Monday, 17 December 2007

Modi all set to return to power: Exit polls

With polling of votes for the Gujarat assembly elections drawing to a close on Sunday, exit poll results indicate that Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party is set to regain power in the state.

According to an exit poll conducted by Indian Express-CNN-IBN-Divya Bhaskar, the BJP, which won 127 seats in 2002, will win 92-100 seats and secure a clear majority in the 182-member assembly.

Meanwhile, the Congress is expected to improve its tally from 51 seats in 2002 to 77-85 seats this time, the poll said, adding that the Bahujan Samaj Party and other rebels could split the votes of the main parties.

Though the Congress would not be able to make a dent in BJP's chances of regaining power, the poll indicated that Congress had managed to gain some ground in Saurashtra.

A similar projection was put forth by the NDTV-GfK Mode exit poll.

The poll predicted that BJP will manage to hold on to power and notch up around 90-110 seats.

It added that the Congress is expected to win about 70-95 seats, a clear gain of over 19 seats from the 51 it won in the 2002 assembly polls.

The common aspect that came across various exit polls was fall in vote-share of the saffron party.

The NDTV poll suggested that there was a four per cent swing of Patel votes away from the BJP in the phase two, as compared to eight per cent in phase one. The party also lost an estimated 13 per cent of tribal votes in this election.

The Star News-Nielsen exit poll saw BJP getting 103, losing about 24 seats of which a loss of 18 is in Sunday's phase in Central and Northern Gujarat. In the 2002 elections, in these regions, the party had swept winning 73 of the 95 seats at stake.

The Congress may get 76 seats, a gain of 25 seats, it said.

Zee News [Get Quote] and C-Voter projected BJP getting 93 to 104 seats followed by Congress at 75 to 87 seats. It gave saffron party a total vote share of about 48 per cent and Congress 45 per cent while the Star News exit poll projected that BJP will get 46.5 per cent votes while the Congress will secure 43.5 per cent.

In Sunday's phase, the Star News exit poll projected BJP getting 55 seats and Congress 39. The BJP and Congress had got 73 and 21 respectively in 2002.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Sonia seeks to puncture BJP's aggression

Congress President Sonia Gandhi on Thursday sought to puncture BJP's aggression against the UPA government on national security issue by pointing to the release of terrorists during NDA rule to secure the safe return of passengers of Indian Airlines plane in Kandahar.

Responding to BJP's allegation that the Congress-led government at the Centre was soft on terror, Gandhi told an election rally here that "one should not forget that during the BJP-led government, one of its ministers (Jaswant Singh) had gone to Afghanistan to release terrorists".

She said it was Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi who sacrificed their lives fighting terrorism.

The BJP has during the electioneering in Gujarat repeatedly attacked the UPA government of weak handling of terrorism for vote bank politics and cited "delay" in the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru as a case in point.

Gandhi said if Congress came to power, it would give a report of its performance every year as has been done by the UPA government at the Centre".

Gandhi said BJP "feels frustrated and threatened" by the large turnout of voters in the first phase of assembly poll last week. "The huge turnout in the first phase of polls has made it impatient," she said.

Vajpayee ad to woo voters for Modi

With questions raised over his 'silence' on Gujarat, local newspapers came out with an advertisement in which former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee sought votes for the return of the Narendra Modi in the elections.

The advertisement came just a day ahead of the close of the campaign tomorrow for the second and last phase of the elections on Dec 16, which has virtually been Modi's show for the BJP.

Vajpayee, who did not campaign in the Gujarat elections because of health reasons, tells the people that they again have an opportunity to ensure a good future for the state for five years.

"I am confident that you as in the past will choose a government which is committed towards growth and development of the state", he says in the appeal, asking people to return Modi to power.

Vajpayee says that Gujarat has made rapid strides towards development in the last few years. It has set new records in the area of development. The development has benefitted people belonging to all strata of society.

Promising that the BJP would provide a progressive and proud Gujarat, Vajpayee said the BJP Governments-be they at the Centre or in the states - had development as their target.

Vajpayee's message is signifiant as he issued a similar appeal in the case of poll-bound Himachal Pradesh which had raised questions about his 'silence' in Gujarat.

The Congress had on Wednesday taunted the BJP saying even Vajpayee did not believe that Modi would come back to power.

"I infer that Vajpayee not writing a letter to Modi means he does not support him and does not believe he will win," party spokesperson Jayanti Natarajan had remarked on Wednesday.

The Modi phenomenon

No chief minister has been as dominant or as controversial in the national media and public psyche as Gujarat's Narendra Modi.

None has created as much expectations or faced as many challenges as Modi.

Paradox is his trademark. He is a collage of multiple images -- inept pragmatist, Hindu fanatic, chief monster, can-do leader, dictator, development man, prime minister material, a menace to democracy, polarising and communal, CEO of Gujarat Inc.

Even for such a complex phenomenon that dominates Gujarat and engages the political discourse in India, one thing is clear -- Modi has evolved and is moving on an ascending escalator in his political life.

