India - Gujarat State
Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared victory 18 December 2017 for his BJP party in a key election contest in the western state of Gujarat. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was on track to win 99 seats in the 182-member state house in Gujarat, crossing the 92 seat halfway mark required to rule. BJP had a decidedly lower margin of victory than last time. Analysts had predicted that a big win for BJP in the Gujarat election would add to the momentum the party got with its sweep of Uttar Pradesh earlier in 2017. As the votes were counted, Congress Party President Rahul Gandhi conceded defeat, congratulating the BJP on the win. In 2012, the BJP won 115 of Gujarat's 182 seats. The BJP has governed Gujarat for the past 22 years and Modi was the chief minister of the state three times.
People cast their ballots in two phases, the first on December 9 followed by another on December 14. Data from the Election Commission said the average turnout in the two phases was 68.41 percent. Nearly 40 million people were eligible to vote in 182 assembly constituencies.
Gujarat is a State in northwestern India, on the border with Pakistan and Rajasthan in the north east, Madhya Pradesh in the east, and Maharashtra and the Union territories of Diu, Daman, Dadra and Nagar Haveli in the south. The Land of the Legends, stands bordered by the Arabian Sea both to the west and the south west.
Gujarat State took it’s name from the Gujara, the land of the Gujjars, who ruled the area during the 700s and 800s. The climate is very hot in summer, and during the hot months the surface mostly appears sand or dust, and in the rainy season a thick mire; but it is extremely fertile. The population presents an extraordinary assemblage of sects and castes.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi faced his most crucial electoral test since he took office in 2014 as voters lined up 09 December 2017 to choose a local government in his home state of Gujarat. Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party is fighting a tough battle to retain control in the western state that Modi governed for nearly 13 years before emerging on the national stage. Victory for the BJP in Gujarat was critical if Modi was to retain the image of a leader who can deliver on development and jobs – a reputation that was honed in this state as its robust economic growth surpassed the national average. Polls showed that the party’s lead has shrunk as an economic slowdown has triggered growing discontent and dented the Prime Minister’s image.
Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) registered its worst performance—but its sixth straight victory--by just managing to keep its head above water in the bipolar ballotbox battle, winning only seven more seats than the 92 required for forming a government as it turned a Nelson’s eye toward the state’s five million-odd Muslims.
Of the 20 Muslim-dominated constituencies, 13 went to the BJP and seven to the Congress but Muslim voters’ preferences tilted the scales in 36 seats where the victory margin was less than 3,000 votes. Again, there were hundreds of Muslims among the 550,000 mostly-young voters who were angry with both the BJP and the Congress chose to press the none-of-the-above button in at least 28 seats.
Apart from Muslims’ disenchantment, there were other reasons, too, which stopped the Congress in its tracks after pocketing 80 seats—internal squabbles, lack of a local charismatic leader, failure to declare the chief minister’s face, lack of dedicated volunteers, late entry of Rahul Gandhi, wrong choice of candidates, etc. Of the 55 urban seats, the BJP walked away with 43 and the Congress bagged 12. In the 127 rural seats, however, the Congress reigned supreme in as many as 71 and the BJP took 57 at the hustings where five BJP and four top-drawer Congress leaders suffered humiliating defeats.
The opposition Congress' strategy had depended upon enlisting the support of three young Hindu men - Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakore. These three men aimed at mobilising their different castes to swing against the ruling BJP; The Patels or the Patidars with Hardik, Dalits with Jignesh, and a segment of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) with Alpesh. The Patels, who make up 14 percent of Gujarat’s 60 million people, are agitating to be included in the quota system in India, which reserves seats for the lowest castes and the tribal communities.
Most worrying for the BJP was the disaffection among some castes that have now aligned with the opposition Congress Party – caste usually is a strong factor in Indian elections. The BJP could be hurt most by the loss of support from the influential Patels or the Patidar caste, that rallied under a young leader, Hardik Patel, and was demanding better access to jobs and education through the quota system.
Modi attempted to appease his conservative Hindu supporters who are pushing for the construction of a Hindu temple where a mosque was destroyed by a mob led by BJP leaders in 1992 in the city of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. At an election rally, he asked the Congress party to "clarify whether you are advocates of a Ram temple or a Babri mosque". The Patidars – a middle-peasant caste once the Bharatiya Janata Party’s loyal base – had spurned the BJP for the Congress. For the Patidars – as with other groups, but more vociferous and better-off – economic progress has become a chimera. Corporate-driven, anti-farmer policies unfolded relentlessly in Gujarat for over two decades. The BJP’s vicious anti-Muslim vitriol worked its magic for years, but is reaching its limits. The glee from ‘teaching Muslims their place’ began wearing off as people’s own place in society was wearing down.
What might threaten the BJP even more are its gau rakshaks (cow protectors) – the mobs that rampage across cities, towns, highways and rural roads – killing people in the name of the cow. These urban posses have no stake in the cow economy, but they harass those who actually care for and work with the bovines. In Gujarat, this includes Kolis (an Other Backward Classes (OBC) cultivator caste), Adivasis, Dalits and Muslims. These communities are economically linked in the bovine economy. They are also culturally connected through non-Hindutva meanings of bovines. For these groups, livestock are critical for security, because in an emergency thee cows can be sold without having to sell or mortgage land. But for such sales to be viable, the cows’s value as meat and hide are vital.
Narendra Modi may have hit out at self-styled ‘gau rakshaks’ on 14 July 2017 but cow protectors flourished in his home state Gujarat when he was the chief minister. Currently, 50 such groups are active under the larger Gau Rakshak Dal (GRD) umbrella having roughly 10,000 members.
Between 2011 and 2014, the Gujarat government headed by Modi had disbursed Rs 75 lakh in cash rewards to 1,394 vigilantes for raiding illegal cattle transporters and filing FIRs against them. In 2011, the state assembly also passed the Gujarat Animal Preservation (Amendment) Act 2011 that made transportation, consumption and sale of cow and progeny illegal.
In 1819 the Rann of Kutch, the Thar Desert’s salt marsh, was rocked by a strong earthquake that made the Indus river change its course and shift west into Pakistan: the quake created a ridge that was named Allah Bund, the dam of God. As a consequence of these tectonic changes, but also due to the damming upstream, many rivers have been drying up in Kutch in the last 200 years, aggravating a longstanding water crisis. The crescent-shaped peninsula, with its 45 thousand square kilometres pushing out into the ocean, geologically is like an island.
During the rainy season, the shallow marsh of the Rann gets slowly submerged with seawater cutting its only bridge to the mainland. In such a delicate and ever-changing ecosystem, the effects of climate change on rainfalls patterns and temperatures have further increased land degradation. The phenomenon is particularly evident in the Banni region: a unique ecosystem of wetland turning into grassland, which once used to be the largest and finest of the subcontinent. A land with a long history of migratory pastoralism.
Today, the famous grassland that forms the outer belt of the Rann is an expanse of muddy and cracked soil speckled by a thin salt crust that covers it with a shiny film. With the increasing salinisation and desertification of the land, many herders had no choice but to migrate in search of better livelihood.
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