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Election Euphoria.

Byline: Muhammad Ali Ehsan

Two polls in Gujarat have been announced by the Indian Election Commission. The elections are being held on 9 and 14 December with both BJP and Congress aspiring to do well. What makes the elections unique is that Gujarat is going to the polls after 15 years without Narendera Modi being its Chief Minister. The elections come on the heels of the elections in Himachal Pradesh where polls (9 Nov 2017) have been held but counting of votes has been left pending to coincide with the counting of votes in Gujarat. Post-Gujarat elections, Indians will be witnessing the results of elections of two states. There are not many Indians who are waiting for a surprise result. In all probability, the BJP is going to run over the election results this time again because of the leadership of PM Narendra Modi. Since the time he has come into power at the center he is leading electoral victories one after the other.

According to the election plan in Gujarat, the first phase of polling will take place on 9 December in which 89 assembly seats will be contested across 19 districts. In the second phase, 93 assembly seats will be contested across 14 districts. This will be a huge election for India by any standards. Considering that the population of Gujarat stands at 62.7 million, the state has been the centre of the Hindu-Muslim fault line.

Almost 10% of the Muslim population in Gujarat is likely to hold an important influence on the result. The 182 member legislative assembly is most likely to be reshuffled though not with the inclusion of members from other parties. The BJP is most likely to return many legislators to the assembly. During Narendra Modi's term as Chief Minister of Gujarat, the BJP won elections in 2002, 2007 and 2012. Come 2017, it is expected that people of Gujarat will come out in huge numbers to give a thumping victory to the BJP which is led by a man who rose to become a very popular Indian prime minister.

Reports in the Indian press suggest that the Congress is accusing the BJP of having announced schemes and projects in Gujarat worth Rs 11,000 crore in the run up to the elections. The Congress has been raising a hue and cry and accusing the BJP of violating the moral code and has also accused the Election Commission for having given an unfair and undue advantage to the BJP. These allegations are quite similar to the ones that the opposition parties in Pakistan hurl at the ruling party. What this shows is that unless there is no independent regulatory authority that is sovereign enough not to take any political pressures, the ruling governments whether in India or in Pakistan, will keep finding ways to circumvent the moral codes and election rules and procedures to extract electoral benefits for themselves.

It must also be considered that Gujarat was confronted with floods in July and August 2017 and over 200 people lost their lives and many districts were devastated. The BJP government has already provided a lot of relief and rehabilitation. This was on humanitarian grounds and the responsibility of the government but the elections coming just a few months after this would give a definite advantage to the government as it was already reaching out to the people to address their post-flood problems.

The other important question is the timing of the elections. Is the state ready to conduct the elections while it has not fully recovered from the flood devastation? Given that government machinery is employed and governm-ent personnel have combated the natural calamity, will the state be able to pool the right resources to ensure a fair and free elections within the given time frame? The election commission faces a political dilemma in order to squeeze in the elections as the term of the Gujarat assembly is also expiring on 22 January 2017. Managing the possibility of most of the eligible 4.33 million voters turning out to vote at over 50,128 polling stations across the state in itself will not be a mean accomplishment. The Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) has a tough job on his hands.

There are restrictions on the ceiling of expenditures (Rs 28 lakhs per candidate) plus many other rules and regulations that must not be violated under the auspices of the Election Commission. The Commission has, in due fairness, also decided to initiate the counting of votes on 18 Dec and has held back the counting of votes in the Himachal polls so that the results of these polls do not influence the voting pattern in Gujarat.

While the mood is set and there is an atmosphere of electioneering in Gujarat, all eyes are focused on how the Gujaratis would vote for the BJP minus the presence of Narendra Modi in state politics. The president of the BJP, Amit Shah is already taunting the Congress and saying that the party neither has a political strategy nor a leader to turn the results of the Gujarat elections on their head. The BJP is already predicting that it will nab up to 150 seats in the elections.

The Chief Minister of Gujarat, Vijay Rupani claims that elections in Gujarat are about rashtravaad (nationalism) and vikas (development). Both are the 'punch words' of the Indian populist and nationalist Narendra Modi. It is riding the wave of this populism and nationalism that Modi led BJP in the recent state elections in Uttar Pradesh and won 300 seats in a 400-member legislative assembly. It is a similar victory that the BJP wants to replicate in Gujarat.

Congress Vice president Rahul Gandhi is also running an aggressive election campaign in Gujarat and heating up the political atmosphere by urging people to reject the BJP as he claims that the "Gujarat model of development has failed." He is also referring to the new national tax GST as "Gabbar Singh Tax." The BJP on the other hand is highlighting Rahul Gandhi's excessive visits to temples in Gujarat as an attempt to conduct "Temple Politics." It also questions Rahul Gandhi as to why he did not take any action when the Kerala unit of the Congress held a beef festival and slaughtered a calf?

These accusations and counter-accusations may become more intense and 'dirty politics' may also be resorted to in order to harm each other's political standing as the election comes nearer. However, one thing is certain. The Congress will find it extremely difficult to lay its political claim on Gujarat as all political pundits are forecasting a thumping victory for the BJP.
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Publication:South Asia
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Dec 13, 2017
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