Unravelling Gujarat Assembly Elections

The much-awaited assembly elections results for the states of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh went in favor of BJP. With this latest electoral triumph, the tally of the BJP ruled states has reached 19. The mainstream media, mincing no words, summarized the results as an “electoral victory” for the BJP and “moral victory” for the Congress.

Of the two elections, political establishment of the country and the media bestowed unprecedented attention towards Gujarat elections terming it as litmus test for BJP. Owing to a series of resplendent electoral victories and the ability to form governments, the winning partnership of Prime Minister Modi and BJP president Amit Shah garnered much attention.

With Gujarat being the home turf of BJP’s wining duo with an enviable election winning spree, the assembly polls by consequence are regarded as a barometer to assess the popularity of BJP. Also, ever since Modi’s ascent to power, every other election be it a panchayat election or an assembly election, performance of BJP is closely monitored terming it as referendum on Modi.

The novel trend of dissecting the polls as a measure of gauging the mileage and ground presence of BJP has become a norm after the NDA-2’s ascension. Consequently, the never-ending saga of polls across Bharat and its vivisection has become a new vocation of sorts for political party apologists.

BJP won both the state elections convincingly. While a sweeping victory of BJP in Himachal Pradesh is hardly endorsed as a measure of Modi’s pan-Bharat influence, a clear majority in Gujarat was derided. Attributing the decrease in the numbers of seats won as waning of Modi’s influence, Congress leaders proclaimed, “whatever the election results, the Congress and Rahul Gandhi are real winners”.

The verdict which came two days after Rahul Gandhi’s coronation as the President of Congress party, is now regarded as a great revival since strike rate of Congress compared to 2012 elections increased by 9 points. With general elections less than two years away, every electoral verdict is now critically analyzed to assess plausible outcomes of 2019.

But ideally, vote share in assembly elections can’t be extrapolated to interpret pan-Bharat elections since voting pattern in states is based on local issues. Nearly 12% of voters who voted for Congress in Gujarat indicated their preference for BJP in general elections. Hence comparing the vote share of assembly elections as against general elections are counterproductive.

Clearly, a win for BJP in Gujarat reaffirmed that Modi is still the most admired leader of Bharat. Despite a decrease in the number of seats won in Gujarat, vote share of BJP increased to 49.1%. Usually 49% vote share fetches a two-third or even three-fourth majority in elections. It must be recalled that with a vote share of 41.35%  in UP assembly elections, BJP obtained a three-fourth’s majority in a multi-party contest.

Gujarat had a two-party cornered contest. In the current elections, BJP and Congress registered an increase in vote share due to decimation of the Keshubhai fraction which contested last time. Interestingly, an increased vote share failed to translate into number of seats won. Additionally, while the victory margins were huge for BJP, it lost seats with narrow margins.

Further, demographic statistic too played a crucial role. The regions where Congress witnessed a swing were least populated meaning a small swing translated into huge gains in terms of seats won. Though BJP failed to reach the three-digit mark, its victory in Gujarat is truly historic for it has managed to come to power for a phenomenal sixth time in a row. Despite a 22-year anti-incumbency, farmer distress, farmer loan waiver issues, Patidar agitation, disruptive financial reforms like demonetization and GST, BJP pulled off a victory which is no mean effort. The situation truly confounds worst fears of a democracy, of BJP’s near complete decimation of opposition.

On the other hand, the defeat of Congress, which it fails to admit is its consecutive 7th loss in a row. Congress last formed government in Gujarat in 1985 and the prospect of reclaiming power still eludes the grand old party. Ironically, the Congress instead of contemplative introspection, bolstered by its marginally better performance is hell bent on undermining BJP’s win. Indeed, the recently concluded elections could have been Congress’s best bet to tap the disenchantment of the Gujaratis.

Instead of attacking the BJP for failing to address the farmers distress, it frittered away a propitious opportunity by indulging in divisive politics and plummeting the political discourse to a new low. Obsessed with divisive strategies, it roped in aggrieved local leaders, Patidar leader Hardik Patel, OBC leader Alpesh Thakor and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani to contest Gujarat elections. It not only failed to offer prospective policies or a vision document for a better Gujarat, but invariably relied on divisions of the society.  

In part, the new gains accrued by Congress have been sudden shift of allegiance of a section of Patidars in rural areas. Adorning the veil of soft Hindutva and the dubious temple runs have been part of Congress party’s poll exercise. Bharat’s political establishment for long categorized any party catering to Hindu aspirations as communal. Perhaps, new amendments might now be brought into such categorization with Congress suddenly making fresh overtures to appease Hindus.

While BJP deserves credit for retaining Gujarat, the elections should be a wakeup call for the party riding high on the wave of victory. In the first election after Narendra Modi’s exit as chief minister of the state, Gujaratis voiced their disconcertment towards the government for failing to address the local issues. Though BJP has retained its urban popularity, growing resentment of farmers and disgruntlement of rural populace have dented their electoral prospects. More so, the Patidars of rural areas of the Saurashtra and Kutch area have punished BJP. Contrastingly, BJP is still popular among the Patidars of the urban areas.

Though BJP made inroads into the tribal regions and increased its vote share among the STs, the grouse of Patidars have crippled BJP’s polls prospects partially. While timely roll back of GST charges saved BJP from a likely disaster, it is time Gujarat evolves a long-term strategy to address the issues of cotton farmers.

Further, BJP vote share is not uniform across the rural areas, it is concentrated in few urban conglomerates and hence the margins of victories in urban sectors have been marginally high. BJP must now strive hard to strengthen its popularity at the grassroots. Besides, NOTA registered third largest vote share reiterating Gujaratis disapproval of state government but held on to BJP for Modi.

BJP’s supposed marginal win is celebrated by opposition with West Bengal Chief Minister singularly congratulating the electorate of Gujarat for balanced voting. Miffed opposition is eagerly waiting for an opportunity to pounce back on BJP. Party offices of TMC celebrated a marginal slump in BJP’s poll performance.

With assembly elections close on the heels in Karnataka, Congress party will be keenly exploring strategies to checkmate BJP. This will be followed by state elections for Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, and Jharkhand. While BJP’s cadre commitment is unparalleled, any minor rift or a misstep can hinder BJP’s prospects in 2019 elections. Gujarat elections are thus a wake-up call.                                                 


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About the Author

Ramaharitha Pusarla
Ramaharitha Pusarla is a molecular biologist by training living in New Delhi. She is an active blogger, avid reader and passionately curious about latest developments in the World. She writes on foreign affairs, contemporary issues, politics, environment, travelogues, sports, and science. She has contributed articles to various newspapers, magazines and websites.