Gujarat Election Results: Puncturing the “Moral Victory” claim of the Congress

It has been more than a month since the Gujarat election results were declared on 18th December, 2017. These were definitely among the most closely watched elections for the simple reason that a big section of the media had from September onwards, made us believe that Rahul Gandhi had reinvigorated the Congress by his temple runs, daily aggressive attacks on PM Modi, and finally by stitching a combination of various young caste brokers  (dubbed “caste cowboys”) which had all managed to put the BJP on the defensive. The Congress’s bragging and gloating was bolstered by the survey conducted by ABP Lokniti/CSDS that predicted the Congress getting the same vote share as the BJP – 43%

The Yogendra Yadavs, Rajdeep Sardesais, Saba Naqvis, Nidhi Razdans and other such Modi-baiters couldn’t stop their glee at the thought that the BJP stood a fair chance of being defeated in the PM’s home state. If this would happen they claimed, the ruling party would feel vulnerable to face the Lok Sabha elections of 2019. However, as the voting day approached and these same reputable personalities found to their dismay that all their evangelical efforts on behalf of the Congress and their “eye-witness” claims that people in Gujarat were very angry with the BJP did not seem to be working, they started making flimsy excuses and some of them even blamed Mani Shankar Aiyar’s derogatory comments as a “game changer” for the ruling party.

However, even among such “experts”, Sagarika Ghose took the cake for her statement to NDTV that even if  BJP won the elections, Rahul Gandhi would have still won a “moral victory”. Showing off her skills in international affairs, she went on to compare the situation in the UK, where she claimed that while the Tories may have won the elections, Jeremy Corbyn of the Labor had won the moral victory. Spoken like a true comrade, madam!

So, when 18th December came, it was pretty easy for these people to fit in the results with the secular narrative of “heads I win, tails you lose” that they had already been building over the months. INDIA TODAY declared that BJP just had “a close shave”. The Congress’s Ashok Gehlot picked up from where Sagarika left, saying that even though they had lost the state for the 6th consecutive time, by reducing the BJP to just double digits (99), the Congress had won a “moral victory”.

While the results in Himachal Pradesh were not surprising, considering the see-saw battles in the state where no state government had returned to power, though it could be added  that unlike 2012 when the gap between the winning Congress and BJP was just 4% , this time the BJP defeated the Congress with a 7% lead (49% to 42%). But still, since not even the Congress was making any claims on Himachal, the spotlight was entirely on Gujarat.

While the figures are known to all, BJP winning 99 out of 182 seats with 49.1% of the vote, vs the Congress winning 77 seats and 41.4% of the vote, which is still a healthy 7.7% vote gap, it does show that the Congress did indeed gain the number of seats won. However, there are many other aspects of the Gujarat elections that the media may have mentioned in passing, but then selectively didn’t bother to highlight. This article seeks to examine how much truth or otherwise there is in this “moral victory” claim?

EXIT POLLS failed miserably?

Early on in the campaign, Congress leader, Anand Sharma had claimed that all opinion polls being shown in the media “were fixed and doctored by the BJP”. Even after exit polls showed the Congress was nowhere near the ruling party either in terms of seats or vote percentage,  Congress leader, Arjun Modhwadia dismissed them, saying that he was sure that the state would “fall in Rahul Gandhi’s lap” after the aggressive and successful development-based canvassing he launched. When the results came in, these people still put up a brave face saying that in contradiction to what exit polls said, the BJP had not won a landslide.

It is true that except for the INDIA TODAY-Axis poll which gave the BJP 99 seats+, all other exit polls were “off the mark” in their count of the number of seats that the BJP was likely to win,  with some giving the party as high as 135 seats.

In this regard, the earlier response given by Republic / C-Voter’s Yashwant Deshmukh to all those who questioned the methodology used by psephologists in their election polls in view of failing to anticipate BJP’s landslide win in the UP, is most relevant. Deshmukh had mentioned that in these kinds of polls, what most mattered was predicting the vote share that the parties would get as the number of seats estimated was something that was done by polling companies only after arriving at the vote share percent, and it could never be accurate. This was one of the reasons why different polling companies were prone to giving different predictions of seat share, even when their voting percentage may have been similar.

So actually the exit polls were not wrong as most of them did project a BJP victory. They had been giving the vote difference between the two parties of being anywhere between 4 – 9%. In fact in that regard, Republic / C-Voter was among the ones who were a little more conservative as they had predicted the BJP getting 47.4% and the Congress 43.3%, whereas in reality the BJP performed much better. Though in terms of seats, the BJP couldn’t match Republic’s estimate of 108 seats.

This was Congress’s best performance ever since 1985?

