Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Gujarat Elections: Development v. Communal Agenda

My view of a possible chasm between the political class and the voter on the question of seeking political mileage from communal violence met with a well-articulated critical response from Dilip in the comments section.

Today, I found some endorsement for my stand in the article written by Dipankar Gupta in Mail Today. Gupta is fascinated by the similarities in the electoral success of Vladimir Putin and Narendra Modi. He says: “Both are ruthless yet they enjoy enormous popularity. This appears contradictory. How can people forget Godhra? How can Russians forget Chechnya? Easy, just don’t think about it!”

Although Putin’s popularity is based on well-documented facts, Modi’s popularity, I would suggest, is the creation of the media. Gupta says Modi has set up small dams, hydel projects, better transportation systems and enterprises that spell jobs. Modi has claimed at the recently-held HT summit in New Delhi that Gujarat leads the country in power generation, in education, and water distribution, and school drop out rates are down to 3 per cent. The State purportedly has more than 18000 villages with uninterrupted power supply. Much of these claims is drawn from Ernst & Young’s Gujarat: Beyond the Obvious, released with State Government’s support in early October. For a critique of the Ernst & Young report, see this news item.

I have not found any serious examination of these claims of the State Government in the media, even in the context of the ensuing assembly elections. Therefore, I am eagerly awaiting the results to know whether the Modi got a mandate for his development agenda.

The purpose of this post, however, is to draw support for my thesis of a chasm from Prof.Dipankar Gupta. Gupta says:
In 2002, Modi just about made it as CM if one were to look at the percentage of votes received. In 36 constituencies it was neck and neck with the Congress. Then there were places where the BJP won by just 0.5% of votes. In numerous contests, such as Gondal and Jodiya, the BJP would have lost had the Congress, NCP and Janata Dal come together. That is why reports of Modi’s popularity today are all the more striking. If after riding the passions of the post-Godhra riots his vote share was not that impressive, how is it that today, many years later, when tempers have cooled, he is still so popular?”
Gupta suggests Modi’s continuing popularity rests on laurels other than riots, though it is true that he capitalized on the riots and got quite a bang for his money.

If I am correct, I cannot recollect any ruling party or a combination of parties in recent times in any State or at the Centre (except Left Front in West Bengal and Digvijay Singh in 1998 – there may be a few more exceptions) securing a second term at the hustings on the development agenda.
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