Editorial

Win without the shine: on BJP's win in Gujarat and Himachal

If winning were the only thing, then the BJP has plenty to cheer about in Gujarat, where it recorded a sixth straight victory in what was practically a straight fight with its principal rival, the Congress. Together, with a comfortable win in Himachal Pradesh, this may, on the face of it, seem like another step towards its stated goal of a “Congress-mukth Bharat”. But, no. Whatever the BJP leaders may say, the victory — by an extremely slim majority and well short of the 150-plus seats it aimed to win — is a setback. After all, Narendra Modi’s home State was the centrepiece of the BJP’s campaign in the last Lok Sabha election, where it was sold to the rest of India as the model for development. If Gujarat was the launch pad for the BJP’s national-level ambitions, it now seems to have held out a ray of hope for a Congress desperately looking to revive its political fortunes. Not having won in the State since 1985, the Congress put up its best showing in 32 years. Admittedly, the BJP was ahead by almost eight percentage points, but at the end of the day — thanks largely to the swing towards the Congress in the Saurashtra region — only about 20 seats separated the two parties. The Congress won by smaller margins in a vast swathe of rural Gujarat, where there is a palpable agrarian distress; as for the BJP, its relatively bigger wins in urban pockets were insufficient to convert its decent lead in overall vote share into a commensurate number of seats. In Himachal Pradesh, the difference in vote share was smaller, seven percentage points, but the BJP won a much higher share of the seats, close to a two-thirds majority. The caste or social alliances built by the Congress yielded rich dividends in its strongholds, allowing it to close the gap. The Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti led by Hardik Patel gave the Congress an edge in the Saurashtra-Kutch region. Alpesh Thakor, leader of a grouping of backward classes, and Jignesh Mevani, who organised Dalits against attacks by Hindutva cow vigilantes, won, giving the Congress the appearance of support from a wider social base. But the Congress probably failed to appear to be a cohesive formation with an alternative programme to challenge the BJP.

 

If Gujarat shaded the BJP’s celebrations with a touch of grey, so in a way did Himachal Pradesh. Despite the big win, the party faced the ignominy of seeing its chief ministerial candidate, Prem Kumar Dhumal, lose to his Congress rival. In a State that has alternated between the Congress and the BJP in the last three decades, the vote was arguably as much against the Congress as for the BJP. With both States under its control, the BJP can be expected to push forward its reforms agenda with renewed vigour. It may well be tempted to believe that neither demonetisation nor the flawed roll-out of the GST regime has dented its support among traders and the middle class. But the heart-stopper in Gujarat has given enough reason for it to rethink, do a reality check and reconnect with the remoter parts of India.

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Printable version | Oct 29, 2020 9:04:53 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/win-without-the-shine/article21865064.ece

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