One “reputable” anchor made this statement, further adding that BJP’s performance should not be compared with the 2012 assembly elections but instead with the 2014 Lok Sabha elections when the party had led in 160+ assembly elections. Based on that, he declared that the Congress’s performance was “all the more sweeter” than the BJP.

One doesn’t need to be an expert to know that Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections are fought on different issues and results do not tend to be the same. The 2014 elections were a big wave for Modi and Hindutva which saw the party sweep 100% of the seats in several states.

However, even by that yardstick, the learned person was being disingenuous. If Lok Sabha outcomes were also to be taken into account, then the Congress gave its best ever performance in 2004, when it won 92 out of the 182 assembly segments vs. the BJP’s 89, though the latter won 14 out of 26 Lok Sabha seats and a higher vote proportion. But, in terms of seats, had it been state assembly elections the Congress would have actually formed the government. Likewise, the Congress performance in 2009 in Gujarat Lok Sabha was also good, so if one were to compare with all the elections held since 1985, then too their 2017 performance would not be considered extraordinary.

Rather, four stalwarts of the Congress – Shaktisinh Gohil, Arjun Modhvadia, Tushar Chaudhary and Sidhdharth Patel – bit the dust.

BJP lost its rural vote, Congress gained massively?

For the record, even in 2012 according to research institute CSDS, the Congress had won 49 of the 98 rural seats, compared to the BJP’s 44 seats. This time, the Congress further consolidated in its stronghold by winning 57 seats.

For the record, while the BJP won just 38% of the rural seats (total 98), it won 67% of the semi-urban and 85% of the urban seats (total 84) seats.

However, what is most noteworthy is that the maximum losses the BJP suffered were in the Saurashtra-Kutch region, where 73% of the seats are rural. Here, the BJP lost 12 seats. In comparison, north Gujarat which has a greater share of rural seats – 90% – the BJP lost just 1 seat compared to 2012. Similarly, in south Gujarat (50% rural seats), BJP lost 3 seats while in central Gujarat (63% rural seats), they retained all their seats.

It would therefore be incorrect to say that BJP lost is rural vote bank, as its losses were restricted to Saurashtra-Kutch. Minus this region, the results for the party would have been more or less on par with previous elections. The main reason why the ruling party performed so poorly in the villages of Saurashtra has a lot to do with the falling prices of cotton. Gujarat is the top producer of cotton in the country, and Saurashtra the most important part where it is grown. Farmers had been suffering distress for some time and vented their anger at BJP.

However while the Congress’s fortunes saw an upswing in this region, a hardcore leftist website, scroll.in lamented that “But, as it (Congress) gained a large number of seats in Saurashtra and Kutch, it lost half of its earlier strongholds in Mehsana and Sabarkanta districts. Sabarakanta was badly affected by floods last summer and the state government was credited for its swift handling of the situation”. This rare praise from a venomous anti-BJP site on the ruling party making inroads in Congress’s erstwhile rural strongholds in North Gujarat reveals that BJP’s loss in rural pockets was mainly confined to just 1 region.

The story of Surat, and claims of anger among urban voters

The biggest lie that was being spread in these elections was that people in urban areas of Gujarat, which are the backbone of the BJP, were so angry with it that they would vote for the Congress in big numbers. While many opinion polls held between September – November showed that the BJP would retain it’s lead in urban areas, many like ABP-Lokniti/CSDS claimed that in south Gujarat, of which Surat was a part, the Congress would be leading. Other analysts said that it would be impossible for the BJP to keep on dominating in Surat considering that a) people were extremely angry with the GST, and b) Hardik Patel’s massive rallies in a city dominated by Patels would make a big dent in BJP’s fortunes. Also, Rahul Gandhi was supposed to have made a big impact in Surat, dominated by its textile and diamond traders, and among the richest cities in the country.

As the results came in, the BJP had the biggest laugh. Not only had the party retained the same number of seats like the last time – 15 out of 16 –  but also a bigger jolt to the Congress was that despite their aggressive campaigning here, the BJP managed to win by even bigger margins. For example, in 2012 elections, the BJP won Katargam seat by 45,000 votes but this year increased to 79,230 votes. Similarly, Harsh Sanghvi won from Majura by 85,000 votes vs. 71,000 votes in 2012, while Jankhana Patel won from Choriyasi by 110,819 votes. Some of these margins are grand by even Lok Sabha standards. And yet, a big section in the media were lecturing that the Congress would be giving sleepless nights to BJP in  Surat.

In Ahmedabad, the BJP also swept 16 of the 21 seats, the same like 2012. In Ghatlodia seat, the BJP won by 117,750 votes, the highest in these assembly elections. If there was any anger, then it seemed to be only in the crusading minds of leftist and radical secularists.

