It looks like the race in Gujarat is a one-horse affair, but the Congress might just emerge the dark horse in Himachal Pradesh.
Mondays' exit polls predict a comfortable victory for Narendra Modi in Gujarat, and he looks poised to to score a hattrick as chief minister. In Himachal, however, the Congress is likely to come back to power in a close contest.
Counting of votes begins sharp at 8 am on Thursday, December 20 and the trends would be prominent before noon.
At least four exit polls – the Headlines Today-Org survey, the Timesnow-C oter survey, ABP-News-AC Nielsen and another by Today’s Chanakya – predicted a clear win for Narendra Modi and the BJP. In fact, these polls suggest Modi will better his 2007 performance and get somewhere around 120-plus seats. The polls peg less than 50 seats in the Congress' kitty. The national party had got 59 in 2007 – another poll, this time by CNN-IBN predicted much the same today.
Most surveys have written off the Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) floated by Keshubhai Patel, saying it would not make much difference.
THE CHIEF MINISTER?
All surveys, including one by CSDS for CNN-IBN and The Week, were unequivocal that Modi was the clear choice for chief ministership of Gujarat. CSDS said 41 per cent of the people preferred Modi as CM, leaving others like Keshubhai Patel (8 per cent), Shankersinh Vaghela (8 per cent) and Shakti Singh Gohil (4 per cent) far behind. Even the Patel community opted for Modi as the chief minister of Gujarat, according to the survey.
What has worked for Narendra Modi? His development agenda, which analysts believe has turned anti-incumbency on its head.
The manifestos of the two main rivals, BJP and Congress, are almost mirror images of each other with particular focus on basic institutions like health, education, housing, agriculture etc. If the BJP promises 50 lakh houses in 5 years, then the Congress promises 15 lakh – which is a 'result-oriented plan'.
In healthcare, Congress promises free life-saving medicines, free treatment for cancer, kidney and heart diseases. BJP will give free generic medicines and diagnostic services through Gujarat Medical Services Corporation.
The Congress will role out scholarships for the youth in education, and the BJP will support deserve students in higher studies. Both have special schemes to encourage education among girls and women.
And as campaigns go, while Modi has gotten personal with Sonia Gandhi and Rahul, national Congress leaders have refrained from bringing up 2002 – Sonia Gandhi had called Modi 'Maut ka Saudagar' in 2007, BUT his enemies have never stopped being stuck on 2002. Perhaps this is why the Congress has been unable to develop a proper political rhetoric that can counter a chief minister who has steadily secured the vote through a thriving economic model.
There is one thing niggling the BJP certainly, and that is the huge voter turnout, nearly 70 per cent. Everytime this has happened, a regime has changed. CPM lost Bengal when 84 per cent of the electorate came out to vote.
THE WOMEN WHO CHALLENGE MODI
Two women, both with the blessings of Modi-baiter Keshubhai Patel, will be putting up a symbolic fight to Modi. The two homemakers pitch-forked in the polls are IAS officer Sanjiv Bhatt's wife Shweta (Congress) who is directly taking on Modi in Maninagar and slain former BJP minister Haren Pandya's wife Jagruti (GPP, Ellisbridge seat).
Each has an axe to grind against Narendra Modi; each believes the chief minister or at least his party had wronged her husband.
Though both stress on local issues, there is no doubt they are contesting because of what happened to their husbands. “I was merely an observer when Sanjiv was fighting his battle with corruption but I decided to stand against Modi a year ago after the brutalities inflicted on my family,” says Shweta, whose husband Sanjiv Bhatt, an IPS officer now suspended, has testified that Modi had asked the police to go slow on rioters in 2002.
Jagruti’s husband, slain BJP minister Haren Pandya, had represented the seat she is contesting. “Even though I hadn’t taken the legal or political route, I have been fighting for answers for almost a decade to questions about my husband’s murder,” she says. “People may make comparisons with Shweta Bhatt, but, as far as I am concerned, people in Ellisbridge know about the good work done by my husband I have their goodwill.”
In 2007, Modi won Maninagar by 75,000 votes against current Congress Union minister Dinsha Patel. Both Maninagar and Ellisbridge have around 2.2 lakh voters.
'Namo-mania' was everywhere this time – television, 3D holograms that appeared in 10 places if Modi appeared in one, a namoleague.com for the young – Modi has been on top of the IT game.
In a BJP election advertisement, a conversation between two men on ‘development’ ends like this: “I am Modi manas”, says one man. “I am also Modi manas”, chimes the other.
Modi, however, has left no stone unturned to woo voters, while the Congress' national leaders have largely undertaken whistle-stop tours.
IS SAURASHTRA A PROBLEM?
If there is a region that stands between Narendra Modi and his fantasy of a land of only ‘Modi manas’, it could be Saurashtra, writes our Opinion Editor Vandita Mishra.
It has 48 of Gujarat’s 182 seats, and is dominated by Leuva Patels, who have been restive ever since their tallest leader, Keshubhai Patel, was marginalised in Modi’s party. Keshubhai’s fledgling Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) has put up as many as 177 candidates statewide.
Also, Saurashtra this year saw its first drought since Modi came to power, worsening its chronic water shortage, and creating the ground for anti-incumbency. Saurashtra has looked on with resentment as big-ticket industrial projects like Nano and Maruti have bypassed the region.
But if Saurashtra does dent the BJP’s tally, the key rallying point will be the Leuva Patels.
WHAT ABOUT HIMACHAL PRADESH?
In Himachal Pradesh, the CSDS survey projects Congress leader Virbhadra Singh (42 per cent) as the most preferred choice for the chief minister’s post. His rivals P K Dhumal, who is the current CM, had the support of 35 per cent while Shanta Kumar got the backing of only 5 per cent of the people.
Various exit and opinion polls have predicted gains for the Congress in the BJP-ruled Himachal Pradesh. While most put Congress tally to above 40, C-Voter predicts 30 to 38 seats for the Congress while the BJP is likely to get 27 to 35 seats in the 68-member Assembly. Chanakya predicted Congress to win 40 seats and BJP 23 seats. Others may win five.
PCC chief Virbhadra Singh, who has retained a firm grip over his flock of potential winners, has emerged as the strongest contender in the chief ministerial race. Congress will get a 'more decisive' victory in Himachal Pradesh than that shown in the exit polls, Virbhadra Singh has said.