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BJP's Hindutva sway on Gujarat urban voters main reason for Congress "defeat", despite impressive rural gain

By Our Representative
The Gujarat state assembly polls, which saw the BJP's tally come down to 99 from 115 in 2012, has shown that,/while the Congress has been able to "catch" the wrath of the rural voters, it failed to impress the urban citizens. According to one estimate, out of 55 urban seats, Congress won just 12, while BJP won 43. On the other hand, in the rural areas, out of 127 seats, BJP won 57 seats, while the Congress won 71.
In fact, during the campaign, Congress was virtually not visible in most of the state's urban areas, whose middle class voters, especially those belonging to the majority community, appeared pretty "impressed" by Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking to placate his predecessor Manmohan Singh and former vice president Mohd Hamid Ansari for the dinner-meeting held at Congress MP Manishankar Aiyar's residence in honour of ex-Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri.
In fact, there was a sense of shock and disbelief among these sections, especially when Modi talked of Pakistani hand in Gujarat elections, and the denials issued by Singh, Kasuri -- long known as a dove -- and another participant, former army chief General Deepak Kapoor, did not seem to impress them.
The middle classes seemed to care little even after it was revealed by an insider that the dinner was held because Kasuri was in town to attend a wedding, that Kasuri and Aiyar were friends and colleagues in Cambridge in 1960s, and that Gujarat did not figure during the discussions.
Said a senior BJP leader, this one remark on Pakistani connection with Gujarat polls, also picked up other BJP leaders, including finance minister Arun Jaitley, who sought an explanation from Congress on the meeting, helped Modi regain fringe urban voters, who appeared to be moving away from the party because of the double whammy of demonetization and Goods and Services Tax (GST).
The only sections that were not impressed were Muslims, and to some extent Dalits. Says Mujahid Nafees, a minority rights activist, "Muslims came out in huge numbers to vote for the Congress, unlike earlier when they would remain indifferent towards Congress, alleging that the party has done precious little for them." Not without reason, Congress' victory in three out four seats in Ahmedabad happened because of the crucial role of Muslim voters.
Yet, Hindutva seemed to rule top Gujarat cities. A voter, who happens to be a shopkeeper in Ahmedabad's Vejalpur constituency, which has a sizeable Muslim and Dalit population, told Counterview, "I remember the days when curfew would be imposed in our area on the drop of a hat. Though GST has hit me, things are peaceful under BJP, and I trust Modi."
Holding a similar view, textile traders in Surat have been quoted as saying that, despite being affected by GST, they would repose their faith in Mod because of his "ability to control riots", adding, after he took over in 2001, they could do business without any hurdle; in fact, they could bargain only with Modi and not with Congress, which seemed to only address "rural concerns."
A BJP leader admitted, “There was resentment over demonetization and GST among small traders. But the Centre moved swiftly two months ago, announcing relief measures GST structure. Also, the urban and semi-urban voter in Gujarat is by and large happy with the BJP governance in Gujarat."
At the same time, BJP leaders privately agreed that the party's victory in Gujarat is not worth celebrating. One of them has been quoted as saying that the BJP's victory is "as good as defeat", and had the Prime Minister not "carpet bombed" with his campaign starting with after November last week, and had "the last minute Congress faux pas not happened, they would have actually lost Gujarat."
Political commentator Sagarika Ghosh says, it is time when the Congress begins introspecting on "why it is losing urban India", adding, "That's because, unlike Modi, it fights shy of speaking an aspirational, business-friendly, growth-friendly language for fear of appearing pro-rich. Cong should instead adopt Manmohanomics!"
The view is strong, Modi’s "systematic infrastructural push in urban areas by constructing airports, roads and other public facilities still has a great appeal among voters". Says another commentator, "These are the people who have been the biggest beneficiaries of the so-called Gujarat model and have felt empowered with the new consumerist power they acquired because of the economic growth during Modi’s tenure as the chief minister."

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