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Amit Shah Needs Thackeray, Badal, Paswan in Gandhinagar?!

The BJP president roping in allies for his nomination day roadshow from one of BJP’s safest seats in Gujarat betrays nervousness.
Amit Shah Needs Thackeray, Badal, Paswan in Gandhinagar?!

Image for representational use only.Image Courtesy : NDTV

BJP president Amit Shah on Saturday filed his nomination from the Gandhinagar parliamentary constituency accompanied by a galaxy of leaders. Nothing new there, you would say. Par for the course. But what has sent ripples in the political world is that he also invited Maharashtra’s Shiv Sena supremo Uddhav Thackeray, Punjab’s Akali Dal leader, Prakash Singh Badal, who is 91 years old, and Bihar’s Lok Janashakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan to accompany him. Besides these allies, BJP leaders and Cabinet ministers Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari were also present.

In election campaigns, everything has a purpose. Especially, if you are the boss man of the ruling party, and a close associate of the Prime Minister himself. So, inviting these leaders for the very first step into what promises to be a bruising and bitterly fought election surely has some purpose.

When you start thinking about it, some rather strange possibilities emerge. And, all of them point to only one thing – Amit Shah is nervous.

Gandhinagar is one of the safest seats in the country as far as BJP goes. It has been with the party for three tumultuous decades, since way back in 1989. In the eight Lok Sabha elections since then, BJP has won Gandhinagar all the time. The earlier winners included party luminaries such as the late former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee (in 1996) and former deputy prime minister and party president L.K.Advani who won from here six times. BJP has always polled more than 50% of the votes in these eight elections. So, why does Shah need props to just kick off the election process in a pocket borough?

There could be three reasons: one, Shah wants to impress the Gandhinagar voters; two, he wants to impress the allies; and three, he wants to impress voters in Gujarat. Needless to say, all three could be true.

And, all these reasons point to the desperation in BJP arising out of a growing sense of voter discontent. The roadshow is for stemming the growing alienation from Narendra Modi and BJP.

Shiv Sena and the Mumbai Connection

The Shiv Sena has been relentlessly criticising the BJP and PM Modi himself throughout the five-year tenure of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. Right from demonetisation, GST, to joblessness to air strikes – every single step of the Modi government has been met with acid scepticism from the Maharashtra-based party. By mobilising Sena chief Thackeray, Shah is possibly thinking of blunting the edge of voter discontent in Gandhinagar and Gujarat. “We are united with even our critics,” seems to be the message, especially after the two parties struck a deal in Maharashtra.

But, more importantly, the goodwill of Shiv Sena is important for Gujarati traders who have deep connections with Mumbai. Whether you like it or not, Shiv Sena is a force to reckon with in Maharashtra and in Mumbai specifically. So, getting Thackeray on his side is a signal for the powerful and moneyed trading community.

Paswan for Dalits?

The five-year Modi era has also seen a dramatic erosion of support of the Dalit community for the BJP, across the country. Remember: Gujarat saw one of the most repulsive attacks on Dalit youths at Una in 2015, where Dalit youths were publicly flogged and a video of the incident made for propagation. This led to a very strong reaction with months of agitation. Subsequent events, like the failure of the Modi government to defend the atrocities law, the roster system for university posts, the lynchings in the name of cow protection, Bhima-Koregaon – all have justifiably angered Dalit communities.

So, perhaps Shah is thinking that Paswan as a Dalit leader would impress the communities in Gujarat, and specifically in Gandhinagar, which has about 8% Dalit voters among its 15 lakh total voters. Every bit matters.

But this is a real long shot, because the already low credibility of Paswan among Dalit communities is well known. He has been silently supporting BJP/NDA all through these years when Dalits were under attack. In any case, his influence on Gujarat’s Dalits is negligible.

Impressing the Allies

One reason for inviting NDA leaders to Gandhinagar could be that Shah wants to showcase his, and his party’s strength for the allies. This is understandable considering the 2004-NDA-debacle déjà vu that most of the NDA parties must be getting. Badal is from a state where his party lost badly in the Assembly elections along with BJP. Paswan is from Bihar where his party and BJP violated a clear mandate against them to grab power with turncoat Nitish Kumar, and are facing a tough challenge from the Rashtriya Janata Dal-Congress-small parties alliance. And Shiv Sena is running a minority government with BJP in Maharashtra, and facing a tough election, to be followed by an even tougher Assembly election.

Perhaps, they will get a much-needed feel-good shot in BJP’s citadel Gandhinagar. But if they do, and if that’s the purpose of inviting them, Shah is being naïve. All these allies are much experienced veterans of the electoral slugfest and are not going to be fooled by visiting Gandhinagar. They are probably thinking of it as a favour to Shah, humouring him, so to speak.

Whatever be the case, the Gandhinagar show is synthetic and a rather desperate gambit by a party looking for small incremental advantages in a tight battle.

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