Up in the air

Gujarat is the BJP’s backyard but this time it hardly seems a walkover

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With each passing day, the Gujarat state assembly election has everyone on tenterhooks. It is believed to be net practice for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as after ruling Gujarat for 22 years, the BJP is feeling the pinch of anti-incumbency. Three young leaders from Gujarat — Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani have changed the narrative by turning youth displeasure against the government into an agitation. By asking people to challenge the status quo and by pointing out a flawed development model, the trio have created substantial anti-establishment sentiment and gathered momentum at the state level.

Patel, a heartthrob of the Patidar community has earlier spearheaded the agitation for quota in jobs and education for his community. While his rallies are witnessing massive support it will be important to see if this anger against the ruling government is enough to overturn the BJP on its own turf. Mevani is an independent candidate and a Dalit leader. He started hitting the headlines since he conducted a ‘Freedom march’ from Ahmedabad to Una to condemn the atrocities against his community after the Una Dalit incident. While Mevani doesn’t represent the community in the state, he certainly is an important voice in state politics whereas Alpesh is the Thakor leader, the community which accounts for 20% of the total OBCs in the state. Thakor is an emerging OBC leader with his own political and social base in the state.

While the Congress has supported the three emerging leaders, a complete whitewash of the ruling party seems a tough ask. The election has become a turning point for the Congress as it marks the transformation of Rahul Gandhi, the party president from the opposition anointed ‘pappu’ to a serious leader. Gandhi’s campaigning has the prime minister and most of his cabinet sweating it out full time in various constituencies. Given his dismal record, a close finish would herald Rahul Gandhi’s coming of age in Indian politics.

The anger against the government is an outcome of demonetisation and hurried GST. The textile and diamond industry in the state have suffered losses and is still recovering from the blow of what they call-“faulty implementation of policies”. Both industries create large number of formal and informal employment in Gujarat and are witnessing massive layoffs of local as well as migrant labour. In addition, distress among farmers, as the state has failed to ensure minimum support price, may affect the polling numbers for the BJP. Earlier this March, the UP assembly elections was thought to be too close to call but sprang an unexpected mandate. If Gujarat goes the same way will be clear on December 18.