Prime Minister Narendra Modi
A hoarding featuring Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Ahmedabad. | Neelam Pandey | The Print
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Ahmedabad: The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) slogan of Fir Ek Baar Modi Sarkaar is finding massive resonance in Gujarat where the party is banking on the prime minister to reach out to voters.

Much like the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the 2017 assembly polls, the BJP is literally using Modi as its poster boy to win votes in Gujarat — a tactic that appears to be working again.

Across cities in Gujarat, all posters and other publicity material carry only Modi’s image with the message of “Apki Baar Phir Modi Sarkar”. The party’s strategy appears to revolve around offsetting the anger, particularly among farmers and traders, against the Gujarat government headed by Chief Minister Vijay Rupani.

The Lok Sabha elections come on the back of the 2017 assembly elections when the BJP faced stiff competition from the Congress. The BJP’s tally dipped below 100 despite the Modi factor with the Congress gaining ground as it won its highest number of seats in two decades.

“The Congress was helped by the trio of Jignesh Mevani, Alpesh Thakor and Hardik Patel. This is no longer the case,” said a senior BJP leader.

“While Alpesh has quit, Mevani no longer enjoys the same power and Hardik Patel is not even contesting. If Modi wave could save the BJP in 2017 despite all this, 2019 is not going to be too difficult. Though we won’t be able to repeat 2014.”

But the party is once again banking on Brand Modi to get at least 20 of the 26 Lok Sabha seats in the state. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had won all 26 seats in Gujarat.

Gujarat votes in a single-phase on 23 April.

Also read: Latest offering from Modi — mega youth conclave in Gujarat as BJP looks to stem jobs anger

A successful tactic

On the ground, the BJP’s strategy, to keep the focus firmly on Modi, appears to be working.

“He (Modi) has done a lot for the poor like me. I came from Rajasthan and have been living here for quite some time,” said Gambhir Singh, a resident of Ahmedabad. “He has sent ‘big people’ behind bars. There are some issues but I know it will be taken care of. My vote is for him. The state government is also working but they aren’t as experienced as Modi.”

Modi too has been conscious of Gujarat’s needs. After farmers protested the crop insurance scheme across the country, including in Gujarat, the BJP manifesto has promised to make the scheme a voluntary one. The 10 per cent reservation for the economically weaker sections among upper castes is also something that will benefit the party.

“It is important to have the same government at the state and Centre to ensure work is done smoothly. It is because of PM Modi that a lot of work has been done in Gujarat that used to get stalled during the UPA time,” said BJP spokesperson Bharat Pandya. “Naturally, our campaign focuses on the Prime Minister. Our issues are positive leadership, nationalism and sab ke saath, sab ke vikas.”

There are, however, many who feel Rupani believes in keeping a low profile in sharp contrast to PM Modi.

“He (Rupani) keeps a low profile. His way of functioning is quite different,” said a political expert who did not want to be named.

“As far as Modi is concerned, he was the chief minister for 12 years and then the PM for five years. He not only believes in doing the work but he also promotes it. Just like we had the Nehru, Indira and the Jaiprakash Narayan era, this is now Modi’s era… Elections have become personality centric.”

Still Gujarat model but with a difference

There is also much discussion on the ground on the governance model of the two leaders.

“He (Vijay Rupani) is just a robot. He has no experience of running the government,” said Nimish Desai, a resident of Ahmedabad. “When Modi was the chief minister things used to move quickly. If he’s at the centre we will definitely benefit. One term is not enough to make changes, he has to be given another chance.”

Some experts, however, said the Gujarat model, promoted by Modi, is still in place in the state.

“As far as the new Gujarat model is concerned I believe the fundamentals are still the same even though the word is no longer in circulation. As in, the old system (when Modi was the CM) continues. But at the same time there is a bit of flexibility in terms of it being more decentralised, which was missing earlier,” said Y.K. Alagh, a noted economist and a former union minister.

“The prime minister ran a small state like Gujarat as a chief executive officer would do. Vijay Rupani, on the other hand, is more of a political person. But the contours of the model remain the same. It is at the level of implementation that some changes have occurred.”

A number of experts also point out the Gujarat model of development that Modi used to “sell” during his tenure, is no longer on the agenda of Modi or the BJP.

Indira Hirway, director and professor of economics, Centre for Development Alternatives, Ahmedabad, claims that Rupani doesn’t mention the Gujarat model at all. She also explained how the two differ in their functioning.

“Bureaucrats used to be scared of Modi and that helped him move things swiftly. This is no longer the case with Rupani,” she said. “At the same time, Modi still calls the shot despite being in Delhi but implementation has to be done by the state government itself.”

Hirway also said that Rupani has to contend with a resurgent Congress. “Till the time Modi was here, there was only one party. But in 2017, the Congress managed to give BJP stiff competition as under Rupani they are no longer the same,” she told ThePrint.

“Modi has always kept an eye on Gujarat and which is why the BJP is only concentrating on him for these elections too.”

Also read: Research shows it makes sense for Narendra Modi & BJP to focus on national security in 2019


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