Narendra_Modi_and_Anandiben A
Political Bureau

State legislative assembly elections are due in many states, which include Gujarat, Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh by the end of 2017.

The last two are ruled by Congress. Among them, Gujarat will be witnessing the hardest battle between the ruling BJP and an aggressive Congress.

As the home turf of Prime Minister Narendra Modi Gujarat has a special place. It served as a springboard for Modi to the PM post. He was the state CM for 13 years when he took over the reins from Keshubhai Patel in 2001.

However, Modi’s successor CMs after he moved to Delhi in 2014 as PM did not add to BJP’s strength.

Prolonged Patidar agitation and Dalit protests showed the weakness in the social base of BJP in Gujarat, which has been a national showcase of rapid development under Modi.

Latest was the BJP’s failure in stopping Congress veteran Ahmed Patel from becoming a Rajya Sabha member for a fifth term. Despite cross-voting, Patel managed to win and it served as a morale booster for Congress in challenging BJP’s aura of invincibility in Gujarat.

Now party chief Amit Shah has vowed to payback for the defeat with a higher tally in Gujarat state assembly elections, due in December. It is named as Mission 150.

Gujarat After Modi’s Exit As CM

However, BJP has to sweat a lot as the last three years following Modi’s shifting to Delhi as PM has weakened its leadership in the state.

Anandiben Patel who succeeded Modi proved incompetent politically and had to go. The Patel agitation seeking reservation in jobs and education during her reign exposed the confusion and weakness.

It was in contrast to Modi’s term as CM which showed a mix of unquestioned leadership, administrative control, and political skill.

As CM, Modi dominated every segment of governance with his tight structure. Those who came later were weak CMs and created multiple power centers and an informal structure still prevails.

The power vacuum and weakness were evident in the handling of Patel agitation and the alienation of that social group. Also, the incumbents after Modi was politically complacent and lacked the political potential to guide the party, unlike Modi who was always on his feet politically and was the absolute power center in the state.

Now political observers say the state has three power centers – BJP national president Amit Shah, CM Vijay Rupani, and Deputy CM Nitin Patel who is the finance minister.

Leveraging Sardar Sarovar Irrigation Project

In the new outreach, BJP will roll out a “rath yatra” (chariot tour) covering 24 districts that will benefit from Narmada waters from the just completed humungous Sardar Sarovar dam. BJP projects the dam as the biggest achievement of its rule in Gujarat.

The main plank of Gujarat election will be farmers’ issues and pronouncements on agrarian reforms. They are the tools in meeting economic demands by Patels and Dalits. In April. Prime Minister Modi inaugurated the second phase of the ambitious Saurashtra Narmada Avataran Irrigation (SAUNI) scheme at Botad in Saurashtra.

He also dedicated the first phase of the Rs12,000-crore project to the nation by releasing water into Krishna Sagar lake. The SAUNI scheme seeks to provide Narmada waters to irrigate water starved areas in Saurashtra region. The 74-km long Phase-2 worth Rs1,695-crore was also inaugurated by the PM at the same function.

Congress Wooing Farmers, Patels

Congress is wooing voters with the promise to waive loans of all farmers in Gujarat. For farmers in Gujarat, minimum support price (MSP) and irrigation facilities are emotional issues. On Narmada project, completing sub-canals and branch canals before polls will be critical for BJP.

State Congress president Bharatsinh Solanki also asserted that his party would waive farm loans and good support prices for produce and scrap 5percent VAT on fertilizers.

But BJP has already started doing certain things with a long-term goal. The state budget has given special emphasis to irrigation and agriculture with farm loans at one percent interest rate.

A scheme for helping farmers to buy tractors was also announced. An allocation of Rs 5,100 crore has been made for the Sardar Sarovar project to make the arid land of Kutch cultivable.

Finance minister Nitin Patel also offered subsidized power to farmers at an allocation of Rs 4,011 crore. Also, Rs400 crore has been specially earmarked for free power targeting village waterworks.

Gujarat has 12.5 million hectares of cultivable land. But the irrigated land was only 3.8 million hectares until 2000, which later increased to 6.2 million hectares in 2016. 

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