Gujarat’s Chief Minister Narendra Modi wrapped up his Vivekananda Yuva Yatra last Thursday on a high note with the United Kingdom deciding to finally shed its obduracy in favour of direct engagement. Modi closed his speech with a rather curious slogan calling on his supporters to declare that they would not let Gujarat slip into the hands of the corrupt. The speech marked a subtle but significant shift with the implicit message that the Congress led by the Nehru-Gandhi family cannot be trusted.
In a rather interesting confluence of events starting with questions on Sonia Gandhi’s travel costs to the full-blown controversy over Robert Vadra’s business affairs, the debate in the run-up to Gujarat Assembly election has now become less of a referendum on Modi and more about a referendum on the UPA’s performance in Delhi and the resulting trust deficit.
To better appreciate the logic behind this subtle shift and to place the overall intent behind the Vivekananda Yatra within the right context one must pay close attention to some of the findings from the Niti Digital survey of the voter’s mindset in Gujarat.
It must be called out that some of the findings were measured before the onset of drought like conditions in parts of Gujarat. Nevertheless it is stunning to note that across voter segments, regions and socio-economic profiles the number one issue of greatest concern to the Gujarati voter is inflation and price rise.
Almost two-thirds of all voters voiced their concern on inflation being the biggest issue for them. To put this in perspective, inflation beats the next most important issue, water supply, by a wide margin with about only 40 per cent or so voters voicing its a critical concern. As one digs deeper into the voters’ attitude towards price rise, the survey’s findings are revealing.
About a third of the voters don’t see the issue of price rise being solved easily or don’t see it as something whose solution lies within their immediate sphere of influence. Paradoxically as much as the voter in Gujarat is resigned to the realities of Price Rise, a sizeable number of voters believe that the BJP is more capable of addressing inflation.
The critical finding from the survey though on the number one issue concerning the voter is on who the voter sees as primarily responsible for the problem.
On almost all other issues of concern the Gujarati voter sees the State Government or the local Government as being responsible for addressing the problem but on the topmost issue of concern to them they see the Congress-led UPA in Delhi as being primarily responsible for price rise.
There is no urban and rural divide on price rise nor is there a significant variance on the concern over price rise by caste or sub-region or socio-economic profile. While the voter views the UPA in New Delhi as being primary responsible it is interesting to note that by two to one the voters see the BJP as being more capable of addressing price rise than the Congress.
It is this latent anger against the UPA that Modi is tapping into by subtly shifting the focus to the question of why the Congress led by the Nehru-Gandhi family cannot be trusted to be the custodian of Gujarat’s future.
There is yet another dynamic that the survey reveals that puts into perspective this focus on youth. While the Congress saw generally low commitment across the board, the commitment levels among youth and first time voters was found to be abysmally low in the survey with only four per cent young voters expressing any sort of commitment for the Congress as opposed to 29 per cent young voters expressing commitment towards the BJP.
But the real finding of significance though is the large numbers of uncommitted voters who while being disinclined to the Congress were positively inclined towards the BJP. Another significant chunk of first time voters also did not reveal a preference, highest percentage across all voting groups. It is this combination of uncommitted but positively inclined young voters and voters with no hard preference that needs to be locked in by the BJP to seal its grip over Gujarat.
As we settle down to a more than two-month-long campaign season, it will be interesting to see how the Sonia Gandhi-led UPA will battle this trust deficit to put up a semblance of a fight for Gujarat.