Big takeaway from Gujarat election: BJP is no longer invincible
The BJP has managed to retain its citadel of Gujarat, but the victory wasn't easy and was marked by several indicators that could help define politics in the state in the upcoming future.
First, right since the early days, even BJP cadres and supporters recognised that the party's tally in the state would be lower than previous years even of a victory was a foregone conclusion.
But 'by how much?' was the question on everyone's lips.
While interacting with BJP supporters during this election cycle, this reporter noticed an interesting phenomenon - that though supporters wanted the party to retain power, they also wanted the numbers of seats to decline to check the 'arrogance of leaders'.
But the most important message to emerge from Gujarat is that the the fortress is no longer invincible.
A large number of top BJP leaders in the state had a tough time retaining their seats, including Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel and several cabinet ministers. In fact, all through the campaign, the party had several shaky moments and it finally came down to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to postpone the Winter Session of Parliament and carpet bomb the state with a series of rallies to turn the tide.
More so, another lesson BJP ought to imbibe today is that it cannot rely on rhetoric alone as it has on previous occasions. In fact, the party kept its distance from talk of '56 inch chest' or bragging about the much-hyped Gujarat Model.
he election result clearly proves that a space has been created for issue-based politics - evident from the way Saurashtra has voted and how candidates like Jignesh Mevani have won.
Saurashtra has largely been a BJP bastion. The area having given a chief minister like Keshubhai Patel who was seen as a farmers' leader.
This time around it has voted for the Congress.
In Saurashtra, the issue with the Patidars was not reservations, but plain agricultural concerns. They stood annoyed at not getting proper returns for their cotton and groundnut crops despite two good monsoons. Issues like non-availability of water for irrigation, prices and availability of fertilisers and pesticides also formed the narrative.
The biggest issues to loom over this election was demonetisation and the hasty introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) that had hit the business in the state. These resulted in people losing jobs and forcing people from Saurashtra to go to places like Surat, Ahmedabad and Rajkot to earn their livelihoods. In districts like Morbi, Gir Somnath, Junagadh and Amreli, the BJP has been washed out.
The Hardik Patel factor also did considerable damage to the BJP. The Patidars who aligned with him did go back to their villages in Saurashtra and voted against the BJP.
“Hardik has made a big difference to the Gujarat politics. He has shattered the myth that no one can take on the BJP and question its policies and top leaders in the state. What he has triggered is a social churning which can only go further,” said a political observer in Surat.
The victory of youth Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani and Other Backward Castes (OBC) leader Alpesh Thakor is also significant. They had campaigned on issues which till now had mainly been raised by social activists and NGOs. These issues were never a part of the BJP campaign and had till now been swept under the carpet when the party ran the governments. These youngsters are expected to raise issues like Dalit rights, bootlegging, rampant privatization of education and healthcare along with unemployment on the floor of the house.
Polarisation and micro-management
The BJP's heavy dependence on urban Gujarat paid off for the party this time as well. It managed to win majority of the seats in Ahmedabad, Surat and Rajkot while sweeping Vadodara.
In other urban areas too, it managed to do well. Urban Gujarat sends almost one third of the MLAS to the state assembly and these have been traditionally BJP bastions except for some minority pockets in places like Ahmedabad. The electorate here is polarised on the lines of religion and widely believes the BJP narrative on development. The only thing that could be of concern for the BJP in these areas in the days to come is that the Congress managed to make inroads in several areas where it was never seen before.
The margin of victory in several of these seats has also come down drastically. The party will have to curb this trend if it wants to hold sway in the urban parts.
BJP's micro-management helped it retain the South Gujarat and also major parts of central Gujarat, primarily tribal districts. The party had its cadres along with the Sangh Parivar machinery from many states working right down to the booth levels in these districts.
But the fact that the BJP did better than expected in North Gujarat made a big difference as it was here that Congress was expecting to do well and was banking on Hardik and Alpesh.
But the North, from where many of BJP's bigwigs such as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, its National President Amit Shah, Deputy CM Nitin Patel and former chief minister Anandiben Patel - was a matter of prestige. In Mehsana, Nitin Patel was able to secure a victory after a tough contest on seat where there were 34 candidates in fray.
“The BJP has nothing more to cheer this time except for the fact that it could retain the state. The victory margins of its candidates have come down. The Congress has been able to make inroads in some of its strongholds. Communities rallying behind the Congress are something that should worry the party,” said a Patidar youth from Ahmedabad.
These polls have shattered the dreams of Modi and Shah of having a Congress-mukt Gujarat, what to talk of India. Their dream of breaking the record set by former Congress chief minister Madhavsinh Solanki by winning 150 seats also fizzled out. Solanki had won 149 of the 182 seats in 1985. There is churning expected in the Gujarat BJP soon.