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Can India see in Gujarat what US witnessed in Alabama?

In a momentous turnaround in Alabama where a Republican lost after decades of sustained victories, America saw where the power of democracy lies. Can something similar happen in Gujarat, the state of Indian PM Narendra Modi on December 18? 

The political narratives in two of the world’s most prominent democracies – India and the United States have unfolded in a similar form. In both countries, a right-wing majoritarian populism has taken deep roots and the implication of such leaderships in the respective nations’ social life has been found to be serious. Be it the India of Prime Minister Narendra Modi or the US of President Donald Trump, the idea of democracy as an arrangement to promote a universally free will has been overshadowed to a point of deep worry. For the common citizens of both these democracies who believe in a universal dignity of human life, the noisy progress of things under both Modi and Trump has been disturbing, to say the least. The continuous attacks on human life and the decorum that is associated with it in these two extremely populist regimes have left many with the desire to see a backlash at some point of time.

The outcome of Alabama’s senatorial race in the US was perhaps a divine response to that call. The defeat of the controversial former judge Roy Moore who has been accused by a several women of sexual misconduct in his younger days is being seen as a blow to Trump himself for her had ignored warnings from his own party men to back the former in the election. Moore’s loss against Doug Jones meant a Democrat candidate has won from Alabama, a state known to be a Republican stronghold, for the first time in 25 years.

For those who see the Trump era as an endless nightmare in the history of the US, this is a welcome change ahead of the crucial midterm elections in 2018. The mainstream media, which has been seeking an opportunity to launch an attack on Trump since his victory in the presidential elections last year, has already forecast that he result in Alabama would shake Washington in the near future. After the morale boosting victories in governor’s races in Virginia and New Jersey last month, the result in Alabama is certainly going to give the Democrats a much-needed moral boost.

Gujarat election in India has a close parallel with Alabama poll

Drawing a close parallel with Alabama, the result of the crucial election in the Indian state of Gujarat to be declared on December 18 is also key for Prime Minister Modi. This election is a prestige battle for the premier for Gujarat is his own state and in the wake of his government’s controversial measures like demonetisation and goods and services tax and the rising instances of attacks on minorities and lower sections of the society in the name of cow protection and resisting ‘love jihad’, the ruling BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party or Indian People’s Party) is not as confident as it looks otherwise. There are basic differences between the American and Indian models of democracy – the former is more individual-centric while the latter’s party-centric – but in essence, both are witnessing a similar churning.

If the BJP faces an adversity in the Gujarat elections (even a reduction in its tally of seats if not a defeat will be considered a blow for Modi ahead of the 2019 national elections), then those voices that are finding themselves buried under a pile of majoritarian sentiments at the moment will get a reason to feel vindicated. If Gujarat’s electorate decides to go Alabama’s way, then the democracy in India will also find an opportunity to rediscover it by breaking the monotony of the Hindutva majoritarianism.

A lot at stake: Both for Trump and Modi

Just like Trump who backed Moore because in the latter, he had found a like-minded soul (though he distanced himself from the man after the results came out saying he knew it beforehand, highlighting again his narcissist being once again!), Modi also chose to dump the rhetoric of development during the highly charged campaigning for the Gujarat polls. This is a departure from the past when the man emphasised on the development card over everything else to attract the electorate.

In a state which is being ruled by this party for over two decades now and of which he was the chief minister for over 12 years, Modi’s strategy to ignore development and make polarisation the central argument has turned several analysts off.

The prime minister has been seen building a narrative linking the Opposition Congress-Muslim-Pakistan to cater to the majoritarian sentiments and it was considered by many observers as a new low of Indian politics. Modi even accused his predecessor Manmohan Singh of colluding with Pakistani guests at a dinner party, a gesture which had left the Opposition as well as a section of the media fuming.

Just as Trump had invited the voters of Alabama to choose Moore saying the “future of the country” was at stake, Modi’s campaigning over the Gujarat election also say how much significance it holds for him and his party. A setback in Gujarat can also affect all the good work Modi’s general Amit Shah, the BJP president, has been doing over the past few years, just like Steven Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, who was hit by Moore’s loss.

As the Trump-Moore combination helped the Democrats by cobbling up the black, women and youth votes in favour of Jones, the Patidar agitation and the coming together of Opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi and young caste/community leaders like Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakor has similarly put the BJP under pressure in the Gujarat election this year.

A loss can see BJP implode, just like the GOP

There is also a similarity in the situations of the Republican Party and the BJP. While Moore’s loss is bound to have a serious repercussion for the GOP even worsening the civil war within it, a not-so-happy outcome in the Gujarat poll can also put the BJP’s house in disarray. The party certainly has not been a united outfit since Modi’s elevation took place and any less-than-expected result in the prime minister’s state can have a shocking impact.

Gujarat, thus, has all the potential to become India’s own Alabama. And if an Alabama-like story is repeated there, then democracy will be credited for producing the magic of fooling its hijackers – yet again.

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