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Why did BJP win Gujarat elections?

December 18, 2017

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The big day is here, and the much-awaited Gujarat election results are finally out. The BJP has won the Gujarat assembly elections for yet another term. No one is happier (and relieved) then the electoral duo of PM Narendra Modi and master strategist Amit Shah whose combined juggernaut continues to steamroll regional elections state by state.

Just six months back, BJP’s chances of winning were never in doubt. However, the last three months saw Congress awaken from its self-inflicted slumber and put up Rahul Gandhi to challenge the seemingly invincible duo on their home turf. It was never going to be easy, but this was no ordinary elections. The stakes were high for both parties, and the outcome watched by the entire country, for the results was expected to indicate future trends in Indian politics.

So how did BJP manage to overcome the series of challenges the party faced after being in power for twenty-two long years?

Challenges and counter strategy

Patidar agitation

The Patidar demand for reservation for the prosperous and influential community in July of 2015 came as a surprise to the BJP. Initially, it seemed to be just an opportunistic demand that was expected to fizzle out, but actually turned out to be the biggest threat to BJP winning another term. BJP came to power in Gujarat on the back of Patidar support, and now with the 22-year-old Hardik Patel drawing massive crowds and attention, the party high command had to come up with a counter-strategy. Amit Shah decided to break Hardik’s stranglehold on the youth by reaching out to the elders within the community with the commitment to include Patel candidates. He reminded the community that they were among the biggest gainers under Narendra Modi’s BJP and would, in fact, be among the big losers if business continuity got disturbed with BJP’s defeat. It seems to have worked as the results in Patel dominated areas has been better than what was perceived earlier.

Dalit agitation

The Dalits have been at the receiving end of BJP’s resurgence across states in India, and this was one segment that BJP was not able to win over. However, it seems certain sections within the community continued to repose faith in the party.

Demonetisation and GST

Gujarat has always been home to a large business community, and therefore small businesses in the state, along with farmers were badly hit by demonetisation. The backlash was expected to singe BJP in UP elections, but that did not happen, thus giving hope to the party high command that perhaps in Gujarat the business community will be able to see the long-term benefit over short-term pain. The massive outreach to traders in high business concentration areas like Surat seems to have won over the distressed section. Same with the fear and perception over GST. This is where BJP’s grassroots disciplined party cadres across the state helped. Amit Shah successfully galvanized the outreach to allay all fears the business community had, and the results show that they continued to place their faith in the party.

Muslim votes

The Muslim community took time to recognize and accept the benefits of BJP rule in the state – namely, development and communal peace and stability. It seems that despite Congress’s overtly pro-Muslim stance, a large section of the community in Gujarat has continued to extend their support to Narendra Modi’s overall leadership. The Congress gamble on Muslim support did get them some traction, but it was not good enough.

The significance and impact

Strengthening of the party in Rajya Sabha

BJP needs to continue consolidation of its strength in Rajya Sabha as it is vulnerable in the Upper House. After the loss in Punjab, BJP had to retain its hold in Gujarat. That is why BJP threw all its weight in winning these elections.

Commencing national consolidation for 2019 elections

BJP has to further expand its influence in states where regional parties dominate. It has successfully penetrated opposition strongholds in UP, Assam, Manipur, and Uttarakhand, and now is betting big on Himachal Pradesh as the next state to extend its grip.
Nipping Congress and collective opposition revival

Rahul Gandhi has just been appointed the Congress party President and was hoping for a dramatic win in Gujarat. The outcome of these elections was crucial to Congress as a win here would have catalyzed a Congress revival and helped rally the fragmented opposition to unite in the run-up to the Lok Sabha election 2019. This win has punctured those hopes, and the Congress now has to go back to the drawing board to figure out a new strategy to bring various regional opposition parties together.

The credit for BJP’s performance in Gujarat has to go to Amit Shah who has been consistently displaying an uncanny trait of correctly reading people’s pulse. That should be good news for BJP as they now begin preparing for 2019.

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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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