The game of swings and roundabouts

At eight in the morning on December 20, before the votes have begun to be counted, Hemant Fitter, a spokesperson of the Gujarat Parivartan Party, is predicting a certain defeat for Narendra Modi.

He has a litany of complaints against the Gujarst chief minister that have been the refrain of many Modi opponents through the election campaign. Nothing he says today is new to me or anymore – Tatas get electricity at Rs 3 per unit while ordinary Gujaratis have to pay more than double that amount, Modi has time only for crony capitalists, the poor do not even get a look-in, he has stolen lands from tribals to hand over to rich friends, he sells government land at Rs 480 per square metre to industrialists while the Indian Air Force has to pay an enormous and unbelievable sum of Rs 9,000 per square metre for the adjacent plot, he covered up the gang rape in Surat some months ago but wants death penalty for the rapists in  Delhi, etc.

How many times have I heard all of that from a million people on the campaign trail and today I am glad I finally stepped into Modi’s Gujarat to see how different it really is from Mahatma Gandhi’s and Sardar Patel’s. Despite better sense, I am very tempted to believe Fitter when he says Gujaratis know what is good for them and that defeating Modi is crucial to prevent the state from receding a decade or more for, as he puts it, Modi is all hype and no substance. “Good marketing but no performance.”

As results pour in, the BJP is leading in 79 seats and the Congress in only 40. “These are just early trends,” Fitter’s faith is unshaken. “I have to go to a television studio. I will see you in the evening with a victory sign -no one will be able to form a government in Gujarat without help and support from Keshubhai.”

The GPP ends up with just two seats and the BJP, at 115, is only two seats short of its 2007 tally of 117. It seems like the Congress has taken those two seats tallying at 61 against its previous 59 seats and Keshubhai is now of no consequence. But Fitter is a brave man. I think he will not speak to me again but he calls me soon as he is out of the studio to say he had read the Gujarat ‘janata’ wrong. “They have obviously held Hindutva dearer than their own progress. Nothing else explains this result.”

But Dr Ganesh Devy, a social scientist who has been working among Gujarat’s tribals for nearly 30 years, disagrees. “I don’t think it was Hindutva that united Modi’s voters. It was more the fact that he ran a prime ministerial race. Gujaratis thought they could correct a historical wrong done to them when Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was denied the job of Prime Minister. But I am not disappointed. The fact that Modi has been unable to increase his tally shows he is static. Whatever his boasts, he will climb no further. This is the beginning of the end for Modi.”

Senior journalist and political analyst Ayesha Khan agrees with that perception. “Modi had all the advantage at these elections. He had absolute charisma, he had power, he had the money and he had the party machinery. His opponents had none of that. So he should have posted something like 135-odd seats at the minimum. If someone says he can still be the Prime Minister, I would say that the man would have to be absolutely madly and blindly in love with Modi. All that he can be is chief minister – again.”

Zubair Gopalani, businesman and educationist, who was the most certain that Modi would “go out of the window”, cannot even bear to take any phone calls today. “Let him try for Prime Minister if he wishes. Gujarat will then be rid of a bad chief minister.”

Cassim Unia, a senate member of Maharaja Sayyajirao University of Baroda, had always been cautious, though hoping against hope but always once bitten, twice shy. “The results are on expected lines,” he says. He is happy with small mercies – Modi after all got two less seats than he had in the previous House. For, as Khan warns, “it may not be a significant number but it indicates something has gone wrong for Modi and something has begun to change.”

They all have their own reasoning for what went wrong with Modi – and it did. For it is true that he should have won more and not less than his previous tally if Gujarat was really shining. But I am surprised that while trolls abuse and accuse journalists like me for seeing no good in Modi, I am now in turn pilloried by them for being part of the national media which supposedly eats out of Modi’s hands and does not educate even Gujaratis about the truth of, well, Gujarat.

“What can we do, Madam, if the Gujarati people are kept in the dark about how their state is really being sold down the drain,” says Fitter who wanted to quit the BJP for how it has been destroyed by Modi but couldn’t do so sooner for as a saffronist, his ideology did not match the Congress’ which, before the GPP, was the only option for people like him. I am startled when he says “Modi speaks untruths, speaks those untruths loudly and speaks them a hundred times to turn them into the truth. But they remain untruths.”

Now that one I have heard before on the campaign trail and wonder why, if such is the feeling among large sections of Modi’s six crore Gujaratis, that disenchantment did not show up in results. While the pundits chew on that one, I am sure Modi will, too. For different reasons. For his victory speech was far more conciliatory than it could have been under the circumstances. He won, of course. But he did lose two seats in the bargain, which even the BJP leaders in Delhi described as a ‘modest’ victory.

A bit like winning on the swings and losing on the roundabouts, isn’t it?

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