Being the launchpad of the prevailing model of the politics of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Gujarat has a special place in Indian politics. With the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as a serious contender for power, the Assembly election scheduled for December 1 and 5 is going to be a triangular one, in which the incumbent BJP appears to have a clear edge. The Congress, which came close to defeating the BJP in 2017, has been sliding since then, and has shown no will to fight so far. AAP’s enthusiasm is in stark contrast with the inexplicable indifference of the Congress. The collapse of a suspension bridge in Morbi and deaths, weakened the claim of the BJP regarding its governance track record, but any organic link between performance and voting preference is rather weak among the party’s supporters. The State’s politics is driven by deep Hindu symbolism, and often outright communal polarisation. AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal is trying to adopt this tested formula by promising Gujaratis free pilgrimage to Ayodhya and challenging the BJP to implement a Uniform Civil Code across the country. AAP has no game on the ground in terms of organisation or personnel, and its successes have come from the mass appeal of Mr. Kejriwal, leading to automatic voter mobilisation. The party is hoping that the situation in Punjab, which it won in March, will be replicated in Gujarat — enough people looking for an alternative to the two key national parties.
The BJP may not be facing any intense voter antipathy, going by the CSDS opinion poll conducted before the Morbi tragedy. More than 70% of the people were favourable towards the BJP; it remained popular even among those who noted that price rise was a concern. Compared to 2017, the BJP has improved its acceptance among most Hindus and tribal sections. The BJP calculates, with good reason, that AAP will split the votes opposed to it, and its pathway to victory would be easier than in 2017. That claim apart, the party is sparing no effort to retain its citadel. In quick succession, two big private industrial projects were announced, in a controversial demonstration of the benefits of a ‘double engine’ government — the same party being in power at the Centre and State. The investors were allegedly forced to change their original plans to locate in Maharashtra. The central investigative agencies are active against AAP leaders, very conveniently for the BJP. Despite its comfortable position, the BJP remains restless as the stakes are high. In the BJP’s perception, it is much more than a State election.
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