Narendra Modi wins Gujarat but Delhi seems farther

Modi will have to tone down his over-the-top politics to make himself acceptable on a national stage

Dinesh Narayanan
Updated: Dec 21, 2012 11:49:40 AM UTC

Narendra Modi won, decisively, again. It was never in doubt that Modi's' BJP would return to power in Gujarat, especially after the principal opposition, the Congress Party, showed that it was woefully short of ideas and strategy. The only debate was whether the BJP  would improve upon its tally of 117 in 2007 or not. It has ended with a total of 115, two short of the previous score. Surprisingly, despite its lack of strategy, the Congress improved its vote share by about a percentage point and converted that to 61 seats.

Gujarat BJP treasurer Surendra Patel said the results were as he expected. ``I had expected this result, give or take five seats,'' Patel told Forbes India. It was, however, not the result Narendra Modi wanted and targeted. The undisputed leader of Gujarat and potential contender for party nomination as the prime ministerial candidate in the next general elections was targeting to break Madhavsinh Solanki's record of 149 seats with a vote share of 55.5 per cent in 1985. Five years before that Solanki had led the Congress to win 141 seats with a vote share of 51 per cent. BJP's vote share also dropped by about a percentage point.

The results show incremental votes benefited the opposition more than the BJP. Even though the number of registered voters did not increase significantly, that of those who purposefully trekked to the polling booths did. Gujarat's voting percentage went up from 59 per cent to nearly 70 per cent. As was seen in the UP elections earlier this year, women turned out in large numbers; their turnout increasing from 57 per cent to 68.9 per cent.

Had Modi been able to win another 20 seats, the stalwarts of BJP would have found it hard to ignore his claim to lead the party into the next general elections, now scheduled for 2014, and perhaps become Prime Minister if it were to win. However, that agenda remains paved with obstacles.

Without doubt, it took every bit of Modi's brilliance as a strategist and charisma to effectively neutralise Keshubhai Patel's rebellion and the swell of anti-incumbency. However, even that could not save many of his ministerial colleagues such as health minister Jay Narayan Vyas, agriculture minister Dilip Sanghani and finance minister Praful Patel lost. Modi's trusted lieutenants, revenue minister Anandiben Patel and industries minister Saurabh Patel won only because they moved to safe seats.

Many leaders cutting across parties also sank. State BJP president RC Faldu, state Congress chief Arjun Modhwadia, leader of Opposition in the legislature, Saktisinh Gohil, and Gujarat Parivartan Party's Gordhan Zadaphia all lost.

A Sangh Parivar leader said that it showed that the personalist politics of Modi is unsustainable in the long run. He said Modi had a legitimate claim to nomination as BJP's prime minister candidate. But that would need a change in his style of politics, he said pointing out that Modi had already started doing it. ``The visit to Nagpur (to the RSS headquarters before the elections) was unusual. It meant that he understands the ground reality much better than anyone else.''

There will be those in the BJP who would see the Gujarat victory also in the context of the Congress botching up its strategy. Its candidate selection was poor and close to the polls it even let go of an influential Patel leader Narhari Amin, whom Modi lost no time in welcoming to the BJP. Party leaders have so far avoided answering the question of who would lead it in the 2014 elections.

The Sangh Parivar leader said Keshubhai has certainly made a dent in the unity of the Parivar in Gujarat. Many RSS and VHP leaders have shifted loyalties, overtly and covertly, to his side.

For Modi it will be a dilemma. He knows that within the Parivar, he would need to be conciliatory to win friends. However, the essence of his leadership is concentrated power that brooks no opposition or debate. As we had argued in a previous article, his is a personalist government focussed on keeping the spearhead sharp. Narendra Modi's Gujarat model of development is difficult to replicate on a national stage where a large number of interests converge. Balancing that will be tough for the Modi who was on display until now. But immediately after his victory he gave indications that he may be willing to change. Modi visited Keshubhai Patel at his residence and touched his feet before exchanging sweets.

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