The first phase of polling is just four days away (December 11th) and the campaign trail is ablaze. Sonia Gandhi called Modi and his government maut ke saudagar (merchants of death). And Modi reacted fiercely by accusing the Congress-led UPA of going soft on terror. Why have you not hanged Afzal Guru after the Supreme Court of India has upheld his death sentence, he asks. While other politicians (including a whole bunch from the BJP) skirt uncomfortable issues, Modi has no such problems. He speaks without any fear or worry. He says that he was fighting the elections on the development plank and it is the opposition, which has no other issue, which keeps bringing up the past. And what he says is true.
The Congress does not have any person of note to run against Modi (Vaghela, their tallest leader, stands no where in comparison). So it is up to the central leadership – Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh etc. to salvage the situation. And they chose the wrong way to do it. Every voter in Gujarat is aware of 2002 and its realities – no need to remind them of that (even in a round about manner). But, as Modi points out, the Congress does not have any other issue. If it attacks Modi on development, the voters might call its bluff. If it does so on the 2002 riots and the fear psychosis among the minorities, Modi will win, again. And now it finds itself on the back foot, trying to explain away the remarks of its leader.
Gujarat has developed under Modi and development is very important. For too long India has been ruled by socialist forces of the worst kind who have always crushed its citizens economic ambitions. But authoritarianism is dangerous. In combination with religion, it makes a deadly cocktail. And Gujarat is binging on the same. Modi knows his people. That is why every attack on Modi cleverly becomes an attack on Gujarati Asmita and Swabhiman (pride and honour). And that is why he seems unassailable (they may hate him and they may curse him, but secretly, any politician would give an arm and a leg to be in his position). And this is what is worrisome. Nationalism can sometimes be taken too far.
Gujarat needs a change of government to show that humanity matters and that it won’t tolerate authoritarianism. But, from all I read and see, I don’t see that happening. Modi is winning this election. There is absolutely no doubt about it in my mind.