For quite a few Assembly elections, Gujarat has seen a straight contest between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress. Is 2023 any different?
The Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) poll seems to indicate that the situation seems to have dramatically changed and we may well see a three-cornered contest now. At present, the BJP seems to be way ahead of its rivals in terms of vote share. Its projected vote share is nearly double the vote share of its nearest rival (Table 1). The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has emerged as the BJP’s closest rival with the Congress being displaced to a close third position. The survey indicates that the vote share of the Congress appears to have reduced by half (as compared to the 2017 polls) and the beneficiary has been the AAP.
While support for the AAP decreases as the age of the respondent increases, the reverse appears true for the BJP. The AAP has higher support among those who have greater access to education. The BJP is doing better in rural areas, while both the Congress and the AAP enjoy greater support in cities than in villages. As the level of affluence of the respondent increases, the intensity of support for the BJP rises. The AAP captures one-fourth of the votes of the poor and the middle class and has limited support among the well-to-do sections. One-fourth of the respondents among the economically lower segments and the rich tend to favour the Congress.
Votes by caste groups
The BJP appears to have strong support among the powerful Patidars and the upper castes. As compared to 2017, the Congress appears to have lost a major chunk of the Patidar vote to the BJP. The BJP appears to have majority support among the non-Koli Other Backward Classes. There seems to be a three-way split of the Dalit vote, with the Congress securing the largest chunk. There is also a three-way divide in the tribal vote, with the BJP securing the largest chunk. The same holds true for the Koli vote. Close to half the Muslim vote appears to be with the Congress. Three of every 10 prefer the AAP and one in every 10 favour the BJP. There is a decline in the Muslim vote for both the Congress and the BJP as compared to 2017.
While close to three-fourth of the Congress voters said that they will vote for the party they have currently indicated, seven of every 10 of the BJP supporters took a similar stand. A little over two-thirds of the AAP voters indicated that they will not change their electoral preference. While one-third of the AAP supporters conceded that their decision on who to vote for may change, that level of uncertainty was much less among the BJP and Congress supporters (Table 2).
Findings on Congress
The findings also suggest that though the Congress has not been in power in Gujarat for the last two decades, and a third alternative has entered the contest, more than half of the voters (56%) believe that the Congress has been an effective Opposition party in the State. Though the proportion of those having such a perception was stronger among Congress voters, close to three-fifths among AAP voters and a little over half of BJP voters also shared this view that the Congress has been an effective Opposition party in Gujarat.
The survey clearly indicates that there is a three-way race in Gujarat. A month prior to the polls, it is clear that the BJP is ahead of its rivals and there is a close contest between the Congress and the AAP for the second spot.
Sandeep Shastri is Vice Chancellor at Jagran Lakecity University, Bhopal, and the National Co-ordinator of the Lokniti network; Sanjay Kumar is Professor and Co-director, Lokniti-CSDS