for diffidence and reluctance to take responsibility. He did that this time, dedicated time, energy and focus on the campaign in the most challenging state for his party, where it faces BJP in bipolar politics, and returned with a pretty good score-card, if not a victory. In the BJP’s—and popular—view, Rahul has now morphed into a potential challenger from a perpetual joke.

And social algebra because the challenge for the BJP has always been to use religion (Hindutva) to reunite what caste divided. L.K. Advani used the Mandir issue in the nineties to achieve that briefly. Narendra Modi is doing it by redefining Indian nationalism in terms of the majority’s faith. This majoritarian nationalism enabled him to sweep Uttar Pradesh earlier this year as many Hindus groups dumped their local caste loyalties and voted for BJP. Religion was again reuniting the Hindu vote, which caste had kept divided.

The new caste linkages the Congress stitched up in Gujarat, with Patel, OBC and Dalit leaders have challenged that construct in the state Modi-Shah would have considered their safest. They can complain about the Congress playing caste politics but the fact is that in Gujarat (with its history of KHAM, Kshatriya/Harijan/Adivasi/Muslim combination) it is threatening to return to the old normal. In other words, caste again threatens to divide what Hindutva has kept united for 25 years.

That is why even two clear BJP victories make it such a watershed election. It has opened up the political space which, until today, had seemed locked and sealed until the summer of 2019.

Or see it like this. After the 2014 sweep, the BJP had vowed to create a Congress-mukt (Congress-less) Bharat. It was well on its way there, knocking over state after state. With today’s result, it begins a fresh term in what can be aptly called a Congress-yukt (including Congress) Gujarat. This is as radical a change in script as you could have in your fourth year in power, without actually losing a state election.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Your conclusion that it is the beginning of a Congress-yukt Bharat when Congress two elections, and one more state, defies logic. You seem to have packaged your fond hope as a reasoned perspective. I’d like to know when you would call India Congress-mukt Bharat–only when the party does not get a single vote? Mr Shekar Gupta, you are a very seasoned journalist, please be careful not to let your personal convictions colour your perspectives. Please do not go the Siddharth Varadarajan way.

    • 43% Gujaratis, 42% Himachalis voted for the Congress.
      Unless these are non-people, how do you assume India is rid of Congress?

      Boss, as long as people are alive, ideologies will survive. That includes far-right, far-left. moderates etc.
      It is as simple as that. Amit Shah can scream all he wants, but it means nothing in the real world.
      These speeches and slogans are only to grab headlines and nothing else.

      You don’t have to be Varadarajan or Gupta to be able to decipher this.
      Common sense can do. I dont want you to think like me, but atleast think!
      Ah I forgot, thinking is banned in RSS shakhas!

      • For your reading pleasure AB:
        *IT’S ALL IN THE FAMILY*
        ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
        *A Brief Introduction to the New ‘DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED’ Congress President and His Team*

        *Son of Rajiv Gandhi* will have team comprising of
        Son of Tarun Gogoi
        Son of Rajesh Pilot
        Son of Madhav Rao Scindhia
        Son of Murli Deora
        Daughter of Sunil Dutt
        Son of Madhav Singh Solanki
        Son of Bhupender Hooda
        Son of Shamsher Singh Surjewal
        Daughter of Santosh Mohan Deb
        Daughter of Pranab Mukherjee
        Son of OOmmen Chandy
        Son of A. K. Anthony
        Son of Sheila Dikshit
        Son of Jitendra Prasad
        Son of Saifuddin Soz
        Son of Shankar Rao Chauvan

        And supporting from allied parties are:

        Son of Mulayam Singh Yadav
        Sons of Lalu Prasad Yadav
        Son of Faruq Abdullah
        Sons and Daughter of Karunanidhi
        Daughter of Sharad Pawar

        …. and so on and on and on

        *Wow, How Democratic! !*

        • This I could only hear from Pundits, Thakurs, Kayastas. Its the sad part. Dynasty politics is every where in the world. Present Canadian PM, Bush family and many BJP leaders to name few.
          In Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, the sons of serving BJP chief ministers are MPs. Dushyant Singh, the son of Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje, is the MP from Dhaulpur, which his mother represented for many years. Vasundhara’s sister Yashodhara Raje is a minister in Madhya Pradesh. Her mother, the late Vijayaraje Scindia, was an MP from Madhya Pradesh and was among the founder members of the BJP. Similarly, Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh’s son Abhishek is also a Lok Sabha MP. Former Himachal Pradesh chief minister and BJP leader Prem Kumar Dhumal’s son Anurag Thakur is also a MP and had been an office bearer in the BCCI.

          Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis is the son of the late Gangadharpant Fadnavis, who was a member of the state legislative council. His aunt Shobha Fadnavis was a Maharashtra minister.

          Similarly, senior state BJP leader Eknath Khadse’s daughter-in-law Raksha is a MP.

          The daughters of the late BJP leader Gopinath Munde, who was also Maharashtra deputy chief minister, are in politics. His elder daughter Pankaja is a senior minister in Maharashtra, while her sister Pritam has been elected from Beed, her father’s constituency. Poonam Mahajan, Munde’s niece and the daughter of the late Pramod Mahajan, is also a MP and head of the BJP’s youth wing.

          Union minister Jayant Sinha is the son of Yashwant Sinha, while UP MLA and BJP state general secretary Pankaj Singh is the son of home minister Rajnath Singh and BJP MP Rajveer Singh is the son of Rajasthan governor Kalyan Singh.

          But you Pundits will only cry for Rahul Gandhi. Why can’t a son of politician be a politician.

  2. Urban Migration played a big part.The reason BJP with high vote share more urban than rural but ended up with lower seats says Gujarat has high rate of Urban Migration.Not just a Gujarat issue not a India issue its happening all over the world.Democrats in US had larger vote share but still lost elections.

  3. If Congress did not win, it is Congress mukt Bharat. The whole idea is that who holds the power. It is not Congress.

    I think this point Shekhar Gupta knows well.

  4. Congress mukt Bharat meant to rid India the very idea of Congress..Their blatant appeasement tactics for Muslims in particular.We saw it in the UP elections as well.No mention of Muslims in this campaign.Everyone including the media forgot they exist.Similarly caste should be thrown into the dustbin .

  5. I decide my vote of below considerations. Currently RG is no formidable alternative, hence has to work tirelessly to improve for long haul.

    1. Governance experience – RG – None , alternatively strengthen the party to show org capabilities, fly in 3 months before election and fly out elections are over does not work ; NM – Chief minister and PM;
    2. Party Organization – Congress – does pushes if there are changes in last three months, does not seem whole party working towards achieving the goal, it win because of GANDHI loses because of local leaders an utter nonsense leadership quality ; BJP – well oiled machinery working from grass root up and for long haul
    3. Past party record – congress – half hearted measures ; divided people to caste , religion etc ; not pro reform ( responded just before the debacle)

    New India means business want results does not care about last names, pedigree etc. Need results show them… we can make or break anyone no matter who he or she is.

  6. Deve Gowda became a prime minister but was a state level leader from Karnataka and remained so even after relinquishing the post. so Modi is not the first one. he was simple catapulted to the prime ministership. Well, even for that matter before graduating to the national politics Narasimha Rao was also the chief minister of AP.

  7. It’s not that Gujeratis are ready to trust Congress- just their frustration over demonetization and GST – they are wise enough to appreciate Narendrabhai’s loyalty to his motherland-Rajaram Iyer

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