Modi has steadily risen from a modest family background with his disciplined nature and focused aim. His mother, Hiraba emphasises his firmness, self-reliant and independent nature.

Hiraba knew her son when she said of him: "If he faces obstacles, he would not give up or change his mind." And the son stated to this author," My mother does not wear a chappal that cost more than five rupees. The furniture in my house in my vatan (Vadnagar) is made mainly of plastic."

It is another matter that now he takes great care to turn out immaculately. His office in Gandhinagar, filled with hi-tech and expensive gadgets may sound an antonym to his protestations of simplicity.

Ideologically groomed in the Sangh ideology since he was a teenager, Modi was fond of talking about Swami Vivekanand and the 'integral humanism' of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya. His unusual organisational skills helped him rise fast in the Sangh Parivar, and the graduate to top positions in Bharatiya Janata Party. He was one of the architects of the party's victories in the 1995 and 1998 assembly polls. He was helped by his deep understanding of Gujarat's political sociology. But his abrasive style of dealing with his seniors in the party got him into trouble.

He was eased out of Gujarat by then chief minister Keshubhai Patel with BJP high command appointing him as the party general secretary. But he deftly used his political exile in New Delhi to demonstrate his competence by consolidating BJP position in the north Indian states.

Modi replaced Patel in the wake of the decline of BJP fortunes in local elections in Gujarat.

When he won the 2002 elections and finally became chief minister, his swearing in ceremony was distinguished by the presence of the prime minister A B Vajpayee and even chief ministers of non-BJP states. The event was telecast on a website which NRIs saw worldwide. It was more than symbolic, it indicated Modi's penchant for showmanship, and imaginative harnessing of technology for image building.

His rule since then has been constantly eventful and controversial. His authoritarian style that irked his party colleagues causing a nagging rebel factor that has embarrassed him in the current elections. His perceived arrogance and hubris-charged personality has alienated some sections of the Sangh Parivar.

Meanwhile, Modi has carved out his niche in hearts of Gujaratis, including its resourceful Diaspora, by his dynamism, resourcefulness as displayed in some breathtaking development projects and imaginative schemes. His personally clean image and initiatives to inculcate a new work culture in the state administration have helped. His imaginative adoption of the 'yellow' model of economic growth (taken from Eastern Tiger countries and revised to suit the imperatives of local conditions and India's democratic system), the imaginative introduction of SEZs and port-based development along with Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor are bound to make Gujarat a geo-economic power and create millions of jobs.

Meanwhile, it will be interesting to monitor his nimble-footed navigation between Hindutva and development as mediated by Gujarati pride and identity. Can we discern in him a subtle process of transformation from Hindutva-based leader to a development-oriented can-doer?

But all this requires a long gestation period for delivery of the benefits to citizens. Are people ready to wait for such a promised delivery? Does Modi have a critical mass, who feel they have received benefits of his development like water, electricity etc? Or will voters be influenced by the talk of his avid critics.

How far Modi has succeeded in neutralising the electoral politics of caste remains to be seen. (The Leuva Patels plus Kolis and a mix of farmers are against Modi's policies). It also remains to be seen if his strategic shifts around issues of development and Hindutva strike a resonant chord among the mainstream electorate.

Tale of Modi

It is assumed Narendra Modi will win. Every opinion poll, every opinion without a poll, says so. Television news coverage of his election campaign sees the imperiousness of a king who doesn’t feel the need to reach steady the crown, because he believes it is where it rightfully belongs. The television camera frames him, seated with his arms folded across his chest, legs firmly planted apart, head held high; when he stands and orates (he doesn’t just speak), in his rhetorical Q&A style, he’s a pedagogue, wagging his finger in the face of those who dare to disagree.

This is one of those occasions when the camera has colluded with the subject to project an air of complacent impregnability. Which is perhaps why Modi didn’t scruple, last week, about Sohrabuddin in full hearing of the TV microphones. We saw that duet between him and the audience — it was frightening

We met the same Modi — after his indefensible comments — on Times Now in his vehicle-chariot, dismissively insouciant when asked what he thought about his remarks. Why ask him what he thought of his own remarks? Obviously, he will think well of them. But news channels were bending surya namaskar to give him the opportunity to justify himself and he did so by lying back in his seat and waving away any hint of malice towards all or anyone. He didn’t just shut them up, he shut them down.

The myth of Modi’s invulnerability is perpetuated by the media. He always appears above the question, the accusation, even the people. On TV, seldom did we see him among the people — he waved from a distance or a height, to his admirers, on the ground.

It’s not just him. In the TV debates, his loyalists are more arrogant than him. Thus, on CNN-IBN’s very good The Great Gujarat Debate with Rajdeep Sardesai, Pandya had only one catechism: Modi, Modi, Modi.

