In the first phase of the Gujarat Assembly elections on Thursday, a turnout of over 60% was recorded in 89 seats spread across the 19 districts of Saurashtra, Kutch and South Gujarat. A total of 788 candidates are in the fray in the first phase. In the second phase, the remaining 93 seats will vote on December 5. The entry of the Aam Admi Party (AAP) has opened new possibilities in the State where the BJP and the Congress have traditionally been the two poles. The AAP appears to have emerged as a strong force in certain parts of Surat city and the Saurashtra region, turning the contest triangular in seats such as Varachha Road, Katargam and Olpad. The party’s chief ministerial candidate, Isudan Gadhvi, is contesting from Jam Khambhalia in Saurashtra and the president of its State unit, Gopal Italia, is contesting from Katargam in Surat. In the 2017 elections, the Congress had done well in the Saurashtra region, winning seats in the districts of Amreli, Morbi, Surendranagar, Gir Somnath, and Junagadh; while the BJP had retained its hold over Surat city and other South Gujarat districts. The extent of the AAP’s impact is difficult to measure given its top-down approach to campaigning and the non-existence of any party structure on the ground.
The Morbi bridge tragedy that claimed at least 141 lives was a prelude to the poll season but the massive governance failure and corruption associated with it did not become an issue in the campaign. The Congress chose to run a low-key campaign, avoiding direct attacks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and trying to keep the focus on day-to-day issues of governance, corruption, inflation and unemployment. Party leader Rahul Gandhi, who fronted its campaign in 2017, visited the State only once this time. The BJP campaign is being spearheaded by Mr. Modi who increased the frequency of visits to his home State from March this year. After the announcement of the poll, he held a dozen rallies and roadshows in Surat, tribal pockets in South Gujarat, and Saurashtra. The BJP relied on emotive issues such as the alleged insults of Mr. Modi by the Congress, the communal violence of 2002, and the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, mostly aimed at communal polarisation, and sidestepped any discussion on governance in the State where it has been in power for 27 uninterrupted years. The BJP’s reluctance to seek votes on its governance record can be read as admission of its failure. But this still might not cost it heavily.