The BJP has won but the Congress hasn’t lost

Gujarat 2017 is an interesting study in terms of election results: the winner has won, but the loser hasn’t lost.
If ever a victory has been divided between numerical and moral, it is Gujarat 2017. The BJP celebrates, but it is shaken. It is being congratulated, courteously, on what is its clear but constricted victory. A hurray, however, goes to the Congress, to Rahul Gandhi.
The Congress’ new President worked like a war horse. He has not thrown the BJP out of office in Gujarat but, with his allies, he has thrown fear out in Gujarat. He has brought fearlessness in, through the front door.
The BJP won because Narendra Modi did all he could to appeal to Gujarati pride. The Congress did not lose because Rahul Gandhi did all he could and more, to appeal to Gujarat’s wisdom.
Gujarat’s fresh mandate to the BJP in reduced numbers, reduced stature, amounts to an admonition.
Gujarat’s faith in the Opposition amounts to a trust in what, in an article in the Indian Express last week Rajmohan Gandhi described as the OTMs – other than Modi – in Gujarat and the three Gujarat leaders whose names make the acronym JHA – Jignesh, Hardik and Alpesh with Rahul Gandhi leading them in the fight.
The challenge was formidable.
Gujarat is Narendra Modi’s state. Narendra Modi is Narendra Modi. And he is prime minister. Gujarat is Amit Shah’s state. Amit Shah is Amit Shah. And he is president of the party that is in power at the Centre and in Gujarat.
Gujarat itself is ruled by the BJP and the BJP knows how to rule. This made continuity safe, change risky. This made opposition a hazard, variation unsafe.
The JHA combine and Rahul Gandhi did three impossible things :
First, they sank their individualisms and joined hands in solidarity. Egos are like eagles; they like solo flights. Here they flew like herons, together, Rahul being the fleet V’s leader.
Second, they slogged, making their own flight-path. Elections are like litigation ; they are the loneliest of places. You may have manpower, but the fight-power has to come from within. The JHA grouping, Rahul, and every one of the BJP’s opposers were their own EB grids, generators and power lines. They were electric.
Third, they countered, physically and ideationally, a great and tragic reality in Gujarat – the historically and geographically conditioned mistrust in its Hindu majority against its Muslim minority.
It is difficult to build trust, easy, all too easy, to manipulate and multiply mistrust. It is difficult to change a prejudice, it is easy, a thousand times easy, to perpetuate it. It is difficult to remove fear, easy, totally so, to deepen it. Yet, that which is difficult is what the opposition sought to do in Gujarat. The task was as thankless as it seemed hopeless.
Every vote for the opposition was a castigation of sectarianism, a rejection of fear.
Every seat won by the opposition is also a seat for Gujarat’s farmer, ill-served by reckless industrialization, commercialization and demonetization.
The moral victory of the opposition in Gujarat is this: Post-2002 an invisible fume pervaded Gujarat. This was the recognition of the sway – not superiority but sway – of muscle over mind, bicep over brain. This recognition took two forms: One, joining-up in the muscle team, clambering onto the bicep band. Two, accepting, in silent fear, its sway.
The opposition’s venture in the elections was about reversing that fume, detoxicating the system. This was difficult, it was dangerous. ‘People are getting angry,’ it was said by observers of the Gujarat scene. ‘They are coming out of fear’s grip ’. Will that feeling translate into votes ? This was the question. The people of Gujarat have answered.
The seat share has gone clearly in BJP’s favour.
But every vote cast for the opposition in Gujarat has been cast against prejudice, and for courage.
A slogan sounded in Jignesh Mevani’s constituency was ‘Hum Jignesh ko jitaenge, Bharat ko bhayamukt banaenge.’
To use a phrase of Nayantara Sahgal’s, Gujarat 2017 is a Gujarat ‘from fear set free’.
Gujarat’s strong opposition must now oppose with unity, civility, diligence. Not drama.
Gujarat 2017 will be an inspiration to Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh in the months ahead and to all of India in 2019.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi is distinguished professor of history and politics, Ashoka University

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