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Gujarat polls: Why there is reason to believe BJP might lose

Aditya Menon | Updated on: 6 December 2017, 21:51 IST
(Arya Sharma)

The final election tracker by ABP-CSDS has shown that Gujarat is heading for a photo-finish, with the BJP and Congress both expected to get 43% of the vote share. This is a gain of 2% for the Congress and a fall of 4% for the BJP from the ABP-CSDS survey in the end of October.  

The latest survey was conducted in the last week of November and therefore it factors in the Congress' understanding with the Hardik Patel-led Patidar Andolan Anamat Samiti (PAAS) and the alliance with Chhotubhai Vasava's Bharatiya Tribal Party.

The big picture emerging out of the survey is that the downslide in BJP's vote share continues. It has fallen from 59% in its survey in August to 47% in end October to 43% a month later. However, if this momentum continues, the BJP might be staring at a defeat in a state that has been its bastion for the past 22 years.

Can BJP lose?

The team at CSDS does not give a seat estimate as a matter of policy. The estimation done by ABP, with the help of a different agency, is that the BJP will get 91-99 seats and the Congress 78-86 seats.

The lesser number of seats for the Congress, despite an equal vote share, has been explained by CSDS director Dr Sanjay Kumar in a piece for Mint. He writes that since BJP won several urban constituencies with huge margins, a small swing against it won't have an effect as it would end up winning the seat with a lesser margin. 

Though he doesn’t give a number, Kumar has predicted that the BJP has an edge in the elections. However, his former colleague at CSDS and Swaraj Abhiyan leader Yogendra Yadav has a different take.

“The most likely outcome of the coming elections in Gujarat is a clear defeat for the BJP and, consequently, a clear victory for the Congress,” he writes, basing his observation on the ABP-CSDS data.

“A clear and consistent trend like this is usually not reversed in the last week of elections. Usually it gets intensified. So, from a zero lead the BJP is likely to move a negative lead…We must also note that pre-poll surveys tend to over-estimate the ruling party,” he further adds.

Breaking down the BJP’s fall

  • The survey reveals that in terms of regions, the BJP's losses are the most acute in Central Gujarat - down 13% from the end October survey - and South Gujarat, where it has fallen 11% in the past one month.
  • In terms of caste groups, the fall has been greatest among Adivasis and Patidars. In October end, BJP had an 18% leader over the Congress among Adivasis. This has completely reversed, with the Congress now 18% ahead. 
  • Similarly, BJP had a 20% lead among Patidars a month ago, now Congress has a 2% lead in the community.
  • On the other hand, the flocking of Patidars towards the Congress appears to have provoked a consolidation of the OBC Koli community behind the BJP. In the previous survey, Congress had a 10% lead among Kolis, now BJP has a 26% lead in the community.
  • This partly explains the change in the fortunes in both the parties in different regions. The marginal improvement in the BJP's projected vote share in Saurashtra appears to have been driven by Kolis, who have a substantial presence in the region. The BJP has made special efforts to woo the community in the past one month in order to make up for the loss in Patidar votes. This appears to have succeeded.
  • On the other hand, the Congress' major gains have come in the communities where it has forged alliances with community leaders: Adivasis and Patidars. This explains the party's sudden surge in South Gujarat.
  • Chhotubhai Vasava's domain of influence is in the tribal areas in Bharuch and Narmada districts in South Gujarat. And judging by Hardik Patel's massive show in Surat, it seems that the Congress-PAAS alliance has made significant inroads into BJP's Patidar-dominated bastions in Surat such as Varachha, Kamrej, Karanj and Katargam
  • The BJP's downslide in these areas are corroborated by the poor attendance at Prime Minister Narendra Modi's rally in Bharuch and the fact that the BJP moved its rally in Surat away from the Patidar dominated Kamrej area to the outskirts, where migrant workers are there in substantial numbers.
  • Congress is ahead of BJP in rural areas across Gujarat, except Central Gujarat where BJP is marginally ahead.
  • The Congress needs to be concerned that its lead over the BJP among Muslims has fallen from 68% to 53%. But its lead among Dalits has increased from 8% to 18%. It has also managed to reduce the BJP's lead among Upper Castes and smaller OBC castes.
  • Significantly BJP's 11% lead among women over the Congress, has now shrunk to just 2%.
  • The BJP needs to be concerned that PM Modi’s popularity has fallen from 67% to 64% even as he hits the campaign trail in Gujarat. The anger against his policies has become even more intense.
  • The proportion of people saying GST is a bad move has increased from 40% to 43% in the past one month, despite the concessions given by the government, whereas the proportion of people supporting it has fallen from 24% to 22%.
  • Similarly, 42% now feel demonetisation was a bad move as against 24% who think it was a good move. A month ago there were 36% in both these categories.

