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Why did Congress lose in Gujarat

December 18, 2017

Gujarat results 2017 are out, and Congress has lost Gujarat to BJP yet again. But did it have a chance in the first place? Does the final result of Gujarat come as a surprise? That depends on which side of the political line you stand and also on what you perceive as a victory and defeat.
The Indian National Congress is yet to recover from the drubbing they received in the 2014 general elections, and state after state, the party has shown that they continued to suffer from a leadership vacuum.

The turnaround in public perception of Rahul Gandhi began with his now famous tour of the United States and his interview at the University of California, Berkeley, that set his brand makeover in motion. From then onwards, his aggressive campaigning in Gujarat gave faint hopes of an outside chance at upsetting all political calculations of the BJP.

What seemed impossible at one stage began to look remotely possible when he managed to rope in support from the aggressive young Patidar leader, Hardik Patel. The Patel’s Patidar community has a population share between 12-14% and has been a strong supporter of the BJP. With Hardik throwing his weight behind the Congress, the party seemed to have a better chance of taking on the BJP.

The Congress chances were further strengthened by winning the support of the other two young leaders; Alpesh Thakore representing OBC votes and Jignesh Mevani representing Dalit votes. The Congress also banked on Muslim voters in the state who seemed to be ready to be weaned away from the BJP.
So here’s why the Congress lost.

Narendra Modi’s persona

The PM has shown that he is a one-man army when it comes to Gujarat and continues to exude strong influence in the state. His directly leading the campaign could not be matched by Rahul Gandhi despite the latter’s best efforts.

The Hardik Patel factor

Hardik Patel failed to deliver for the Congress. Rahul Gandhi hedged his bets on the Patidar community’s disenchantment with the BJP on account of reservation and also on the hard measures taken by the state to crush the community’s agitation. Hardik Patel was expected to bring in most of the Patidar votes. That didn’t happen.
Of the 39 seats where the Patidars dominate, over 50% has voted in favour of the BJP. The Congress was expected to get the larger share of seats from these constituencies but failed. It shows that while the Patidar youth voted for the Congress on Hardik’s call, the seniors within the community have remained loyal to BJP.

The Dalit vote factor

Young leader Jignesh Mevani was supposed to bring in the Dalit votes for the Congress. This ploy too failed although Jignesh himself won as an Independent candidate from Vadagam. Dalits have been unhappy with BJP and Jignesh rallied the community to vote against them. In 10 seats that were Dalit strongholds, BJP has won in 7 while Congress could win in only 3 constituencies.

OBC votes  

Youth leader Alpesh Thakore recently joined the Congress party and contested from Radhanpur. He too won his seat, but in the 29 other seats where the OBCs were dominant, a majority of the OBC voters have rallied behind BJP. Clearly, Alpesh’s influence over OBC voters was overestimated, as in case of Jignesh Mevani.
Rahul Gandhi had relied heavily on the trio of Hardik, Alpesh, and Jignesh but the results show that this move failed just as the Congress’s move to rally KHAM voters in the mid-90s had failed, and resulted in the Patidar community helping BJP come to power in Gujarat.

Muslim factor

By denying tickets to Muslim candidates, the BJP had made it clear that they would not be relying on the support of the Muslim community. The Congress party had tried to win over this segment of voters to supplement the efforts of winning over Dalit and OBC voters. Here again, the ploy failed as BJP has won more seats than the Congress from constituencies where the Muslim voters were dominant. Very obviously, the Muslim community has decided that they were safer and were more prosperous under a stable BJP than take chances under an uncertain and leaderless Congress.  The verdict states that.

Rural and Farmer votes

This segment has traditionally voted for the Congress, unlike urban voters. This is also the segment that suffered the maximum with demonetization and so, the Congress hoped for a higher number of seats from rural Gujarat than in 2012. While Congress has fared better, it was not enough to swing the power balance in their favour. The results seem to indicate that while male voters, mainly farmers, were in support of the Congress, the female voters have voted for the BJP.

Congress can take heart from the results

Amit Shah’s confidence of delivering 150+ seats was off the mark by a big margin, and that itself is a big moral win for the Congress that had little chance just six months before voting day. In 2012 Gujarat assembly election, Congress won 62 seats, and so the marginal gain in these elections show Rahul Gandhi has managed at least to show some signs of a Congress revival and has a foundation base to rebuild his party cadres at the grassroots, the absence of which cost the party in these elections.

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