Gujarat Assembly Polls 2017: Congress and BJP offer Sops, Engage in Social Engineering

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The two major political parties, Congress and BJP, are offering sops and promising the moon. Both parties are also busy balancing caste factors and are into social engineering, opines our Associate Editor, Navodita, in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.

As Gujarat gears up for elections on December 9, both the major political parties are reaching out to the electorate with sops, promises and dreams. A major show is on by Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi in the state where he is going all out to address public rallies and campaigns across various cities.

Last week, he began his tour of north Gujarat by paying a visit to the Akshardham Temple in Gandhinagar, mainly targeting the Patidar community. Promising structural reforms in GST, if the Congress comes to power, Gandhi said the current GST is not a simple tax but ‘Gabbar Singh Tax’. Office of Rahul Gandhi tweeted, “India does not need a Gabbar Singh Tax. We want a true GST, Congress, along with the people of India, fought for and ensured the reduction in items in 28% bracket. Next we will fight for one rate, with a cap at 18%. If BJP doesn’t do it, Congress will.”

Gandhi also paid a visit to Wadinath temple, an ancient temple of the shepherd community in Thara town in Gujarat. One of the women from the community gifted a basket to the Congress VP who asked them about their livelihoods. He stopped to meet the Vadi community in their slums along the Deesa-Thara highway near Akhol. Vadi community is a nomadic tribe that weave baskets for a livelihood. Rahul Gandhi interacted with Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee’s IT cell team and volunteers in Banaskantha district.

While the BJP, on the other hand, said its election committee meeting will be held sometime this week after the PM returns from the India-ASEAN summit on November 14. The party may also wait for Congress list and the outcome of the talks between Hardik Patel and the grand old party. Many BJP MLAs are said to be apprehensive that PM and Amit Shah may implement their time-tested formula of denying tickets to sitting members to beat anti-incumbency.

Modi, as Gujarat CM, had denied tickets to 47 sitting MLAs, in 2007, but the figure came down to around 30 in 2012, ostensibly in the wake of the challenge posed by Keshubhai Patel’s Gujarat Parivartan Party. In 2002, when Modi-led BJP for the first time as CM in an election, 18 of 121 sitting MLAs were dropped.

While Keshubhai is no longer a threat to BJP, the manner in which the Patidar quota agitation led by Hardik Patel (no match in stature to Keshubhai Patel) was dealt with by the BJP government has antagonised the community like never before. Hardik is likely to have a tie-up with Congress and even if this does not work out, he is not going to back BJP.

The Congress with its KHAM policy (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim) formula used in the past maybe strong this time, though BJP has made some overtures to tribals in past few months. That leaves the BJP with the upper-caste (Brahmin, Bania-10%) and OBC (mainly Kolis- 20% by some estimates). With cracks surfacing in the Patels (15%), BJP expects some of its loyal vote banks from the community to come to the party. But if antagonism is deep, Congress may gain the support of a sizable chunk of Patidars.

As a bitter and caustic social media war is on, videos, hashtags and infographics countering each party’s claim are rife on platforms like Twitter and Facebook. BJP’s national IT department head Amit Malviya told Economic Times that WhatsApp is the most pervasive among digital forms of campaigning. “On a recent tour to Gujarat, I met BJP workers from Bharuch who are prolific on social media and have created information networks for grassroots’ mobilization predominantly using WhatsApp. It is best to connect with voters in local areas, convince them and add them to a common interest group using WhatsApp to share our messages.”

From his various trips and rallies in Gujarat, Modi’s posted over 40 tweets directly related to the state last month. Parties are reluctant about revealing their social media budgets. Volunteers take on much of the online work, they say. Both BJP and Congress have posted online photos of state-level IT cell meetings in packed auditoriums. While Congress has about 50 volunteers working on creative content such as videos, memes, etc. with another 4000 actively using Facebook, Twitter and other channels. It is said that BJP has a 15-member team in Ahmedabad working on creating content for a digital medium.

Meanwhile, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar exuded confidence in the BJP saying the election should not be viewed as a prelude to the 2019 elections and that BJP will win Gujarat Assembly polls since it is the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “Why are people speculating over the results of Gujarat Assembly elections? It is not a semifinal before 2019. However, I do feel that Panchayat, Assembly and Lok Sabha elections should be held simultaneously to save time and money.”

As social media hots up over the Gujarat elections, is it going to be yet another ‘social media war’ with false promises that remain unfulfilled after election results are announced or will development really take place equally in all parts of the state? The election outcome should be in favour of a true leader who has worked for the people and instilled faith in the ‘service’ called politics.

©Navodita Pande

Photos from the Internet

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Navodita Pande has been practicing yoga since she was 9 years old in Iyengar Yoga. In April 1995, she performed at the International Yoga Seminar. In January 2003, Navodita taught at Hare Rama Hare Krishna Mandir in New York. Navodita had a Yoga show on NDTV 24×7 and was also the official yoga trainer for Miss Delhi contestants in 2007. She currently teaches Yoga and Reiki to
people in Kanpur.