While the BJP and Narendra Modi aimed at getting 150 seats in Gujarat, the results indicated that the party and PM failed, but managed to pass the poll test.
The BJP seems on the roll once again, but without the usual chest beating or victory war cry. While it was almost a cakewalk in Himachal Pradesh where the BJP wrested the State from the Congress, the saffron chariot had to go through some rough patches in Gujarat. The party aimed at 150 seats, but managed to bag just 98 and the Congress close on its heels with 81. Others got 3. The joke doing the rounds is that the clever Gujaratis deducted 28% GST plus a cess and gave the BJP 98 seats!
With the victory in the two states, the BJP is now in power in 19 states!
The big focus of the nation was on Gujarat, which many called as a semi-final run before the 2019 general elections. The election results in Gujarat saw three winners – the BJP, the Congress and the EVMs. While the BJP managed to retain Gujarat after 22 years of continuous rule, the Congress put up a credible and tough fight managing to improve its seat tally. The Congress under Rahul Gandhi gave the BJP many sleepless nights and it was no easy task for Modi to retain his grip over his home state.
However, due credit should be given to Narendra Modi for managing to retain Gujarat against many odds. He is undoubtedly the man of the moment. The BJP had to fight many odds and this is how the party overcame it:
The BJP had to fight 22 years of anti-incumbency. This was no easy task. Governments in India are voted out after 5 years on this factor alone. But to manage over 4 terms without the anti-incumbency wave sweeping out the BJP speaks volumes of the power and reach of one man – Narendra Modi. People in Gujarat still feel he can deliver; not the Congress. It was Modi who managed to halt the Congress march in Gujarat. Had Modi not campaigned so hard and vigorously, the story would have been different. Modi still continues to be the poster boy of the BJP. But the question is: how long can the BJP depend on just one single person.
Secondly, for the BJP, it was not an even fight; it was one against many. In Bihar, a Mahagatbandhan comprising of all sorts of caste combinations managed to defeat the BJP. Gujarat too tried a similar experience with Rahul Gandhi managing to get the so called HAJ factor – Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani. On paper it was a deadly combination of Patels, the OBCs and Dalit community coming together for the first time– that the BJP had to contend with.
While Hardik tried to rally the powerful Patels together, Alpesh Thakor, a backward castes (OBC) leader and convener of Gujarat Kshatriya Thakor Sena joined the Congress to give the BJP a tough fight. Jignesh Mevani, a Dalit leader too joined hands with the Congress. With this, the Congress virtually sidestepped and outsourced the elections to freelance leaders.
But the results showed that the HAJ factor did not work all that well and failed to deliver. In Surat, where the Patel agitation started, the BJP managed to hold on. This is primarily because BJP president Amit Shah and his team managed to split the Patels through micro planning and booth level management. The same is the story in the Dalit belt and in areas dominated by the OBCs.
Rahul Gandhi did a big mistake in completely handing over the campaign to these freelance politicians. This disheartened the Congress workers who did not campaign hard.
With the Patels coming back to the Congress fold, the results show that there has been a consolidation of upper castes and even the OBCs to the BJP as they are dead against giving reservations to the Patel community. This probably answers why Alpesh Thakor was not able to swing the OBC votes completely to the Congress. The OBCs seem to have gone with the BJP.
The Patels too got split. While the Patels, who dominate the diamond lobby in Surat, went initially with Hardik, Modi cleverly gave whopping concessions to the diamond traders. The clever traders then made up their mind and votes realising that it is better to be on the side of power. The diamond lobby came back to the BJP’s fold and with that came in more money and voice for the saffron party.
The Patels also knew that the promise of reservation may not materialise as the percentage of reservation cannot cross 50. This factor was exploited by the BJP at booth level. Simultaneously, the OBCs were told that if the Congress gives reservation for Patels in jobs, it would be at the cost to the reservation quota extended to them (the OBCs). Hence, many Patel communities and the OBCs seem to have stayed back with the BJP.
And then, Alpesh Thakor could not hold on to the OBC vote bank following the `neech’ comment by Manishankar Aiyer against Narendra Modi who belongs to the OBC community. The OBCs seem to have switched sides from Alpesh Thakor and the Congress to the BJP.
The Scheduled Castes too seem to have ditched the Congress. From 25 seats in the previous elections, the Congress ended with just seven.
