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Panel debates outcome as state votes in the first phase; participants believe BJP is set to face competition in some seats as Patidars will prove to be a force to reckon with

Gujarat voted in 89 assembly seats in nine districts on Saturday. The turnout was a little over 47 percent until 4 pm. How has the state voted this time around?

Saturday’s Mudda, the popular debate show on APN, tried to take a guess along with BJP spokesperson Ashwani Upadhyay, Congress spokesperson Surendra Rajput, former election commissioner SK Sharma, analyst Atul Chandra, journalist Govind Pant Raju and anchor Anant Tyagi.  

At the outset, Rajput declared that there was much ado over Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s neech remark even after the party has suspended him. “Not only the PM, no one should be subjected to crass language. But is it exactly nice to call Rahul Gandhi ‘Khilji ka aulad’ and ‘Aurangzeb?’“ he said.

Asked if Gandhi’s temple visits would work out, he could not provide a definitive answer. However, he angrily accused the BJP of having played the caste card over Aiyar’s neech remark.

Tyagi observed Patidars were to this election what perhaps Muslims were to the Uttar Pradesh assembly election and Raju agreed saying that the Congress’ quota deal with them showed how influential they were in the state. Both felt that they could provide the necessary swing in favour of the Congress.

Raju also brought up Congress’ verbal sins—saying “Gabbar Singh Tax” for GST he thought was a crude reference to Narendra Modi.

Chandra observed that all this time, the Congress attack had been focused on Modi. But this time around in Gujarat it is the BJP which is targeting Rahul, which shows that Congress is ahead. However, he wondered whether this support would translate into votes in the EVM.

Sharma strongly denied aspersions pertaining to EVM tampering, saying that these were “foolproof machines”. “Otherwise, how did Uttar Pradesh throw up a different victor in every election? The Bihar and Delhi results, too, show that the results actually depend on how the people have voted. A bad workman quarrels with his tools, but false propaganda hurts the health of the democracy,” Sharma said.

Immediately, Rajput asked, most pertinently: “So why were the polls delayed in Gujarat?”

Presently, Tyagi asked if Alpesh Thakor was an OBC icon, but Chandra answered that he was not as powerful in the community as Hardik Patel was in the Patel community.

Will Rahul’s speech in Hindi make an impact, Tyagi asked next.

Raju replied, “Modi is appealing to Gujarati asmita, trying to win as a son of the soil. He is, therefore, using Gujarati idioms and delivering all his speeches in Gujarati. He has also told audiences that the Gandhis could not bring development to their own seat, Amethi. This will sway voters. As will his speech in Banaskantha, where he referred to Aiyar’s neech comment and exhorted voters to defeat the Congress. This is why the Congress took such a big step, that of suspending Aiyar.”

Now, Chandra expressed his reservations over the Congress’ chances. “Damage control won’t work. What has happened has happened. The neech remark by Aiyar will work the way the PM’s remark worked in the Bihar elections,” he said.

Upadhyay then said Congress was playing the same game in Gujarat that it played in the mid-1980s and late 1990s in the Kashmir elections when it gave up principle to ally with the separatists. This time, it was playing the reservations game with the Patidars, putting development on the back burner.

Tyagi concluded the show, saying the results, to be declared on December 18, would soon prove the rightness or otherwise of all speculation.

Compiled by Sucheta Dasgupta

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