GANDHINAGAR, Gujarat — If the exit polls are to be believed, the Bharatiya Janata Party has prevailed over its rivals, old and new, and will emerge victorious in the 2017 Assembly election today.
But no matter who wins or loses today, both the national parties are guilty of indulging in competitive Hindutva politics to win the state polls. Neither the ruling party nor the Congress have addressed Muslims, almost 10 percent of Gujarat'S population, in the course of their respective campaigns.
While the BJP's silent treatment came as no surprise, the Congress too was careful not say or do anything that would appear as minority appeasement.
With Rahul Gandhi's temple visiting spree gaining traction and media attention, the BJP was somewhat rattled by the Congress' transparent play for Hindu votes. Hindu nationalists hit back with a slew of communal remarks, proving that no one can do Hindutva quite like the saffron party.
On the eve of counting day, HuffPost India caught up with Gujarat's Deputy Chief Minister Nitinbhai Ratilal Patel to ask why the BJP continues falling back on religious polarization to win elections. The 61-year-old leader told us that he is not worried about the Congress hijacking Hindutva from the BJP. "The Congress won't do it because they have told the Muslims that they are not communal and they are not pro-Hindu," he said.
There has been some speculation that if the BJP wins the election, Patel, the lawmaker from Mahesana, who belongs to the powerful Patidar community, could be the next chief minister of Gujarat. But for that to happen, Patel will have to win Mahesana, which was starting point of of the Hardik Patel-led Patidar agitation against the BJP.
Why did BJP leaders again fall back on communal remarks during the campaign? For instance, Prime Minister Narendra Modi compared Rahul Gandhi's elevation to "Aurangzeb Raj."
We did not take up communal issues. It is the Congress leaders who gave us these issues. When Rahul Gandhi was filling the form to be the Congress president, it was their netas who brought up dynasty and Aurangzeb. They made the connection. Then our people made the issue. If they would not have said it then we would not have said it.
(Former Congress lawmaker Mani Shankar Aiyar has accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP of distorting his remarks).
What about the PM claiming interference by Pakistan in the election, what about Yogi Adityanath saying that Rahul Gandhi was sitting in the namaz position in a temple?
It was important to raise these issues because they started it. If Rahul Gandhi had regularly visited temples then none of these issues would have come up. When I go to the temple, there are no questions. When Narendra Modi goes to temples, whether it is in India, Nepal or abroad, there are no questions. There are no questions because he is a Hindu and goes naturally to temples for darshan. Rahul Gandhi did not visit temples earlier, but he suddenly started. In Gujarat, he went to 22 temples. (Gandhi visited 25 temples). People thought it was election drama. This drama became widely talked about.
But how does it warrant Yogi Adityanath's remark?
It was said because perhaps Rahul Gandhi does not know how to sit in a temple and that is why we made it a issue. There is a way of sitting in a temple, a mosque and in the church. If you don't know how then of course that will become a topic of discussion.
Is the BJP afraid of Congress hijacking Hindutva?
The Congress won't do it because they have told the Muslims that they are not communal and they are not pro-Hindu. If they are pro-Hindu, then going to temples is just a start. Rahul Gandhi will have to give a statement saying that Ram Temple should be built in Ayodhya. The Congress will have to campaign for it. If you recall, the Congress submitted an affidavit to the Supreme Court, saying that there was nothing like the Ram Setu bridge between India and Sri Lanka.
Now, they are saying that Rahul is "janeu dhaari". We think it is a good thing and we welcome his going to temples but people will see through it.
Both parties have ignored Muslims in this Assembly election. Why has the BJP not fielded a single Muslim representative since 1995?
We fight elections to win. The strategy is that every candidate from each seat should win. Our government has done a lot of things. We chose Dr. Abdul Kalam to be president. BJP did it. NDA did it.
Let's talk about Jignesh Mevani, Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakor. Have they given the BJP its toughest electoral fight since 1995?
It has not happened because of them, it happened because of the public. The Patidar movement is because of the public. The other two are with the Congress, one directly and the other indirectly. The state of the Congress is worthy of pity because they don't have 182 candidates of their own to field. They have to support other people. Let's see what happens to the two people who are standing in the election.
The exit polls suggest that you are going to win. But do you acknowledge that Congress has made things hard for the BJP, this year?
Every party works to win every election. This year, Rahul Gandhi came. In the previous elections, Sonia Gandhi used to come. Each political party has to campaign among the people and ask them for votes. I don't understand why everyone is making such a big deal about it. Congress has done its work and we have done ours.
The BJP did appear rattled.
No. We are experienced. The BJP workers know how to fight elections. There were other issues during the 2007 and the 2012 elections. This time around, the issues are different. We had our strategies and we kept going. That's all.
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