Why Do The Losers In Gujarat Seem More Exhilarated Than The Winners?

Raman Swamy

BJP has won the Gujarat elections – but the margin of victory is so thin that it is almost embarrassing.  Like a student who posed like a potential topper ending up barely scraping through the exam, it is a bit of a let-down. 

The party rank and file are, frankly, puzzled. What happened, they seem to be asking.  Only 99 seats?  What about the 150 the mighty strategist Shah promised? Or at least 120, 115 or even 110? 

The big leaders – with chests definitely not swelling with pride -- are frantically attempting to boost karyakarta morale with a series of pep-talks, listing whatever positives they can think of at short notice. 

Amit Shah addresses a press conference and reels off unconvincing vote share numbers from 2012 and 2017, brusquely ignoring the 2014 figures.  We won, didn’t we? -- this seems his central message.  We will have chief ministers in 19 States and we will add to the tally in 2018 and win big in 2019 and usher in a New India by 2022, all under Modiji’s dynamic leadership, he concludes. 

He then delivers a this-is-what-you-must-say lecture to party faithful at BJP headquarters.   They listen, clap politely, set off a fire-cracker or two, dance a jig to fend off the winter chill and then go back to feeling puzzled and perplexed.  What happened?  Will we not even cross the three-figure mark? 

Then Narendra Modi himself comes to the mike.  There is an air of heightened expectation at 11, Ashoka Road.  But it becomes clear soon enough that Modi is finding it difficult to sound triumphant.  

Perhaps the defeat of party candidate his home district of Mehsana is still rankling – BJP’s Lalludas Patel from Unjha constituency lost meekly to Congress candidate Dwarkadas Patel, who polled 74,438 votes.

Perhaps Modi too is bewildered about why the wonderful EVM machines let him down so terribly in Saurashtra and in rural areas across the State.  What is this agrarian distress that everybody is harping on, even those ungrateful TV anchors he has done so much for?  Farmers should not believe all the rumours being spread by the intellectuals sitting in elite mansions in Delhi.  They are only interested in caste politics.  They hate me because I am trying to derail development and make fun of my Vikas.  All of you must ignore the conspiracies they are hatching with the help of Pakistan.  You must have faith in me, Modi will lead you to a big victory in 2019.  Did we not win a double victory today? We won in Himachal. We won in Gujarat.

Yes, Modiji, you won in Gujarat, but you won by the narrowest of margins.  It is your home State.  It is the crucible of your Gujarat model of development.  More than half the voters voted against you.  BJP received only 49 per cent of votes polled. 

Also, horror of horrors, lots of traditional BJP supporters exercised the NOTA option.  Election Commission say nearly two per cent of the voters pressed the EVM button for "None Of The Above".  They were not Congress supporters, they were your voters but this time they were so angry with you that they wanted to register their anger by voting NOTA.

Also, talking about the Congress, how has it improved so much?  You said Rahul Gandhi is a “pappu”.  But he campaigned like a tiger.  He did not look like a political nincompoop.  He did not sound like an ignoramus.  He attracted huge crowds everywhere. 

Is that not why BJP lost so much ground in the Saurashtra region? Even in north and central Gujarat BJP has lost some seats that it had won in 2012.   Is it the Rahul factor?  Does it mean Gujarat will not be Congress-mukt?  With more than 80 new Congress MLAs out of 182, has Gujarat not become Congress-yukt?  

And what about the Hardik, Jignesh, Alpesh factors?  The Congress has drawn eight per cent more Patel votes this time compared to last time.  It has also gained 17 seats in rural Gujarat.  How can this happen in your home State, in your stronghold territory? 

How is it that Rahul Gandhi launched such an aggressive campaign – how can a Pappu be so effective in cashing in on the anger of key sections of the population and turning them against the BJP.  He went about urging farmers and traders to reject Gabbar Singh Tax and to register protest against Note Bandi.  He blamed you, Modiji, for their poverty and financial losses.  And he convinced half the voters. 

Amit Shahji has said that "Dynasty, Casteism and Appeasement have lost to Vikas”.   Yes, Rahul Gandhi has lost the election.  But he was successful in forging friendships with other young people like Hardik Patel, the face of the Patidar agitation, like Dalit activist Jignesh Mevani and OBC leader Aplesh Thakor.  Both JIgnesh and Alpesh have won their elections.  How can we say he is playing caste card to divide society when he has united Patidars and Dalits and OBCs?  Bringing people together cannot be called dividing, no?

We have accused Rahul Gandhi of low level of politics.  But even after losing elections he has tweeted:  "My brothers and sisters, you have made me very proud. You are different than those you fought because you fought anger with dignity. You have demonstrated to everyone that the Congress's greatest strength is its decency and courage".

The BJP has tried to ‘expose’ his temple visits, and said he has no right to project himself as a Hindu.  But Congress candidates have won in several temple town constituencies – even Dwarka, the seat of the dancing Lord Krishna. 

True, three heavyweight Congress leaders of Gujarat have been defeated - Arjun Modhvadia (Porbandar), Shakti Sinh Gohil (Mandvi), Siddharth Patel (Dabhoi) and many other senior leaders too.  But, it is an open secret that some of the Congress stalwarts have been doing nothing for the last two decades – instead of acting like genuine Opposition leaders they have been busy with private business activities with contracts from the BJP government.   So maybe their election loss may only help Rahul Gandhi, who as new Congress president wants to get rid of old guard who are not active or effective. He wants committed leaders, both experienced and young.

So, while winning big always boosts morale, narrow victories can sometimes be embarrassing and counter-productive, especially if prestige is dented.  

At the same time, losing elections is never a pleasant experience – but sometimes losing by a wafer-thin margin can uplift spirits and bolster self-confidence.  

For Rahul Gandhi, who took over as party president barely four days ago, giving Narendra Modi, a Prime Minister of four years standing, a scare in his home State can be like an elixir and give the Congress party the tonic and the hope it needs.

Dec 19, 2017

Raman Swamy [email protected]

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