The Bharatiya Janata Bharty (BJP), after hectic campaigning by top party leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, managed to win the Gujarat Assembly election 2017, albeit with a diminished strength in the Assembly. Even as the party was seeking a sixth straight term in office in the state, it might appear, an anti-incumbency factor did not play too much against its possibilities. But a closer look at the numbers might reveal more about the party's victory in the Gujarat state election.
Here are some of the key takeaways from the Gujarat verdict:
1. Star campaigner Narendra Modi
Opinion and exit poll survey agencies didn’t cover themselves in glory in predicting the outcome of the Gujarat assembly polls. But their data did reveal how Prime Minister Narendra Modi
nearly single-handedly turned the tide in his party’s favour in the second phase of the elections with a blitzkrieg of public rallies and road shows. The good news for the BJP
is that it has a match winner that the Opposition Congress
lacked. The bad news is that Modi’s magic hasn’t been as effective when faced with strong regional leaders – Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi, Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad in Bihar, Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal and Amarinder Singh in Punjab.
Modi’s undiminished charisma will be a blessing in the Lok Sabha polls in 2019, but could also be a bane. In its effort to create a cult of Modi, the BJP’s other leaders have found themselves eclipsed. If the Congress
and rest of the Opposition were to make 2019 an election between Modi and 29 strong state leaders, and not between him and Congress
President Rahul Gandhi, the BJP
might find itself faced with a challenge.
2. Early Lok Sabha elections unlikely
The PM termed the Gujarat results “uncommon”. Indeed, with the exception of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in West Bengal, no party has won six elections on the trot in recent times. But its reduced majority in Gujarat might convince the BJP
not to coincide the next Lok Sabha elections with the assembly polls of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram in December 2018.
3. Rural distress apparent, but urban woes cannot be ignored
seat tally dropped primarily because of rural distress across Gujarat, and particularly in Saurashtra. Cotton and groundnut farmers complained of poor minimum support price. Since June, when six farmers were killed in police firing in Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh, farmer protests have continued in several parts of the country. The most persistent protests have taken place in Rajasthan and Maharashtra. A BJP
Lok Sabha MP from Maharashtra has quit the party pointing at farm distress, while ally Raju Shetty has walked out of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. The Narendra Modi
government would need to focus on the farm sector in the remainder of its term.
But the Modi government also runs the risk of finding itself in a fix. The support the BJP
received in urban areas in Gujarat, particularly in Surat and Ahmedabad, conceals the frustration building among the youth because of lack of jobs. Urban Gujarat voted for BJP
as the older generation still remembered the poor law and order during Congress
regimes in the state and Hindu polarization by the BJP
was more effective. According to internal Congress
surveys, women voters in urban areas perceived BJP's record on law and order better than that of the Congress.
But the Gujarat example may not be replicable in urban areas in rest of the country.
4. Caste dents BJP’s consolidated Hindu vote in Gujarat
The PM and BJP
chief Amit Shah blamed the Congress
of bringing the “poison” of caste back to Gujarat. That Gujarat, parts of it, voted on caste lines dented the BJP’s efforts at a consolidated Hindu vote. The Patidars of Saurashtra, some sections of the OBCs and sections of Dalits voted the Congress
in greater numbers in the 2017 assembly elections. Not just in Gujarat, but if the Congress
and other parties succeed in reaching out to key castes that currently support the BJP, the party could face trouble in 2019. Under Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, the Congress
in Karnataka has followed somewhat of a similar strategy. Karnataka assembly elections are due by May.
5. ‘Index of Opposition unity’
Nearly a dozen seats went to the BJP
where its margin of victory over the Congress
was less than the votes that either the Nationalist Congress
Party or Bahujan Samaj Party received. The BJP
would try its utmost to prevent facing a united Opposition in key states in 2019. Several opposition leaders, particularly those of the regional parties, currently find themselves embroiled in corruption cases.
6. Emergence of Rahul Gandhi
The Gujarat electorate was receptive to Congress
President Rahul Gandhi’s attacks on the BJP
and Modi government, particularly when he accused it of “crony capitalism”. His visits to temples might have evoked negative reactions elsewhere in the country, but in Gujarat, this was received well.