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2017 Gujarat Assembly Elections: BJP Under Pressure

By admin

October 23, 2017

Gujarat Legislative Assembly Polls 2017

The curtains are all set to fall on this year as 2017 draws to a close. The year shall, however, not end before one final nail-biting climax, one major showdown. We have saved one of the biggest political battles to be fought in the country this year for November. If the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections held earlier this year were deemed the start of preparations for the 2019 general elections, the 2017 Gujarat Assembly elections may well be considered the dress rehearsal for the Lok Sabha polls. Gujarat is the citadel of the ruling party, BJP, and the home state of the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi – the face and name that was primarily responsible for the overwhelming victory of the NDA in 2014. Its importance cannot be undermined. In writing about the PM, we’re very tempted to call him a one-man-army but by now it is sufficiently apparent to the observer of Indian politics that the man behind the scenes, Amit Shah, is running the show.

Ask any Indian, any layman, and you will be informed that the outcome of the Gujarat Legislative Assembly elections is a foregone conclusion. But of course, BJP will win. If you look a little closer, and with some bit of objective discernment (difficult as that may be) you will see that the answer is not quite as simple. Much has changed since 2012, and even since 2014.

The last time the Congress came to power in Gujarat state (legislative assembly polls) was in the eighth assembly elections (1990) when the party joined hands with the Janata Dal, adding its 33 seats to the Janta Dal’s 70 pitted against BJP’s 67 seats (out of a total of 182). The very next elections (1995) handed an unequivocal victory to the BJP which won 121 of the 182 seats. Modi held the Chief Minister’s office between October 2001 and 2014 when he staked a claim at the PMO. This, despite the Godhra riots of 2002 and the ensuing criticism, has been a phenomenal run.

This year too BJP looks all set to win the support of the people of Gujarat and the assembly seats required to gain a majority, but the golden dream is on the wane. BJP may lose some 6 to 7 percent votes vis-a-vis 2012 elections when it bagged 64.28 percent seats (116 seats of 182). In 2007, BJP won 117 seats and in 2002 won 127 seats.

A number of factors are likely to influence the views of the electorate in the state. Let us take a look at a few of these –

Modi is not CM anymore. The lack of a strong and dynamic CM candidate is perhaps BJP’s greatest weakness in the state. Both Anandibai Patel and Vijay Rupani lack the ability to mimic the Modi wave.

About 43 percent of the state’s voters are from urban areas and understand Modi’s brand of promise and delivery. Industrial growth and revenues impact the electoral psyche. There has been a decline in the annual revenue growth rate of the state which is now about 5 percent (compared to 22 percent in 2012-13). The introduction of GST and the demonetization move are likely to have impacted businesses and enterprises across the state making way for anti-incumbency sentiments.

While the urban electorate may clearly be in favor of BJP, the rural regions are silently but certainly turning away from the party. The INC has managed to secure a victory in 23 of the 31 district panchayats and 113 of the 193 gram panchayats that went to polls recently. While Rahul Gandhi may still not be popular in the state, the local Congress MLAs have displayed an unprecedented solidarity in rallying for Ahmed Patel in the Rajya Sabha Elections held in August this year. And this victory comes despite Shankarsinh Vaghela’s last-minute deflection to BJP. Patel scored 44 votes while Amit Shah and Smriti Irani got 46 votes each.

The measured and limited entry of the AAP is a sharp strategy of the party that was largely limited to northern India. While AAP is hardly likely to claim the state, it may still erode BJP’s strength and find a foothold in western India.

One of the greatest advantages that the BJP has over Congress is its clean, “corruption-free” image. The Jay Shah (Amit Shah’s son) case has deeply damaged that reputation. Popular publication ‘The Wire’ claimed that Jay Shah’s company has recorded a 16,000 fold growth and received huge funds right after BJP came to power at the centre. While Jay Shah has sued the Wire for defamation and the case is subjudice, the damage to BJP’s image has been done.

The caste agitation in Gujarat has been giving the BJP much trouble since 2015. The Patidar Anamat Movement led by Hardik Patel has not been resolved satisfactorily. The BJP’s Dalit vote bank too has been eroded with the Dalit caste agitation in the state. The murder of Dalit Sarpanch Jaysukh Madhad has also left the Dalits in the state unsettled.

Two deflections just ahead of the assembly polls are also likely to hurt BJP. Dalit leader, Rakesh Maheria, has recently joined AAP and announced his intentions of contesting the polls while OBC leader, Alpesh Thakore, has joined hands with the Congress.

Factors which are likely to go in favour of BJP –

Economic growth in the state of Gujarat still remains at an astounding high. Last fiscal year (2016-17) the state received an FDI of about USD 3,367 million – double the 2014-15 figures. In 2015-16 manufacturing in the state grew by about 12 percent and construction by almost 7 percent.

The inauguration of the Sardar Sarovar Dam and the prestigious RORO Ferry (across Gulf of Cambay) coming just before the assembly elections are likely to have a major impact on BJP’s popularity.

The Congress and other opposition parties may close ranks against the BJP, opinion polls on Gujarat may predict doom for the party but it is unlikely that BJP shall face a defeat in the very state that has been its stepping stone to the centre. The influx of fund, the zeal, and commitment of the party workers in the state, the support of the urban voters – these are some of the unassailable pillars on which BJP rests.

Amit Shah’s strategy, Rupani’s leadership, and Modi’s interests cannot be written off quite as easily as the opposition would like to.

Factoring in all these, it looks likely that the BJP will still manage to secure a win in Gujarat but Amit Shah’s ambition of gaining 150 assembly seats looks like a distant dream.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed are of those of the author and do not represent the views of Elections.in.

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