The second and more crucial phase of the Gujarat Assembly elections on Monday will decide if Chief Minister Narendra Modi polls adequate number of votes that will enable him to stake claim for the top job in the country, something that the heavy turnout in the first round on December 13 brought into question.
Conventional wisdom has it that in an election, bereft of any wave, a good percentage of polling will mean the verdict going in favour of the opposition but with Mr. Modi, who has created a personality cult of sorts, this logic may not work to precision.
On December 13, seventy per cent of the electorate exercised their franchise, giving rise to speculation that the turnout is a mandate against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, what with the former BJP patriarch Keshubhai Patel’s Gujarat Parivatan Party proving a spoiler in the crucial Saurashtra region.
However, the Congress has not been able to counter the assertion of Mr. Modi’s campaign that he is the captain of the BJP but the opposition party does not have anyone. The ruling party has been facing problems in the rural and tribal areas of Saurashtra and south Gujarat but it is seeking to make up for the damage, in the central and northern regions that go to the polls on Monday.
Here too, it is a lethal fight. The Congress lost 19 seats, mostly tribal, to the BJP during the 2002 Hindutva wave but recovered them in 2007. The BJP is attempting to wrest them back but party sources and independent journalists say this would be a tough task.
Realising those tribal votes in central Gujarat could be crucial, Mr. Modi launched the Rs. 14,000-crore Van Bandhu (Brothers of the Forest) scheme to woo Adivasis.
But the soundbyte in tribal areas is that most of this allocation is on paper. “Big announcements do not mean anything. He organises big functions that are like election events but they just stop at that,” says Ashok Chaudhary of the Adivasi Ekta Samiti at Vedchhi village of South Gujarat. Several such voices are heard across the Panchmahals, Dahod, Bharuch, Narmada, Tapi, Navsari and Valsad districts.
However, it is the urban areas of central and north Gujarat, including Ahmedabad and other cities, which hold the key to Mr. Modi’s victory. Gujarat has 52 per cent urban pockets, which are believed to go the BJP way, thanks to his sway there.
As many as 95 constituencies with 1.98 crore voters go to the polls on Monday. In the fray are 820 candidates.
The BJP has given a clarion call to people to vote the way they did in the first phase, to indicate that they gave their franchise for the future Prime Minister.