NEW DELHI: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s fortunes rose with the billowing smoke of the burnt train coach in Godhra in February 2002, a tragedy he blamed on Pakistan and won the ensuing state elections.
On Monday, his Bharatiya Janata Party won a fifth straight term in Gujarat, a victory that was at least partly spurred by the last-minute targeting of Pakistan, Mr Modi’s fail-proof mascot. Amid reports that Rahul Gandhi’s charm offensive was wooing large crowds, Mr Modi responded by accusing former prime minister Manmohan Singh and former army chief Deepak Kapoor together with a clutch of former high commissioners to Pakistan of plotting with Pakistan to defeat the BJP in Gujarat.
The opportunity came when foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri arrived in Delhi to attend the wedding of a scion of the royal family of Rampur and Loharu, with whom he has family ties.
The Aspen Institute used the opportunity to invite Mr Kasuri for an interaction, which was followed by a dinner with his Cambridge classmate Mani Shanker Aiyar. Dr Singh and former army chief Deepak Kapoor were among the invitees together with Pakistan’s High Commissioner Sohail Mahmood, a standard combination of guests at Indo-Pak circuits. Mr Modi pounced on the dinner, telling an election rally that was a meeting of conspirators against his party in Gujarat.
The BJP also displaced the Congress party in the Himalayan foothills of Himachal Pradesh, where it again played the nationalist card.
In Gujarat, the BJP got 99 seats against 80 for the Congress in a house of 182. The BJP shed 16 seats, while the Congress gained 19 from the 2012 count when Mr Modi was chief minister.
In Himachal Pradesh, the BJP won 44 seats against 21 of Congress in a house of 68 seats.
BJP’s eroded majority was played down by Mr Modi’s cabinet colleagues. “Jo jeet wohi Sikandar,” said a couple of ministers, meaning winning is what matters.
Hardik Patel, the young activist deemed to be the Congress’s trump card in the Gujarat election, alleged the tampering of EVMs or Electronic Voting Machines as the BJP headed towards its fifth straight term in Mr Modi’s home state.
The 23-year-old Patidar peasant campaign leader said the Congress and all opposition parties should unite against the machines, which, he said, were responsible for false results in at least a dozen seats.
“EVMs decide our country’s future...If ATMs can be hacked, why can’t EVMs?” Hardik Patel said, stressing that India should go back to ballot papers for voting, the way it is done in many other countries.
For whatever their worth, allegedly faulty EVMs would seem to be a less trusted ally any day for Mr Modi than a mere mention of Pakistan.
Published in Dawn, December 19th, 2017