GANDHINAGAR: As the clock ticks for the first phase of polling in Gujarat on Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is prominently back on centre stage. Not that he was ever eclipsed by the BJP’s development plank or the Congress’s counter to it. But Gujaratis have begun praising or picking fault with him with a new vigour, mindful that the time to ballot is near.
“Modi has become dominant,” snapped Jaishree Dave, a psychology teacher in a Gandhinagar senior secondary school. “He has been imposing his diktats on us,” she adds, her eyes — the only part of her face visible through the scarf she has wrapped it in to keep out toxic fumes emitted by auto-rickshaws — betraying anger.
“What he thinks is good is forced upon us. Instead of teaching, we are mostly doing other work — attending workshops and seminars, including on swachhata (sanitation). The rich found ways to exchange their high-value demonetised notes but he made us queue up. By bringing in GST, he has made everything costlier, including foreign travel and eating out,” she added.
A few hundred kilometres away, onion trader Hiteshwar Kakkar paints a contrasting picture of Modi. “All this talk of farmers’ distress is hogwash. Rahul Gandhi claims Modi worked for the benefit of industrialists. Does he know that farmers in Sanand have crores in their bank accounts? Why doesn’t he mention that it is because of Modi that farmers sow three crops on land that was earlier barren but has now been irrigated? The poor are saving money after demonetisation, as they now have to go to banks,” Kakkar gushed.
For the BJP, Ahmedabad showcases its development model. Yet, Muslim-dominated Dariapur presents a contrary world. “Vikas kahan hai, hota bhi hai kya? Hamaare Muslims ka vikas nahi hota hai? (What’s development, does it happen? We, Muslims, do not see any development),” said Abdul Kareem, pointing at a street light that has not been repaired for months.
Modi’s larger-than-life persona has also been threatening to divide the Patidars, although the Hardik Patel-led agitation did make a mark while electioneering was underway. “Woh (Modi) desh ka pradhan hai (Modi is head of the country). He has reined in China and Pakistan. Our armed forces have never been so confident. Who is this Hardik Patel? Can he equal Modi? We want reservation only in educational institutions. We are not a backward caste,” fumed Nilesh Rameshbhai Patel of Chilora village in Sihouli Assembly constituency.