much awaited Gujarat verdict is pronounced and BJP has romped home with a wafer thin majority thereby creating history in India’s electoral journey by winning six consecutive elections. The political pundits/analysts’ are interpreting the result as per their convenience and understanding. However, this election has proved beyond doubt that voters in this country and especially in Gujarat are politically more literate than what the political class understands.
Right from the beginning, not only the entire nation but across the world this election result was being awaited as it was contested in Modis’ citadel. Many analysts were looking at this result from the point of view of 2019 Loksabha election and they were of the opinion that this may set the trend for the forthcoming Vidhan Sabha and 2019 LokSabha election.
However, nothing spectacular has happened as BJP won the election albeit with a slender margin. Congress, despite looking extremely weak and vulnerable in the beginning as it was out of power for more than two decades has ultimately done well and put up a brave fight.Even though, odds were against it as it was very weak organisationally, and had hardly any leader in the state who could match up to the charishma of Modi and Amit Shah.A whole new generation of young voters had not seen the working of the party either.
On the contrary, BJP was in power for last 22 years and it was led by Modi who is now Prime Minister and Amit Shah who is the party President. It has another advantage that it has worked on its organizational structure and built humongous party cadres. Initially, BJP took it like any other election and by the time they could realize, Congress surged ahead and were able to woo the three young turks of Gujarat and forged alliance with them.
Almost all the pre-election surveys have shown that Congress is gradually inching the gap between itself and the BJP. Even many pre-poll surveys demonstrated that Congress has been able to bridge the gap. It was then realized by the top brass of the BJP and thereafter, they launched scathing attack against Congress and especially Hardik Patel and succeeded in bringing to its fold few members of Hardik group.However, Congress succeeded in bringing Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakor to its fold.
This carefully and well-orchestrated planning under the overarching leadership of Rahul Gandhi improved the chances of the Congress. In order to reign in Congress, BJP left no stone unturned and even Prime Minister Modi campaigned vigorously and went to every nook and corner of the state addressing around 30 rallies. In fact, the large contingent of cabinet ministers and Chief Ministers of BJP-ruled states were asked to campaign.
Compared to Himachal Pradesh, BJP was much active in Gujarat. This amply demonstrates that they had inner realization that along with anti-incumbency factor, GST, demonetization, agrarian distress, unemployment etc. may adversely affect its chances. The initial momentum and lead which Congress had established got frittered with the entry of Modi in campaigning as he being the undisputed and tallest leader of the BJP. Though, Modi never tried to woo the voters on his development agenda or governance record rather he raised very controversial issues like Aurangzeb,Pakistan, Mandir visit by Rahul Gandhi in order to woo his core constituency alongwith Gujarati pride/asmita.These kind of narratives went in favour of the BJP.
Though, Rahul Gandhi tried to corner him by raising certain pertinent and relevant questions but he could hardly match up to the charishma of Modi and while election was at crucial stage statement by Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyer calling Prime Minister Modi as “Neech” was further capitalized by the BJP and Modi. Modi raised this issue in a rally and said that Congress calls him as someone who belongs to “Neech Jati”.Even a big vernacular Gujarati newspaper took up this issue and twisted the statement which went in BJP way.Lessons for the BJP
Of Course, BJP can be credited for winning Gujarat election for the six consecutive times, there are lessons that it can learn from this election. BJP could win 99 seats only 7 seats more than what is required to form the government. It was much less than the target that it has set for itself i.e. 150 and far less than what it won in 2012 election though in terms of percentage it has a slight gain from 2012 assembly election. Secondly, BJP did extremely well in 2014 Lok Sabha election but three years later; its vote percentage has gone down.
Voters have given it mandate to rule but have also warned that it cannot be complacent to its genuine grievances. The farmers of Kutch and Saurashtra regions in particular have shown their displeasure by not voting it in large numbers. Similarly, the trading communities especially in big cities like Surat, Ahmadabad protested on a massive scale but since they have been traditionally voting for the BJP, this time again they voted for it. However, it is not because they are happy with the party but more because Congress could not prove itself as a credible alternative. BJP cannot sit idle and will have to address the concern of the trading communities otherwise in 2019 Loksabha election, Congress may put up tough fight.
This election has also reflected that BJP has urban and rurban presence and has a feeble base in rural areas.This is an area of concern for the party which talks about inclusive development and won 2014 election in the name of “Gujarat model of development”.
Though, it is being said that Hardik factor played a role in BJP debacle in Saurashtra but had it been the case how could BJP win in Rajkot and other urban centres. A lesson that it can learn from this election is that it will have to reset its priorities and focus on rural voters as well. Otherwise, opposition parties may try to capitalize on this issue.This is one grey area which BJP will have to work in order to win 2019 LokSabha election.Lessons for the Congress
Many political analysts have interpreted Gujarat election and the performance of Rahul Gandhi and Congress as it may be a trendsetter and reverse the fortunes of the Congress. Going by the electoral arithmetic’s it appears that since it has improved its numbers in comparison to 2012 and won 80 seats it has done well.
However, India’s electoral politics is very complex and complicated and victory in one election cannot guarantee win in another election. In other words, voters were not convinced to entrust Congress with leadership responsibility partly because it has not been able to nurture local leadership and also because it could not offer alternative model. Moreover, Congress could win as many seats because the three young leaders of Gujarat joined hands with it.Otherwise, story might have been different.
The defeat of all the top leaders of the Congress demonstrates that it has not been able to produce local leaders with grass root presence. It will have to introspect that why it could not capitalize on the issues of GST, demonetization and urban voters still voted heavily in favour of the BJP. Along with raising the issues of farmers and highlighting government failure in social sectors, it could have raised the issues which affects the urban middle class. It reflects that there is a huge trust deficit and Congress could not convince the Gujarati people that it could provide a credible alternative. The politics of soft hindutva hardly paid any dividend to the Congress rather it created confusion amongst minorities and also among its core support groups.
Another lesson that both the parties can learn from this election is that the third largest vote comprising 1.8 per cent went in favour of NOTA reflects that even though voters were not happy with the BJP, they were not in mood to give chance to the Congress either. It is a lesson for Rahul Gandhi that simply Modi bashing may give space in media but in order to win over the people, he will have to come out with a concrete convincing narrative.
Finally, it can be said that people of Gujarat have given message to both BJP and Congress that they cannot remain oblivious to the genuine grievances of the people and they will have to work on the ground in the interest of the people. By arousing passion, one cannot befool the people and janta remains janardan in democracy.
# Author Dr Shashikant Pandey is a Professor of Political Science at B.B. Ambedkar Central University, Lucknow. He can be contacted at email@example.com