Analysis: why Gujarat voted the way it did

The electoral victory of the BJP reinforces that Prime Minister Narendra Modi remains the most potent weapon in its armoury.

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:56 pm IST

Published - December 18, 2017 02:46 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi being felicitated by BJP president Amit Shah at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi on Monday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi being felicitated by BJP president Amit Shah at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi on Monday.

Through much of the election campaign in Gujarat in the last two months there has been one refrain that has rung out, “Congress is fighting well but BJP will form the government.”

Monday’s results in Gujarat has conformed to that view, with the Congress having improved on its 2012 tally, but still resigned to being the opposition, albeit the strongest in many years, in the state. Every poll result has its reasons and lessons, and what worked, what didn’t. 

The Modi factor

The electoral victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party reinforces that Prime Minister Modi remains the most potent weapon in its armoury. As the BJP’s attempts to take on the opposition campaign narrative appeared to be flailing, Prime Minister Modi’s blistering campaign in every district of the state — 34 rallies in 15 days — and the reinforcement of his connect with the people of Gujarat was an important factor. While a lot of heat was raised by some of the campaign rhetoric, especially with regard to former  former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh , Prime Minister Modi’s was successful in intervening in the campaign at the most crucial juncture.

As one senior BJP leader said, “there are four stages of an electorate being upset with you. Stage one, is that the person is upset but will still vote for you. Stage two is that he/she is upset and may consider an alternative but still vote for you, the third that an the upset voter will stay home, the fourth that the upset voter will vote against you no matter the alternative. In Gujarat we were in the middle of the second and third stage and it was Prime Minister Modi who made the critical difference of winning our voters back.”

Self goals by Congress

Self goals by the Congress like former Union Minister Mani Shankar Aiyyar’s “neech” (low) comment and his former Cabinet colleague Kapil Sibal’s appearance in the Ayodhya case before the Supreme Court asking for a deferment helped the BJP gain some traction around both the persona of Prime Minister Modi and Hindutva issues. “The comment by Mani Shankar Aiyyar focussed the campaign from issues raised by the Congress with regard to reservations and GST to the personality of Prime Minister Modi, and helped regain traction for the BJP,” said a senior BJP leader.

Not so PAAS but “kapaas”

There is a clear rural urban divide in the voting pattern in Gujarat with the BJP holding on to its urban bastions and Congress giving it a tough challenge in rural areas. And while BJP president Amit Shah ran down the Hardik Patel effect in these polls saying that the party had won handsomely in Surat and Mehsana considered the epicentre of the Patidar agitation for reservation under the aegis of the Hardik Patel led Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), the cotton and groundnut growing belt in Saurashtra is where the BJP took most damage. It lost all three seats in Morbi, four seats in Surendranagar, four in Somnath and five seats in Amreli where it had held ground in 2012. Rural distress is therefore something that the party needs to address, not just in Gujarat but across the country. “It was more the kapaas (cotton) farmers rather than PAAS that damaged us,” admitted a BJP leader.

Early signs and micro management 

The formidable electoral machinery of the BJP however has cleared the test of this strongly fought contest.  By June the party had “completed” its booth committees (a Committee is considered complete if it consists of 21 members). These were sub divided into panna pramukhs(page in charge) of a 48 voters in a particular constituency. A total of 7,500 people were deployed for this and, according to Madhya Pradesh minister Narottam Mishra who had been in charge of 26 seats in Saurashtra, BJP Chief Amit Shah spoke to each of these panna pramukhs. “For the party’s national president to call and speak personally to a panna pramukh is a big deal,” he told The Hindu . This kept party workers in fighting form.

A miss is as good as a mile

The BJP is however elated at having registered a sixth straight win in Gujarat. “This is our sixth straight win in Gujarat and it is a big victory for the party. To beat a five term anti-incumbency is not a small thing,” said BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya.

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