Gujarat Elections 2017: BJP Humbled by a Resurgent Congress has been edited by Rushi Bhimani.
After a very long time, the Gujarat Assembly elections saw a counting day that was full of twists and turns and quite a few nail-biting moments. Though the BJP retained power in Gujarat for the sixth time in a row, it sure faced a tough battle against a resurgent Congress Party. BJP chief Amit Shah, who had set a target of 150 plus seats for the party in the 182-seat assembly, faced a greater challenge than he probably expected. The BJP, despite achieving a majority, has been reduced to double digits for the first time in nearly two decades.
Hu Chu Vikas!
Vikas Gando thayo che!
These were the chants that pervaded the state’s political spectrum. Bhartiya Janata Paty, through its victory in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, now enjoys a stronghold in 19 states, along with its allies in the NDA. But the Gujarat Model that our Prime Minister has flaunted for a long time had a significantly reduced impact during the 2017 elections. The fact that BJP lost to Congress in the Prime Minister’s hometown should say something. Winning fewer seats than 2012 was a clear sign that the BJP’s foothold in Gujarat is deteriorating.
Rahul Gandhi, on the other hand, had a slow start but emerged as a tough opponent for Modi in his own state. Facing losses in both Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat, Rahul Gandhi was a gracious loser, learning from his mistakes. The Gujarat results will surely dent the BJP’s hopes for the contests that will take up political time in 2018: Karnataka, Tripura, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. Shiv Sena MP and spokesperson Sanjay Raut put it aptly: “We congratulate both the BJP and the Congress. The Gujarat outcome will set the entire nation thinking.”
These elections were not as easy as BJP thought they would be. They almost took Gujarat for granted and that seems to have hurt them the most. A loss of sixteen seats when they aimed for a rise of thirty-five sure speaks a lot about Gujarat elections. It would be wrong of Rahul Gandhi and his party to start thinking that the new Congress president has suddenly started oozing charisma. His perceived “win” has only been possible because of growing discontent against the BJP amongst various sections of the society, along with severe economic disruptions by the Central government and an anti-incumbency against the government that has ruled for 22 years.
Though Rahul Gandhi largely based his campaign on issues like Demonetisation, the so-called Gabbar Singh Tax (GST), and the punctured Gujarat Model, there is no denying that the upswing of 19 seats came his way only because of the good ol’ politics of caste. Taking advantage of the Patidar agitation and anti-reservation riots in Gujarat in the months before, Congress outsourced its campaign to the likes of Jignesh Mevani, Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakor.
Patels led by Hardik Patel, OBCs led by Alpesh Thakore and scheduled castes or Dalits led by Jignesh Mevani, made a significant dent in the ruling BJP’s election tally and showed the BJP armada that you cannot rely solely on Modi for an election. On results day, it was because of this trio that BJP ended up with less than 100 seats. Rahul Gandhi has tried the piggybacking strategy in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar too, and we all know how that turned out. But the strategy certainly worked in Gujarat.
While depending on outsiders for help, Congress has failed to groom its own leaders in Gujarat. Shaktisinh Gohil, Siddharth Patel, Arjun Modhvadia, Tushar Chaudhary, Bharatsinh Solanki and others have been failing consistently for 22 years now. The party does not have a leader with across-the-state appeal since Chimanbhai Patel. This year was the best shot Congress had. With all factors working against BJP, the Congress could have pulled off the seemingly impossible.
The factor that helped BJP retain Gujarat was all but one — Narendra Modi. His appeal to the Gujarati electorate, as someone who was once a person from the state, probably swung enough sentiment in the BJP’s favour.
There are many questions that still linger in the minds of the people of Gujarat. Is the credibility of EVMs even a factor? Who would become the next Chief Minister? Is the widely heralded Gujarat Development model in danger because of the Patidar Agitation? Is it right to say that the Era of caste politics back?
Now that the Gujarat elections are over, what next for both the major parties?
BJP has to offer a constructive agenda that goes beyond just Vikas. Though it seems to be working, every agenda has its lifetime. As of now, the development plank of the BJP is unable to provide jobs to many and does not have the same appeal it had in 2014.
Congress, on the other hand, has to reimagine itself. The shadow of corruption looms large over the party. It must come up with a plan luminous enough to drive it away. Promising quotas to castes and groups is not a viable strategy.
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