In India there is an upcoming election this winter. It is supposed to be a national event as Gujarat is Narendra Modi’s home state. The Prime Minister is leading from the front to oversee the poll preparations.
Shaktisinh Gohil, member from Rajya Sabha and senior Congress leader from Gujarat, is in electoral politics since 1990.
Gohil is one of the few leaders who knows Modi and BJP’s politics intimately and has been consistently fighting the BJP. In the exclusive interview to Gulf News, Gohil speaks about the upcoming elections where Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Admi Party (AAP) is aggressively campaigning to open an account, eyeing at traditional Congress votes and some voters of disgrunted Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters too.
Arvind Kejriwal claims Gujarat has got an alternative to BJP now. What are your views?
Look, anyone can dream about their bright future. There is no tax on dreaming, so Kejriwalji has the right to dream. But I was born and brought up in Gujarat. Gujaratis are a different. Our DNA is different. So many have tried in the past — Mayawatiji, Mulayam Singhji, Lalooji, Sharad Pawarji tried their luck here.
Chimanbhai Patel was known as Chanakya of politics. He had the Patel power, money power, everything. He formed a new party twice, but couldn’t succeed. Shankar Singhji Waghela had his own regional party and his party was in power. His Chief Minister was installed and he tried to win over Gujaratis but he just got four seats.
Gujaratis are very clear. They will either vote for Congress or BJP. They won’t waste their vote and they don’t believe in those gimmicks of freebies which Kejriwalji is offering, so I don’t think there will be any good show for Ameer Admi Party (Rich People’s Party).
I will not say Aam Aadmi Party, it is indeed a Ameer Admi Party. Have a look at their Rajya Sabha Members. You look at the affidavits of the MPs of their party — all rich men. AAP is offering to give freebies in Gujarat that they aren’t giving in Delhi.
In Guajrat, why is Congress not visible as much as BJP and AAP?
This is a vicious campaign of some people and the media is also promoting this notion: “Congress is not visible”. You look at the grass roots level or at the top level. Our leaders are active everywhere - we are on the field. We picked up the issue of price rises at all levels.
It is just a calculated move by the BJP to claim that the fight is between AAP and BJP. The ruling party knows there is huge anti-incumbency, people are very unhappy with BJP.
The votes will be divided between Congress and BJP. In Gujarat, no one is ready to vote for AAP but BJP is trying to create artificial scenario to save itself.
What is the mood of voters in Gujarat right now?
I can see clearly that people are fed up of high cost of living. Monghvari (high prices) is the biggest issue. In Gujarat, minority votes are hardly 7-9%. That suits BJP to create communal divide.
Closer to the election, BJP never talks about development. It banks on polarisation only. Modi has created the image that Gujarat got developed under his rule. That’s incorrect. We are wise people, our DNA is development. Much before Modi arrived, the road network in Gujarat existed.
Today, Gujaratis are suffering and there is infighting in the BJP. People are very unhappy and the alternative in Gujarat is only Congress. Its very unfortunate that in 2017, we lost 17 seats with a narrow margin. We didn’t have a powerful urban organisation.
The other issue is that BJP misuses power and indulges in misuse of government machinery. We have learnt a lesson and this time we are trying to see that any type of bogus voting by BJP should not take place.
What are the fundamentals of 2022 election?
If election takes place today Congress will form the government. Recently, Modiji went to Kutch and people were brought for his meeting from all over Gujarat. The local press got interviews. They said “because we are paid we are here, but we are not happy.”
However, people’s memory is short. Pulwama terror incident (2019) was unfortunate and sad, and it was a failure on part of the government. The BJP government turned it into an opportunity and misused it during the general elections. BJP’s fake rashtravaad persists.
What’s working well for the BJP?
Well, unfortunately the strongest point of BJP is “polarisation”. In our (Congress) weakest time also, our vote share has been 34%. We were in power till 1990. And even Modiji has not been able to cross the number 149 out of 182, which Congress had won in 1985.
I told you our sizeable voters have not deserted us in our worst time for the stronger BJP. Well AAP, the B team of BJP, is here to help the ruling party, like they did in Goa.
There is a fake fight (Nura-kushti) between BJP and AAP. But when the election comes closer, sometimes events happen and people’s memory is very short. Remember, when Modiji became Chief Minister, he lost by-elections. All three were BJP seats.
People may be fed up of BJP, but not of Modi.
A Gujarati is the Prime Minister. So, for some voters the thinking is that if my son is doing something wrong, even then I shall support him. For some Gujaratis it is important that Prime Minister is a Gujarati, so he should be supported.
Overall people are not happy because BJP couldn’t deliver jobs. Voters will certainly evaluate what Bhupendra Patel (Gujarat Chief Minister) is doing, what ministers are doing, why they removed all the ministers and even a Chief Minister?
Do you think the release of convicts in the Bilkis Banu case will help polarisation?
Certainly. But, the release of convicts went against the BJP. Because the case was about a woman, and Gujaratis are sanskari (cultured), whether a Hindu or a Muslim.
Gujaratis take mannat for feeding kidiyaru. It means they offer food to ants even though ants sometimes sting you. That is the real Gujarati culture. So Gujaratis will not accept the release of convicts of the gang rape case.