Gujarat: BJP's 'testing ground'

  • From: "muslim-news.net" <muslim_affairs@xxxxxxxxx>
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  • Date: Wed, 18 Dec 2002 10:36:10 +0000 (GMT)

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/2577801.stm  BJP supporters 
celebrated the win
Analysis 
By Sanjoy Majumder 
BBC News Online, Ahmedabad The BJP's landslide victory in the Gujarat state 
elections comes as a massive boost to the party. 
The victory in one of the party's traditional stronghold stems a flow of recent 
electoral defeats. 
The Congress has often appeared to be a B-team of the BJP 
Ajay Umath, Editor, Gujarat Samachar 
But the result also signals a move to the right for the party, with hardliners 
now firmly in control. 
More state elections are due in India next year, which will give the BJP more 
time to test its hardline stance ahead of general elections slated for 2004. 
Spreading its wings 
Gujarat has always been a strong support base for the BJP and is often 
described as a testing ground for its Hindu nationalist agenda. 
With Muslims making up less than 10% of the state's population, the party has 
worked hard to unite the Hindu vote in its favour.  Mr Vaghela's former BJP 
links failed to divide the Hindu vote

In the past, the Congress has benefited by splitting the Hindu votes by 
appealing to disadvantaged groups in the state as a bloc- Muslims, lower caste 
Hindus and tribal communities. 
The BJP and hardline Hindu groups allied to it have managed to break that hold. 
For the first time since independence, the BJP has won massive support in areas 
dominated by tribals or indigenous peoples. 
These were areas which had been badly hit by religious riots earlier this year, 
pitting the tribals and lower caste Hindus against the Muslims. 
And earlier, it was here that hardline Hindu groups took out a campaign against 
Christian organisations, who they blamed for forcibly proselytising the 
tribals. 
Tactical errors 
Many observers also say the Congress erred by letting the BJP set the agenda. 
"The Congress has often appeared to be a B-team of the BJP," says Ajay Umath, 
editor of the Gujarati language Gujarat Samachar newspaper.  Gujarat polls had 
assumed national significance

The Congress campaign was led by a former BJP politician, Shankarsingh Vaghela. 
"Throughout the elections, the Congress played down its secular credentials and 
instead tried to steal the BJP's Hindu agenda. And it failed," says Mr Umath. 
The party is also said to have suffered because in many constituencies it chose 
to nominate relatives of senior leaders over more deserving candidates. 
Hardline agenda 
The BJP's victory also strengthens the position of its state leader, Narendra 
Modi. 
Mr Modi was picked to head the party in Gujarat to arrest its apparent 
political decline in the state about a year ago. 
He was accused by many of playing a partisan role during the Hindu-Muslim riots 
earlier this year. 
The controversial chief minister single-handedly led his party's campaign in 
the state, becoming the rallying point for pro- and anti-BJP supporters. 
National-level BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and 
deputy premier LK Advani played a limited role during the campaign. 
The charismatic Mr Modi is now firmly established as a mass leader in his own 
right and could well harbour ambitions of taking on a larger role in national 
politics. 
Observers also say that his hardline politics may be replayed by the BJP in 
coming state and national elections. 
Limited appeal 
But critics argue that the Gujarat model cannot easily be replicated elsewhere. 
"You cannot juxtapose Gujarat onto the rest of India," says political analyst 
Devendra Yadav. 
Gujarat has always been seen to be more inclined towards a Hindu nationalist 
agenda.  Chief Minister Modi's aggressive campaigning paid off 

And Muslims as well as other disadvantaged groups are politically far more 
influential in states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, India's political 
heartland. 
It is also not clear if the Gujarat result could damage the standing of the 
prime minister in his own party, something that has often been suggested. 
Mr Vajpayee is seen as a moderating influence in the party and many hawkish BJP 
members have suggested that there is little space for his politics in their 
eyes. 
But he is also the BJP politician with the widest appeal outside the party, 
something that is crucial in holding together the unwieldy coalition government 
in Delhi. 
That makes it quite unlikely that he would have to give way to someone else 
anytime soon. 




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