Another big, big embarrassment to all these esteemed personalities was the massive victory of the BJP in the heartland of the Patidar agitation in Saurashtra, Rajkot. Over here, not just Rahul Gandhi but even ex-PM Manmohan Singh camped.  Congress and its sycophants were even claiming that the CM, Vijay Rupani would lose from Rajkot west.  Instead, he won by a massive 53,755 votes. What is most interesting is that his winning margin was even higher than what Narendra Modi and Vajubhai Vala had achieved in 2002 and 2012 respectively. Just how much out of touch with reality these people were can be gauged from the fact that the BJP gained 2 more seats in Rajkot compared to 2012.

Yet the arrogance of the media is here to stay. After having led their anti-BJP campaign with evangelical zeal and after having claimed that the GST would ruin the party, even after the results showed that the BJP managed to retain its urban voter base by winning 59% of the vote share, same like in 2012, despite all that, these same media personnel didn’t forget to warn BJP not to mistake their urban victories as a nod to their policies as actually people in urban areas are still disillusioned. It is said that when a person is asleep, he can still be woken up, but when someone pretends to sleep, it can be impossible to wake him up – this basically sums up the attitude of this disdainful and pompous media.

Caste mobilization worked against the BJP?

Except for Patels, there was no other caste group where there was negative voting against the party compared to previous elections. Even among Patels, there are disputes on how much of the community moved away from the BJP. It was mentioned that in the last elections, 63% of Leuwa and 82% of Kadwa Patels voted for the BJP. In these elections, India Today and Indian Express gave conflicting claims. While their figures of support from Leuva Patels are similar (48% vs 51%),  in the case of Kadwa Patels, while India Today claimed that just 48% voted for BJP, Express claimed 68%.

However, Hardik Patel doesn’t seemed to have played a significant role in this, as most of the losses that hit the BJP were in Saurashtra region, and as mentioned rural distress in this region was the central role behind it. The fact that a large number of farmers were Patels shows that more than Hardik and his overblown stature, it was this reason that saw the BJP’s drubbing here. On the contrary, Patels in urban and other areas stuck with the BJP.  Hardik’s rallies in Surat and Rajkot, both having huge population of Patels, had no impact on election day and BJP won handsomely.

There are an estimated 52 seats with over 20% presence of Patidars. And the BJP still managed to win 28 seats this time (compared to 36 in 2012)

On the other hand, the BJP gained massively from the tribal vote, increasing its vote share by up to 8%. This is really important as the Congress had always claimed that tribals were their core vote bank. This time, 48% of them voted for the BJP vs. 42% for the Congress. The BJP even gained votes from OBCs. Also, despite the likes of Jignesh Mewani, the BJP still managed to win 7 reserved SC seats, compared to 5 won by the Congress.

BJP led the vote share in each of the state’s regions, including Saurashtra, even agricultural regions:  Amazingly, despite the BJP losing heavily in Saurashtra in terms of seats, it still managed to retain its dominance in terms of vote share. These figures really make one consider that perhaps one of the main reasons for Congress gaining in number of seats may have been due to sheer luck.

In Saurashtra-Kutch, the BJP won 45.9% of the votes vs. 45.5% won by the Congress. In North Gujarat, the BJP won 45.1% vs 44.9% for the Congress. In South Gujarat, the BJP won 54.1% vs. just 36.4% for the Congress. And finally in central Gujarat, the BJP won 50.9% vs. just 39.1% for the Congress

One of the paradoxes of these elections was how the BJP could lose 16 seats, and yet gain 1.2% of the vote to close at 49.1%. The reason is because of the big difference in the winning margins of the BJP’s candidates as compared to Congress’s candidates. Average margin of victory for BJP was 29,970 while for Congress it was 13,354. Besides, in 2012 there were 16 seats won with margins of more than 50,000 votes, which this year increased to 21 seats. Most interestingly, the BJP won 20 of these 21 seats. This also could be one reason why BJP’s voting percent went up. In short, the BJP further consolidated on its strongholds.

Interestingly, on the rural seats that BJP won, their average margin of victory was 18,000 votes as compared to just under 13,000 of Congress’s victories in rural areas. That’s why it should not be startling to learn that even in rural areas, the BJP drew 45% of the total votes, the same like the Congress

The BJP won many seats by narrow margins?

One of the Congress’s main foundations of their “moral victory” claim has been how they lost so many seats narrowly.   Some sections of the media used more colorful language such as BJP ke to pasine choot gaye the. Another Congress supporter said BJP jeeti nahin, sirf izzat bachaai.

