The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) secured its sixth consecutive win in Gujarat on Monday and wrested Himachal Pradesh from the Congress. Prime Minister Narendra Modi
said these were a victory for the politics of “good governance and development”.
Hours after it became apparent the BJP, while it struggled to cross the 100-mark in Gujarat, would comfortably form the government in the 182-member Assembly, Modi said the election result was evidence the country was ready for “reform, perform, and transform”. He termed the BJP victory uncommon and against heavy odds.
In his victory speech at the BJP national headquarters here, the Prime Minister said the BJP’s mantra was “vikas” and asked party supporters to raise the slogan — ‘victory to development’. Modi said the election results were a reply to cynics who thought the goods and services tax (GST) would affect the BJP’s fortunes. He also accused the Congress of reviving the “poison of casteism” in the politics of Gujarat.
The BJP increased its vote share in Gujarat as it overcame distress in urban areas caused by demonetisation and the GST. But the BJP’s seat tally in the state was its lowest since 1995, and the results exposed several vulnerable areas in the party’s citadel state. While the BJP did well in urban areas, the Congress led the way in the countryside, pointing to farm distress hurting the BJP’s ambition of winning 150 seats in Gujarat. In Himachal Pradesh, the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate, Prem Kumar Dhumal, lost.
The BJP’s slim win in Gujarat relied heavily on a blitz of public meetings by Modi in the last 10 days of the campaign. The Congress’ improved seat tally and vote share were a shot in the arm for the party and the rest of the Opposition for electoral battles in 2018 and the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi
flashes the victory sign in New Delhi after the Bharatiya Janata Party emerged victorious in both Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections on Monday. Photo: PTI
The result is likely to have implications for the Modi government’s legislative agenda in Parliament and policies, which could tilt towards the farm sector in the remaining term of the National Democratic Alliance government. Measures could include increasing minimum support prices for key crops, and increasing the budgetary allocation for MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act). At the same time, the government will also need to take steps towards ensuring job growth in urban areas.
The government might also face a more combative Congress in Parliament under its new chief Rahul Gandhi. The trade unions have already threatened a nationwide strike in February against the Modi government’s disinvestment and labour policies.
The political discourse could become shriller in Assembly elections before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Elections are due by March in Meghalaya, Tripura, and Nagaland; by May in Karnataka; and by December in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Mizoram.
In Gujarat, the new BJP government will have its task cut out with Patidar leader Hardik Patel announcing another round of agitation. In his speech, Modi said the BJP’s was an “uncommon” victory in Gujarat. It might be too soon to speculate on the reaction of the BJP’s mentor group to the Gujarat results, but Modi ended his speech by pointedly crediting the Assembly election results to the hard work put in by party chief Amit Shah.
The Congress conceded defeat, but senior party leader Ashok Gehlot said the BJP failed to reply to issues his party has raised on jobs, farm distress and corruption.
Modi also urged party workers to work towards making India prosperous by 2022, when the country celebrates 75 years of Independence. Modi said the expectations of the middle class from his government were big.
Shah said the BJP now had governments in 14 states and was part of alliance governments in five states. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee credited Gujarat with “belling the cat” for the 2019 general elections while Communist Party of India (Marxist) chief Sitaram Yechury called for the “widest possible coming together of Opposition forces to take on the BJP on an alternate policy platform to finally defeat and destroy this hate machine”.