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4 trends that tell the real story of the Gujarat civic polls

Rathin Das | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 11:41 IST

Both the BJP and the Congress can claim victory in the Gujarat civic elections.

If there is one decisive message that has come out of the elections, it is that the 'Gujarat Model' has created a serious rural-urban divide.

While voters in urban areas reposed their faith in the BJP, rural Gujarat has decisively voted against the party. But besides this, the election sent mixed signals.

What does it mean for the various actors in state politics: Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, the Opposition Congress party or Patidar leader Hardik Patel.

How do the results in their home state impact Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah?

Here are 4 key trends that make sense of the entire election.

1. Rural versus urban

Even the rural-urban divide needs to be seen in a more nuanced manner.

The BJP retained control of all the six Municipal Corporations - Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat, Bhavnagar, Rajkot and Jamnagar. The party's victorious run in urban Gujarat, that began 25 years ago, still continues uninterrupted. It must be pointed out here that Gujarat is much more urbanised than most other states in the country.

There is no doubt that the BJP has suffered severe reverses in rural Gujarat. This could be due to a combination of factors, ranging from skewed development policies to the Patel agitation.

It does raise serious questions over Modi's Gujarat Model. The turnaround in rural Gujarat that Modi had been showcasing, clearly isn't that convincing especially with lack of irrigation and water supply being a major issue.

Even in urban areas, the victory margins of BJP nominees came down drastically.

2. Patels aren't a monolith

Many analysts had said that the Patel agitation demanding reservation for the community and government's high handed response to it would spell doom for the BJP in the state. This hasn't happened.

The party's success in urban areas does prove that disgruntled Patels might be economically and socially influential, but they didn't vote as a monolithic vote bank.

It is quite possible that the urban Patels aren't particularly angry with the BJP over the job quota issue. Some Patels have been the prime beneficiaries of the BJP's model of development that was heavily concentrated in the real estate sector. It brought them huge profits through land deals and contracts.

Patels aren't a monolith. Many urban Patels have been the main beneficiaries of the BJP's policies

Even some semi-rural Patels might have generated quick cash out of the land deals and propelled by real estate inflation. But for a majority of its youth, growth in Gujarat has remained job-less.

According to Prof Prakash Shah, Convenor of Movement for Secular Democracy (MSD), it is difficult for the Patels to permanently cut their ties with the BJP as they have helped build the party in the state, beginning from the anti-reservation stir of the 1980s.

Shah explained that the Patels helped the BJP turn the anti-reservation stir into a communal mobilisation, which yielded rich dividends for the party in the state for the next 30 years.

"It is not easy for the urban Patels to dump the BJP as they actually grew together in Gujarat," he reasoned.

This explains the BJP nominees' victories in predominantly Patel areas in Ahmedabad and Surat despite a low-key campaign.

3. Advantage Congress

The Congress has established a nominal lead in 100-odd assembly constituencies across the state. Shah feels that the party has a chance to make inroads into many BJP citadels.

It is not that the people of Gujarat have developed any love for the Congress, they are just looking for alternatives to the BJP which has ruled unchallenged for 2 decades.

4. Post-Modi Gujarat?

This was the first election in Gujarat without the towering presence of Narendra Modi, who has dominated the state's politics since he became CM in 2001.

In fact, this was also the first election in which Modi's right hand man Amit Shah wasn't actively involved.

Chief Minister Anandiben Patel led a half-hearted campaign, and even conceded defeat through her utterances. But she managed to hold ground in urban areas.

In some ways, this would strengthen her position as CM which was under threat after the Patel agitation.

It has also become clear that there weren't too many takers for Patel agitation leader Hardik Patel's call to 'teach BJP a lesson'. This call had openly been propagated by the Patidar Anaamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS).

But Hardik has succeeded in one thing: taking the sheen away from Modi in his home state.

As Shah put it, Hardik Patel can be credited for pricking Modi's 'development' balloon.

So there is a little bit for everybody in these results be it the Congress, Anandiben or Hardik.

First published: 4 December 2015, 12:24 IST