For the record, in every single election in this country, whether Lok Sabha or Vidhan Sabha, there are always a lot of seats which are decided with very small margins. Who can forget that way back in 2008, Congress candidate lost in Rajasthan by just 1 vote.

So when one tallies with previous elections in the state, it is found that this time the number of seats where margins of victory was less than 5,000 votes has shrunk to just 31, as compared to 36 in 2012, and 48 each in 2007 and 2002.  In 2012, the BJP won 18 such seats and the Congress just 12. But in these elections, from the 31 seats won by such margins, the Congress won 16 of these whereas the BJP just 15.

Scroll.in even makes another observation, that out of 57 seats where margin of victory was decided by 5% or lower, the Congress won 30 such seats, as compared to 25 won by the BJP. This means to say that the Congress was the net gainer in such close contests, thus giving a lie to its claims of “big gains” made. It means that out of the 77 seats that they won, 30 were decided by such close contests.  Whereas for the BJP, such wins in seats represent just 25%.

Wherever Rahul Gandhi rallied, he won!

Remember Alpesh Patel, the Congress’s big import, or shall we say “medical expert” for his ludicrous claim that our PM turned fair-skinned due to eating mushrooms worth Rs. 80,000 each from Taiwan. Well, right after his victory, he spoke to the media where he claimed that unlike his rivals, in whichever places Rahul Gandhi held rallies, he won. It is unfortunate that most of the media just let this lie pass. Times of India was among the few that did make the research, and found that out of the 30 seats where the PM campaigned, BJP won 19 of them. Whereas the Congress had to settle for just 22 of the 42 seats where Rahul campaigned. So much for “all the seats” claim.

Thus, we have established how the Congress’s claim of “moral victory” was baseless and hollow. If anything, for the BJP to improve its vote share to 49.1% after being 22 years at the helm, is indeed remarkable.

However, having said that, there is some basis to claims being made that Congress’s “soft Hindutva” played some part in its increase of vote share, and especially dominance in number of seats in Saurashtra.  During the run-up to the elections, an ABP news anchor asked people on the streets what they thought of the Congress, and one respondent answered that the Gandhi family was Muslim, implying that they just served Muslim interests.

The Congress leadership seems to have awakened to what Congress leader, AK Antony had said after their 2014 Lok Sabha debacle that the party needed to correct the feeling among many voters that it was an anti-Hindu party. Against that, this was the first time that the party did not speak a word about Godhra, did not accuse Modi of being anti-Muslim as they had in the previous elections, and most importantly, Rahul Gandhi just visited temples, but not mosques or dargahs. Election analysts pointed out that out of the 27 temples that Rahul visited, the Congress registered wins in 18 assembly segments where some of these major temples were located, 10 of which were earlier held by the BJP. So, there is some truth that the Congress was able to dilute its image of it being an anti-Hindu party among some voters, which surely helped them to pick up some seats.

Against this, many hardcore BJP supporters have felt that they were being taken for granted. From Bhavnagar to Bhubaneshwar, and from Jamnagar to Jaipur, they are asking whatever happened to the Hindutva issues that the party had fought on. Yes, Ram temple is sub-judice. Article 370’s repealing probably needed a constitutional amendment.  However, why do temple funds continue to remain under government control despite a BJP CM ruling in 13 states? Why do Kashmiri Pandits still languish in refugee camps?  Overseas supporters of the party, right from Los Angeles to Lagos feel shocked and at a loss of words when they learn that the educational syllabuses, even in BJP government schools, continue teaching about crap Aryan Dravidian theories and there is singular lack of focus on Hindu kings? Ramayana and Mahabharat continue to be given less importance than in Indonesia and Thailand.

Of course, most are also aware that the Congress has a history of working against Hindu interests. And therefore, the BJP remains the first choice for all Hindus. And especially the urban voters continue to be passionate about the BJP as THE party of Hindutva, as Gujarat based election analyst and BJP critic Ghanshyam Shah has conceded. The issue of development is definitely important, however it is not enough. The Congress will continue to solicit Hindu votes and confuse many voters, therefore, the BJP must fulfill some of the core Hindutva issues. Actually, the only way that the BJP can counter caste issues, regional disparities and ego problems over leadership matters is if they continue pursuing a determined nationalistic / Hindutva agenda, and fulfill its key planks that they had been pledging to their committed voters who have been supporting them through thick and thin.

But after all is said and done, the BJP leadership definitely deserves all the praise for its splendid triumph in Gujarat.

Nirmal Laungani


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About the Author

Nirmal Laungani
NIRMAL LAUNGANI is a Hong Kong businessman, vice president of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, Hong Kong, and chief editor of Sandesh Bharati. Email: [email protected]