In April 2004 , the Supreme Court had delivered a severe indictment of the Narendra Modi Government in the landmark Best Bakery case, ordering a retrial outside Gujarat, observing that the State Govt. behaved like “modern day Neros looking elsewhere when Best Bakery and innocent children and helpless women were burning". By the next month, the people of Gujarat had delivered an equally scathing indictment of the Modi Government. What must be most galling for the BJP State Govt. must be that it was precisely those areas of the state where the genocide had been worst, and where people had ensured Modi’s Assembly victory in the post-riot polls , which decisively gave the BJP a drubbing this time around.
In the last Parliamentary Elections, BJP had won 21 out of 26 seats. This time they were confident of retaining these seats, and even boasted of a clean sweep to come. Modi had followed up the Best Bakery judgement with a Kesari Yatra, asking Gujaratis to avenge the insult to Gujarat’s pride, and his speeches were liberally peppered with typically offensive references to the racial origins of Sonia and her children. Meanwhile, Advani’s Rath Yatra had focussed on development and growth, according to the prescriptions which had delivered the votes in the MP and Rajasthan Assembly polls. But the saffron formula which worked once was a damp squib this time. The BJP could hang onto 14 seats only, and that too just barely. In Saurashtra, the trusted Sangh laboratory, the BJP lost 3 seats to Congress, 2 in tribal areas of South Gujarat, 2 in OBC- dominated Central Gujarat. In Vadodara, Dahod and Porbandar, the Congress lost to BJP by a wafer-thin margin.
What accounted for the reverses suffered by the seemingly invincible saffron forces in their own bastion? Observers have pointed out that although BJP enjoyed an unchecked rise since the late ’80s, winning 20 or more out of the 26 seats in every Lok Sabha since 1991, and came to power in the state in 1995, it had faced crises and disaffection several times. But every time, it had bailed itself out by raising one or the other emotive issue. Its first state government was brought down by internal squabbles culminating in Shankarsingh Waghela’s revolt. In 1998, it was the government of the ‘Khajurias’ (BJP rebels) which took the brunt of people’s anger, helping BJP to sweep back to power. In 1999 Lok Sabha Polls, BJP could fan up jingoism in the wake of the Kargil war, and postpone the simmering discontent against it. Not for long, however; in the local elections of 2000, BJP did badly. As a result, Narendra Modi was brought into the saddle, and a carefully orchestrated communal carnage made way for a BJP Assembly victory, in which the gains in the tribal belts made up for the losses caused by Keshubhai Patel’s dissent in Kutch-Saurashtra. In a sense, for the BJP in Gujarat, this Lok Sabha election was the first time polls would take place in a situation where the the Sangh laboratory had failed to create an artificial and highly charged atmosphere. The widespread disaffection of farmers over the doubling of agricultural power tariff had been channelled by the Sangh outfit, the Bhartiya Kisan Sangh. Congress did next to nothing to champion this cause. But the failure of the Modi Government to act left rural voters angry and local Sangh leaders unenthusiastic. Combined with price hike in essential commodities and the unabated unemployment in the wake of textile mill closures resulted in BJP’s fall. Congress reaped the harvest of this popular disaffection. And this time, people failed to swallow the Hindutva pill as an antidote to their real woes.