If TV cameras are to be believed, Sonia Gandhi conducts herself at the same level as the public. She’s walking the campaign, pumping the flesh, she’s also letting her fingers do the talking, but only in handshakes. She’s shown at the dais, a wave, a speech. When she sits, she seems posed or poised to jump up and move on. So to Rahul Gandhi, Sunday, in his now compulsory car-about stand-up act. He dimples, he’s amiable. Nothing (so far) imperious about him.

What we’ve seen so far is a self-styled ‘King’, a Lady In Waiting and Prince Charming. No one else received more than a few sound bytes. Until last week, TV excerpts had Mrs Gandhi talking development as much as Mr Modi. But throughout the campaign, English news channels talked Godhra, communal divide, 2002 riots. The documentaries on NDTV 24x7 by Shikha Trivedi are good examples of how news channels don’t want anyone to forget what happened, what’s happening now. So you have an unbridgeable distance between channels’ unceasing chatter on Godhra and the politicians’ silence on the subject. Then, last week, the politicians returned to the scenes of those crimes with Congress president’s labelling the Gujarat Chief Minister ‘maut ka saudagar’, followed by Modi’s infamous Sohrabuddin challenge.

We have watched the transition and imagery. And seen that this campaign bears certain remarkable similarities with coverage of the 2004 general election campaign: then we saw an India Shining for BJP as Gujarat is Shining for Modi now; then, L.K. Advani travelled on a mechanised vehicular rath and Vajpayee appeared on high — neither came down to the people’s level, this time it’s Modi’s turn to stay above it all; then Vajpayee was the undisputed king, so is Modi; and once again, Sonia is mounting a development challenge at the grassroots level. Still, everyone thinks Modi will win.

Modi-fying the BJP

This Gujarat elections, it's Narendra Modi versus the Congress. Modi's political strategy has hit his own colleagues in the party.

Today, virtually every top leader of the BJP has either quit or is on his way out. Is Modi injecting some new vigour or eliminating all other power centers?

The overnight transition from nomadic pracharak to the BJP's only Gujarat icon was not accidental, but choreographed, using every tool of modern political communication.

''Modi is using Internet, Modi is using blogs, SMS, live programmes to his advantage. And he is a master spin doctor,'' said Ajay Ummat, Editor, Divya Bhaskar.

Once the BJP had leaders in every region in Gujarat. Suresh Mehta in Kutch, Keshubhai Patel in Saurashtra, Kashiram Rana in Surat and Saknar Sinh Vaghela in Central Gujarat.

Almost all of them now have either quit or on their way out.

Ask those like Suresh Mehta and they will blame the influence of Modi on the high command.

''Because of Advaniji only, he was the party. He was totally given charge of Gujarat for the Centre. Whenever there was a question of Gujarat, it was passed to Advaniji. No one would even bother to look at it. Narendra was staying in Delhi realised this. He then held total grip over Advaniji and result is there today,'' said Suresh Mehta Former CM, Gujarat.

Others say that many leaders sidelined by Modi, were past their shelf life. Suresh Mehta, for instance, couldn't hold on to Kutch, his bastion. Even in the BJP sweep of 2002.

And that Modi has created a new political dynamic: A regional face to a national party.

''Narendra Modi is unique in one respect, that there are very few people who while existing in a national party like BJP or Congress has been able to evoke this fierce sense of regional pride,'' said Swapan Dasgupta, Modi Campaign Activist

In Narendra Modi, the BJP has found its formula for winning Gujarat. But in the process, has it lost its identity?

Modi plays water card to woo voters

Narendra Modi is now playing the water card in north Gujarat, which goes to the polls on Sunday.

Perhaps an indication that things haven't quite gone according to plan.

Water from various dams is being reached across to villages in Mehsana, Patan and Sabarkantha districts through narrow sub-canals like in Anwarpura village in Sabarkantha.

Overnight sub-canals are being dug, even though construction for the main canals is not yet over. Even the local farmers are surprised to see this sudden inflow of water.

''Its almost been fifteen days, we have started seeing water flowing through this canal. We are so happy it is going to help us in farming at a lower cost as we won't require to dig wells and pay for electricity consumption,'' said Vipul Patel, farmer, Sabarkantha.

''Finally water has arrived. We are getting water it is going to help us immensely,'' said Ambalal Patel, farmer, Mehsana.

Such is the desperation to win votes that parched lands are now getting water, something that has not happened during the six years of Modi rule.

The Congress is crying foul. ''We have been observing this also. It is a complete breach of code of conduct set by EC and the officials and BJP leaders who are doing this by digging canals overnight and reaching water temporarily to farmers, should be dealt accordingly by the Commission,'' said Jayantilal Parmar, spokesperson, Congress.

But the BJP finds nothing wrong in farmers being given water during harvest time.

''BJP government here under leadership of Modi has been working for benefits of farmers which Congress during its rule could not do they don't have any other issue but to wreck up things like this which won't help them,'' said Prakash Javadekar, spokesperson, BJP.

But even as water is supplied to woo voters, areas closer to the pipelines, like a Muslim-dominated area are not even getting drinking water. Modi has never considered Muslims to be a votebank and thus there is discrimination even in the supply of water.