Seat projections

A rough seat projection can be made if the change if one compares the vote share across various regions in the end November survey to the vote share in the 2012 Assembly elections.  If the swing in vote from the Assembly election to the latest survey is applied across constituencies in all the regions, it could lead to a shift of 39 constituencies from the BJP to the Congress led alliance. The Congress’ present strength is 44 out of 167 seats in the outgoing house, 15 seats are vacant.  

For instance, in the 54 seats of Kachchh and Saurashtra, the ABP-CSDS survey has predicted a 2% gain for the Congress and no change in the BJP’s vote share. This could give the Congress 5 additional seats from last time.

The biggest gains for the Congress are coming from North Gujarat where the BJP’s vote share is estimated to have fallen by nearly 5% and the Congress’ increased by 9%. If applied across the region, it could lead to the party gaining 14 seats at the BJP’s expense.

In Central Gujarat, which includes the districts of Vadodara, Chhota Udaipur, Dahod, Panchmahal, Anand and Kheda, the Congress’ vote share is estimated to have remained more or less stagnant since the 2012 elections. But the BJP is estimated to have fallen by 5%. If this swing takes place uniformly across all constituencies, it could give Congress an additional 9 seats. However, a  key question would be who is gaining in terms of vote share at the BJP’s expense if it’s not the Congress?

South Gujarat is another region where the BJP is estimated to be incurring heavy losses. According to the ABP-CSDS survey in end November, the BJP’s vote share has fallen by 13.5% while the Congress’ has increased by 3%.  If this is projected across all the 35 seats in the region, it would mean a gain of 12 seats for the Congress and its ally Chhotubhai Vasava’s Bharatiya Tribal Party. The alliance would end up sweeping the entire tribal belt in South Gujarat. Some gains are expected in Surat city as well, due to the Patidar Andolan Anamat Samiti.

Tie-ups with Hardik & Vasava have helped Congress

The ABP-CSDS survey findings reveal that the four community leaders who joined the Congress bandwagon are having had very different impacts. 

Judging by the surge in Congress' Patidar vote across Gujarat, it is clear that Hardik has succeeded in bringing the community towards the Grand Old Party. The party has a 2% lead among Patels, probably for the first time in three decades. 

However, this has come at a cost for Hardik. According to the survey, his "likeability" among Patels has fallen from 64% a month ago to 58%. This indicates that while he has succeeded in significantly increasing the Congress' popularity among Patels, a small portion of the community has fallen out with Hardik because of this. 

OBC Thakor leader Alpesh Thakor's case is the reverse. His own popularity has grown from 36% to 55% but the Congress' support has fallen significantly among Kolis and marginally among Kshatriyas. 

Therefore, it seems that joining Congress has been beneficial for Thakor as he is now seen as a prominent leader within Congress supporters belonging to his community. However, he has failed to increase the party's support among these communities or even prevent them from drifting away. It is also possible that while Thakor has succeeded in bringing Kshatriya and Thakor votes in North Gujarat, he hasn’t succeeded in doing so in Saurashtra.

The case of Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani, who is contesting from the Vadgam seat in Banaskantha, is simpler. His own popularity has increased from 37% to 43% and the Congress has gained ground among Dalits, increasing their lead over the BJP from 8% to 18% in one month. 

The same goes for Chhotubhai Vasava and his Bharatiya Tribal Party. His name didn't figure in the question regarding "likeability" of different leaders. But it is clear that his alliance with the Congress has contributed to the complete turnaround in the party's fortunes among Adivasis, particularly in South Gujarat. 


There are three ‘x-factors’ to watch out for.

First is the public perception about the Congress’ winnability, which appears to have gone down in the past one month. In its survey conducted in the end of October, 36% non-Congress, non-BJP voters thought that Congress is likely to win the elections in Gujarat. This has fallen to 15% while the number of respondents in the same category who thought BJP is likely to win has increased from 14% to 16%.  41% voters in this category can’t say who will win, which is understandable as the competition does get more intense as polling day approaches.

It sees that BJP, with far greater resources at its disposal and with PM Modi hitting the campaign trail, has managed to drive home the message that it cannot lose Gujarat.

Congress also seems to have made some mistakes in ticket selection. When asked who would win in their particular constituency, 12% of non-Congress, non-BJP voters said the Congress is likely to win, a huge fall of 19% since October end. Those who said BJP is likely to win also fell by 1% from 14% on October end to 13% in November end.

Second, according to the survey, 45% respondents in urban central Gujarat are still undecided or are tilting towards others. This is disproportionately higher than urban or rural areas in any other part of Gujarat.

This means that one needs to look closely at what is happening in cities like Vadodara, Anand, Nadiad and Godhra – the major urban centres in this region, which put together account for around 15 seats. The undecided voters in these three cities may prove to be the deciding factor in the elections.

Third, 14 Congress MLAs defected to the BJP during the Rajya Sabha election in August this year. It is not easy to predict which way these seats will go – whether the individual popularity of these leaders would bring these seats to the BJP or the larger momentum towards the Congress will be at play in these seats as well.

First published: 6 December 2017, 21:51 IST