Lotus May Reach Its Full Bloom In Gujarat Elections 2022

Lotus May Reach Its Full Bloom In Gujarat Elections 2022 - Sakshi Post

Praveen Rai

The elections in Gujarat receive more national and international attention than any other province in India as it is the bastion of Narendra Modi (NAMO) and political laboratory of his ‘Model of Development’. The BJP led by NAMO has not lost any election in the last 27 years, but the recent pedestrian suspension bridge collapse over the Machchhu River in the city of Morbithat led to 135 deaths and 180 citizens injured created a huge political backlash for the party. The accident had the potential to stop the saffron party’s winning juggernaut, but the absence of the Congress state unit in rescue and relief operations and the central command’s focus on ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ neutralized its wide negative fallout. The elections in the state have been primarily a two-party contest between the Congress and BJP as most of the new parties formed by heavyweight defectorsfailed in their enterprise. However, AAP stewarded by Arvind Kejriwal is different from the earlier challengers as it carved an electoral space for itself in Gujarat municipal polls in 2021 before foraying into state-level elections.

It thus becomes important to comprehend the current election scenario based on the vote share of the BJP and Congress in 2017assembly elections and by gauging the public support for the AAP. The extrapolation of vote share of AAPcomputed by the subjective reading of the mood of the voters in the previous election can provide a fair assessment of the electoral prospects of key parties and in predicting the most likely state mandate.

Delineating the Election Verdict 2017

The assembly elections in 2017 witnessed a fierce election contest between the BJP and the Congress as the saffron party faced immense public heat due to Patidar (Patel, a dominant caste) reservation agitation for inclusion in the OBC category and roll out of Goods and Services Tax (GST) that adversely affected the small businesspersons and shopkeepers. It managed to cross the majority mark with a surplus of seven seats (99 seats), but lost 16 seats from its tally in the 2012 elections. The BJP numbers in the state assembly for the first time dipped below the three digits figure, but its vote share increased by one percent (49 percent) as compared with 48 percent in the previous election. The main reasons for the seat loss of the BJP were due to large winning margins and poor convertibility of votes into assembly seats. Its winning margins were high, as it won seats with an average margin of around 30 thousand votes, while on the other hand, the Congress won with an average gap of approximately 13 thousand seats. The uniform spread of Congress votes across the state led to a higher conversion of votes into winning seats, while the vote-seat conversion ratios of the BJP were comparatively lesser as bigger winning margins only led to a waste of valid votes.

However, the BJP did better than the Congress in terms of votes cutting across all divides: rural-urban, regions, SC and ST communities. It won 46 out of the 56 seats located in urban areas with a vote share of 58 percent, reaffirming its urban dominance. The Congress failed for the sixth time in wresting power from the BJP, but it won 77 assembly seats, a gain of 16 seats as compared with the 2012 elections. The breakdown of results on geographical regions reveals that the BJP lost one seat in North, South, and Kutch, two seats in Central Gujarat, and 11 seats in its traditional stronghold, Saurashtra. The Congress did very well in Saurashtra as it won 13 seats more as compared with the previous outing. The Congress won 23 seats out of 52 seats with Patidar voters in excess of 20 percent, a gain of nine seats, and became the first choice party of tribal communities, as it won 17 out of the 27 seats reserved for them.

The saffron party maintained a lead of eight percent vote share over the Congress in the 2017 state election and further consolidated its support base by winning all 26 parliamentary seats in General Elections 2019. The BJP continues to remain the favourite of the Gujarati electorate, but it may shed its 4 to 6 percent votes in this election due to mild anti-incumbency sentiments generated by a continuous rule of 27 years, political stagnation and voter apathy.  However, the loss of votes will not damage the seat-winning ratios of the saffron party, as it is most likely to be offset by gains made by the AAP. Pre-poll opinion polls indicate that the party with the broom symbol may cross the 10 percent vote mark and slice a major chunk of Congress votes, which by psephological default may eventually benefit the BJP.

Defining Issues and Impact of NAMO

The state election is witnessing a fundamental change in the nature of party competition, strategies of election campaigning, and the issue dimensions for the mass mobilization of the voters. The entry of AAP has not only provided the electorate with one more choice but also altered the pattern of vote aggregation by adding a new party variable in vote-to-seat conversion making election calculation of winning particular seats more complex for political parties and pollsters. The BJP continued with its traditional way of poll campaigning with mega rallies and roadshows by NAMO and other senior leaders across the state in tandem with door-to-door campaigns by second-tier and local leaders. The Congress and the AAP due to paucity of financial resources resorted to small-scale and localized campaigns to solicit votes. The Congress, unlike the high-decibel and vociferous campaign of the BJP and the AAP, conducted a silent election canvassing to mobilize votes for its candidates. 

The issues raised by Congress and the AAP to corner the BJP included Morbi bridge collapse, inflation and unemployment, paper leaks and postponement of exams for government jobs, and remission of court sentence of convicts in the Bilkis Bano case. They also campaigned against land acquisition and farmers’ issues, high electricity rates, poor basic education and health facilities in remote areas, and broken roads and potholes. AAP promised to roll back the old pension scheme for government servants, provide subsidy on electricity and improve government schools and health centres. The issues raised by non-BJP parties are contemporary reality checks, but they may not cut much ice with the electorate, as historical issues of injustice and imagined threats play a far more important role in shaping public voting decisions. NAMO led the election campaign from the front coining the slogan ‘We have made this Gujarat’, emphasizing on the son of the soil doctrine, invoking Gujarati Asmita (Pride), and asking voters for a bigger victory for the BJP. He listed the work done by the saffron party in the state in the last three decades and underlined the expansion of the Gujarat economy and the benefits received by the citizens. Apart from the development narrative, NAMO reminded the people of Kutch about the unholy nexus of the Congress and its friends from civil society in sabotaging the Narmada dam project, increase in terror attacks due to its indulgence in vote bank politics and promoting Naxalism to create negative electoral traction for the grand old party of India.

To conclude, the election in Gujarat has turned into a one-horse race with BJP miles ahead of its key competitors, the Congress and the AAP primarily because of three reasons. OneNAMO’s charisma and vote-fetching appeal are huge and unabated in his home state and his status as one of the G.O.A.T (greatest of all time) political leaders of India will help in the huge consolidation of right-wing votes. Two Congress is in complete disarray and distrusted by the voters due to a spate of political defections. The limited campaign by Rahul Gandhi, it's superstar campaigner who gave the saffron party a run for its money in the previous election, further demoralized its electioneering efforts at ground zero. Three the triangular nature of election competition seems to have vertically split the votes of non-BJP parties. The well-orchestrated election campaign of Arvind Kejriwal and populist guarantees is most likely to dent and defragment the Congress votes that will literally provide the BJP an electoral walkover. The Lotus may reach its full bloom in Gujarat but it will be too naïve to predict the runners-up as the Congress and the AAP have locked their horns in a fierce fight to claim the status of the principal opposition party in the state.  

Praveen Rai is a Political Analyst at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi.

Also Read: Voting Ends for First Phase of Gujarat Assembly Election 2022

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