Thirdly, the BJP had to contend with the campaign against demonetisation and the GST. There was a lot of heartburn in Gujarat, especially among the small traders. While this cost the BJP a few seats, the saffron brigade managed to hold on by pocketing most of the urban seats coming out of Ahmadabad, Vadodara and Surat. Out of the 32 urban seats, the BJP held on to 29, sending out a message that for the urban voters, Modi is still a darling and a magic that works.
Fourthly, unlike the urban voters who are more net savvy and Modi bhakts, the rural voters had a different take. The BJP had no answer for the serious agrarian crisis and the effect of demonetisation in these pockets. Little wonder that almost the entire Sourashtra belt went with the Congress. This is where Modi’s Gujarat model and vikas have been an absolute failure. The message from the rural heartland is very clear – we are not interested in temple, Pakistan or verbal battles; just make our lives less miserable. Agrarian distress and rural discontent is going to be a bug bear for the BJP in the coming elections too. Unless, of course, the BJP finds a quick and long-lasting solution.
The elections also showed a substantial drop among women voters. This is a message that there is household distress too. Women are unable to manage their household budget due to demonetisation and GST. The Congress is bound to exploit this deep discontent in rural areas and among women in the coming elections. But, that is the future. Let us look at where the Congress went wrong in Gujarat.
As mentioned earlier, the party depended heavily on newcomer freelance politicians like Hardik, Alpesh and Jignesh. The Congress is a national party and does not need crutches. It should have been a dominant player.
Secondly, Rahul Gandhi’s sudden love for temples seem to have upset the minority community, notably the Muslims. Abandoning his grandfather’s stand in depending on religion, Rahul went temple hopping. And in Somnath, he created a controversy by signing in the register meant for non-Hindus. While the temple visits sent out confusing signals to the Muslims, the Somnath blunder further consolidated Hindu votes.
Then came the triple talaq bill introduced by the Modi government. This bill found favour among Muslim women and progressive Muslims. Little wonder that eight minority clusters in Gujarat voted for BJP backed independent candidates.
Apart from Manishankar Aiyer fiasco, Kapil Sibal move to drag in the Ram temple into politics managed to further consolidate the Hindu votes. The Congress seems to have given the BJP a few seats on a platter.
The Congress failed to get the powerful Kshatriya to their side too. The old Kshatriya warhorse and still a powerful political figure, Shankersingh Vagela managed to sabotage the chances of the Congress in as many as 100 seats.
So, what are the takeaway messages for the BJP and the Congress?
*The Gujarat elections is undoubtedly a victory for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Brand Modi. He has proved that he can win elections even without a wave. Over-dependence on Modi is dangerous. This may lead to dictatorial tendencies and arrogance.
*BJP has a strong organisation, for which both Modi and Amit Shah are responsible. These karyakartas did a great job in transforming Modi’s popularity into votes for BJP.
*The BJP has shown that it still has a good connect with its voters in the state. Gujarati voters may be upset with the BJP and its policies, but do not reject its ideology.
*Though there has been rural distress, overall people felt that the BJP governments, especially those which were run by Prime Minister Modi, have worked for the people.
*Modi and the BJP leaders successfully managed to invoke Gujarati asmita.
And here is where the Congress faulted:
*There is a major disconnect in the Congress among urban voters. The Congress in Gujarat, and probably in other states too, will have work hard to end its disconnect with the urban voters.
*The Congress has proved that alliances and coalitions are important. But it is of paramount importance that the party should pick and choose its partners to challenge the BJP hegemony.
*Modi could connect with the people by speaking in Gujarati. Rahul Gandhi faced a language handicap. One cannot expect Rahul to learn Gujarati or for that matter any other regional language overnight. The problem is that the Congress did not have a leader in Gujarat with a pan-state appeal. The BJP too does not have a pan-state leader, but Modi effectively covered that short-coming.
*The Congress lacked a strong organisation at the ground level that was equipped to convert the atmosphere into votes.
*It should be given to Rahul’s credit that he put up a spirited campaign that made Modi sweat. Will Rahul be able to retain the same vigour against the BJP in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh next year? Like in the past, he should not run away from political battlefields.
With a win, the BJP has emerged stronger, but the Congress is also a winner despite losing Gujarat as it put up a stiff fight. But in the end, it is the EVM that has emerged a big winner. All those who bashed the EVMs and the election commission should go on their knees and apologise.
Now that Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh are over and history, the BJP will surely start focusing on Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh next year. And then the big battle in 2019. Will the new president of the Congress Party manage to halt the Modi juggernaut is a big question that will loom large over India? Only time will tell.
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