The Homing Power Pigeon !
Indian politics oscillates between extending poles and impending polls .The first entails constantly shifting markers for political expediency and the second triggers a flurry of activity designed to entice as elections near .Thus the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his home state on august 30,2016 makes for interesting political interpretation.
One of the most high profile chief ministers who ruled the state for over a decade and a quarter, this is his first visit to Gujarat to address a public meeting after becoming prime minister over two years ago. In the interim he had been here for the Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors summit soon after taking over in Delhi, the visit of the Chinese president and a bureaucratic engagement in Kutch. All the three visits were meant to showcase his managerial prowess ,twice to a global audience and once to his indigenous managers.
It was in September 2012, just before the Vidhan Sabha elections in Gujarat that chief minister Modi had unveiled the Rs 10,000 crore Saurashtra Narmada Avtaran Irrigation (SAUNI) yojna. Using the excess Narmada flood waters,SAUNI would fill up the 155 water starved dams in scarcity prone Saurashtra region of Gujarat through a 1126 km pipeline network in five years .The publicity of the scheme had yielded rich dividends in the 2012 elections from the region. Four of the next five year term gone with little to show on the ground, it is time to build on the old illusions.
So prime minister Modi came down to Gujarat after two years to inaugurate the first phase of 57.67 kms . It took chief minister Modi 17 months before he could lay the foundation stone (February 2014) and the projected cost overrun is now three times(Rs33,100 crores). Modi’s 2012 poll cry ‘water for every farm, employment for every person” still remains a distant dream with the next state Assembly elections due in just over an year from now. In fact, it almost sounds like a replay of the Ahmedabad Metro rail project which was milked by Modi in three successive state assembly polls .The chief minister is now the prime minister but the work on the metro has only just about begun.
And this is the ostensible reason for the exercise in which the Vijay Rupani-led BJP government has pulled out all stops to showcase the SAUNI function. Over 800 buses were taken from the state-run Gujarat State Road transport Corporation(GSRTC) to bring the audience for Modi’s meeting from all four corners of the state ,an ultra-modern water-proof tent erected with a one lakh capacity for the public meeting complete with food and water packets .In short, the works .With just ten per cent of work done on the SAUNI project so far ,there is still no signs of the large number of pumping stations that would be required nor allocation of responsibility for bearing cost for the high power requirement for pumping water .However that s the least of the concerns.
Stung to the quick by the rising tide of popular discontent, the BJP has gone into damage control mode to salvage the state which is it’s bastion under siege. With the stick failing to yield results in stemming the patel stir for reservation in government jobs and admission to educational institutions under the OBC quota, the outgoing Anandiben Patel government dangled the carrot in the form of an incentive scheme for youth and subsequently 10 per cent reservation in the Economically Backward Category(EBC) .The EBC reservation has been struck down by the Gujarat High Court as unconstitutional and with the state in appeal before the Supreme Court the entire admission and recruitment process in the state is at a standstill. On the other hand the dalit stir in Gujarat shows no signs of abating even after taking the toll of a chief minister. Moreover numerous other signs of discontent are surfacing. Sweepers of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation have gone on strike and garbage is overflowing on roads while government engineers are threatening to strike work in support of their demands too. Faced with all round dissent the ruling party in Gujarat has had to pitch in the only ace they have.Narendra Modi.
With Saurashtra region emerging as the achilles heel of the ruling party, it is natural that Modi was chosen to showcase SAUNI in the region as a single pill for all the agri-ills tormenting it .The BJP had suffered major reverses in the district and taluka panchayat elections in Saurashtra last December . Besides it has been the epi-centre of both the patel and the dalit agitations. No wonder that both the new chief minister Vijay Rupani and the BJP state party chief Jitu Vaghani hail from the region.
However the speed with which party chief Amit Shah has taken charge of both the government and the party in taking it into poll mode is giving rise to speculation that there may be plans to usher in early elections in Gujarat. Polls in the state are due only in Nov-Dec of 2017 which would be after Punjab and UP which are slated for early part of next year.
Prime Minister Modi is a known votary for holding simultaneous elections to both lok sabha and vidhan sabhas and has been espousing this cause from numerous platforms .This atleast counts for the fact that he may not be inimical to the idea of holding simultaneous elections to the three state Assemblies. The BJP does not seem to be eyeing government forming prospects in Punjab where it’s partner SAD government is battling anti-incumbency .However AAP which sees significant gains for itself in Punjab and is also eyeing Gujarat would be too stretched to even look at the BJP bastion (Gujarat)in case of simultaneous elections. If UP,Punjab and Gujarat were to go to polls at the same time ,the same would be the plight of the Congress leadership as well ,logistics and resources also being an issue .
After all as someone said, politics is the art of the possible and the plausible and Modi is a no-holds barred player!.