“As elections approach, the anti-incumbent is…often discussed by political pundits and critics who assume people will vote against the incumbent government,” Modi he said at one of his demonstrations in Surendranagar on Nov. 21. “But Gujarat proved them wrong by establishing a pro-incumbent culture as it has repeatedly chosen the BJP. ”
The BJP’s unprecedented margin of victory in Gujarat, despite running the state for nearly three decades, also signals Modi’s consolidation of popularity in his home state, with no sign of voter fatigue. He has been at the center of Gujarat politics since he became prime minister in 2002, just after the state suffered the worst earthquake in its history.
The party still praises Modi’s achievements to confirm his narrative of seizing a “crisis as an opportunity”. At meetings and rallies, BJP activists and candidates recalled his long innings, first as author of the “Gujarat model” of development, and then his firm and decisive national leadership who won laurels for the country.
“If Modi designs a statue (Statue of Unity), it must be the tallest in the world, the same goes for the Gujarat stadium with the largest capacity in the world, and there is now a commitment to develop the infrastructure to host the 2036 Olympics,” a senior BJP official said, explaining how Modi has cultivated a sense of “bharosa (trust)” among people by delivering on what he has promised over the years. The state recently hosted the National Games thanks to the complex world-class sports developed in Ahmedabad.
After delivering on promises such as building the Ram Temple in Ayodhya and repealing Article 370, Modi is seen as the most decisive and visible figure in Gujarat. Millions of people have benefited from his initiative to end the state’s water crisis, especially in Saurashtra, by diverting excess water from the Narmada. Every household in Gujarat now gets piped water. Additionally, the state’s dropout rate, which was 37.2% when he took over as CM in 2002, has improved to 3.4%.
Modi’s lead in the BJP campaign this time was evident from the ubiquitous hoardings displaying Gujarat pride with the legend of ‘Double Engine Sarkar’. Although the party has used the slogan in other state polls, Gujarat voters rave about Modi’s plea that “Bhupendra’s record should be better than Narendra’s”. In a throwback to previous polls, BJP activists also spread the message that people should keep Modi in mind when voting, not their local candidate.
The message was clear: Two sons of the soil who ran Gujarat and the Center would benefit the people.
Modi had started strategizing for the 2022 election in 2020 by appointing his confidante CR Patil as the president of Gujarat BJP. Then came the bold decision to replace the entire government of Vijay Rupani and hand over the reins of state to Bhupendra Patel, a mild-mannered builder turned politician, just a year before the polls. Patel comes from the powerful Patidar caste. The calculated gamble of completely overhauling the state’s cabinet and subsequently denying tickets to large numbers of party veterans would have obliterated any trace of the anti-incumbent, if such a thing existed.
Capitalizing on this revamp and securing a lead in ticket distribution, Modi embarked on a series of trips to Gujarat, visiting the state on at least 20 occasions before the polls were announced. He has dedicated a plethora of big ticket projects – such as WHO’s Global Center for Traditional Medicine (GCTM) in Jamnagar and the Astol project to raise water for arid villages in hilly Valsad – to the people of Gujarat.
Following the Nov. 3 poll announcement, Modi addressed 31 rallies, covering nearly all 182 assembly segments, and concluded the campaign with a 50km roadshow in Ahmedabad.
Over the decades, Modi has become like family, a way of life, for almost all Gujarati families. Thus, in an election largely devoid of any issues, he managed to tug at the heartstrings of the voters with the emotive slogan: “Aa Gujarat Mein Banavyu Chhe (We have created this Gujarat).”
Although Modi would clearly have been the architect of the BJP’s victory, Bhupendra Patel’s government had to appease several agitation groups in the run-up to the elections to ensure a good outcome. These included students aspiring for non-secretarial clerical jobs, Lok Rakshak Dal jawans seeking pay and grade booking, and forest department employees, doctors and health workers pressing for various enquiries. The government has also pacified the maldharis (cattle farmers) by withdrawing the Stray Animal Control Bill.