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Winning Gujarat: Building emotional connect with voters is key to succeeding in the state

The image of PM Modi is synonymous with Gujarati pride. His presence as the prime minister has created a sub-nationalist assertion within the broader framework of Indian nationalism in Gujarat. This emotional thread is going to shape the election outcome more than any organisational or party-centred efforts.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal have been campaigning relentlessly across Gujarat. (Express File Photos)

The assembly election in Gujarat is likely to shape the future course of Indian politics: It is going to test the Congress’s resolve towards electoral revival, show whether the Aam Aadmi Party’s attempt to expand its footprint is yielding results and whether Brand Modi and Hindutva remain valuable electoral capital for the BJP. Of course, caste-based social engineering is all too prevalent in Gujarat. However, there are a set of factors related to emotional connections that play an important role in influencing election outcomes.

The first such factor is “Brand Modi”. The image of PM Modi is synonymous with Gujarati pride. His presence as the prime minister has created a sub-nationalist assertion within the broader framework of Indian nationalism in Gujarat. This emotional thread is going to shape the election outcome more than any organisational or party-centred efforts. The image of Modi is omnipresent — in the media, in rallies, and imprinted on development initiatives promoted by the Centre. It is talked about in the tribal areas of the Dangs as well as in cosmopolitan cities including Ahmedabad and Vadodara. The narrative around Brand Modi has been contested by the Opposition, of course, but it hardly figures in the conversation or does not seem powerful enough to dent the electoral capital it has generated.

A second factor is the “Hindutva aspiration” that provides an emotional basis for political connection. The BJP’s efforts to enhance Hindu pride by constructing the Ram temple in Ayodhya, renovation of the Kashi-Vishwanath temple corridor, and other mega symbols of Hindutva pride have a resonance on the ground. The BJP’s ability to do cultural politics is unmatched; its impact in reshaping hearts and minds is often ignored by political analysts. AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal seems to have recognised the import of this aspect, which is evident in his attempts to carve out a niche within this space by demanding that currency notes carry images of Hindu deities, Lakshmi and Ganesha. However, for cultural politics around Hindutva symbols to work, mere hyperbolic assertions are not enough; continuous and deep groundwork is needed for the claims and slogans to sound authentic.

A third invisible factor is the political kinship within the cooperative movement. Politics and the cooperative movement were always connected. However, the BJP has now replaced the Congress as the dominant player in the cooperative movement, which provides cadres and influencers to political parties. The BJP rose in Gujarat by weakening the Congress’s influence among the cooperatives. As the Union minister for cooperatives, Amit Shah has been engaging with producers, the market and mandi.

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A fourth factor that is enabling electoral mobilisations is linked to aspirations — one related to development and the other to dhanda (business). All political parties compete to tap these aspirations but the BJP, by projecting itself as the party of government through its rhetoric on “double-engine”, has been way ahead of its rivals. The AAP is an opening for newcomers interested in a political career — most civil society activists see their political future in it. In fact, civil society actors are helping the AAP build the party organisation. The BJP and Hindutva groups too have made deep inroads among NGOs and sewabhavi groups. Interestingly, the AAP seems to be winning over Congress sympathisers. Earlier, the impression was that the rise of AAP would hurt the BJP.

A strong party organisation is necessary to mobilise people around these factors. The BJP political machine is more powerful and efficient than any other. It is good at pooling resources and using all the inputs at its disposal to maximise outcomes. A good mix of seasoned organisers and mass leaders run the party election machine and the campaign. In contrast, the AAP campaign is focused on Arvind Kejriwal while the Congress campaign revolves around state leaders. The absence of Rahul Gandhi in the campaign is mentioned by Congress cadres and sympathisers. The BJP has sought to diminish the anti-incumbency sentiment by replacing a large number of sitting MLAs, including senior leaders.

However, elections have a logic of their own and are prone to throw up small and big surprises. In Gujarat, what factors influence the outcome are worth watching.

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The writer is professor, Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad

First published on: 26-11-2022 at 07:09 IST
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