Now that there is little uncertainty left about the results of the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh elections, the lessons are becoming clear for both the BJP and the Congress, not to speak of Narendra Modi himself. The bland news is that the Congress has won in Himachal, but it has not improved its performance in Gujarat, but there are more subtle messages coming through.
These are the other important takeouts.
#1: The Congress should look at this election as a partial morale-booster. It has reclaimed Himachal Pradesh, but in Gujarat it has seen two of its most important state leaders – Shankarsinh Gohil and Arjun Modhwadia – bite the dust. Its voteshare has, however, seen some improvement.
#2: Given that the BJP has done much better than 2007, this means that the Modi factor would have been crucial for this level of performance. This leaves open a larger question: if the BJP’s main vote-winner has to think national now, what happens to the party in Gujarat? Succession planning is now critical.
#3: It is easy to conclude that the Gujarat Parivartan Party of Keshubhai Patel did not do much damage to the BJP in Saurashtra. But this would not be entirely true. While Modi managed to win the bulk of the Saurashtra seats, the GPP probably ate a bit into the BJP’s votes.
#4: The BJP’s performance in Gujarat sends a clear message to Narendra Modi, too. He has to take his detractors along if he really wants to leave a united BJP in Gujarat when he sets his eyes on Delhi. He will also have to try and bring back all the Sangh Parivar elements who are miffed about his high-handedness before he can make further plans. This may have cost him some seats in his North Gujarat bastion.
#5: While Modi has silenced his critics by winning more seats than in 2007, he has some things to learn too: hype can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. The unadulterated bile spewed at him by his critics – which is a form of negative hype – may have helped build the halo around Modi, but Modi’s own personal and development hype means that everyone expected him to win bigger and bigger. This is an expectation that is impossible for anyone to meet. Modi has to work at dehyping himself, even if his critics won’t do that on the negative side. His critics will, in fact, do the opposite: set the goalposts farther and farther to make his victories look like defeats. Next time they will say he has to win 150 seats.
#6: In retrospect, it is clear that the real push for Modi’s leadership at the national level comes not from his peers, but from beneath – the tier-2 and tier-3 party functionaries, and the grassroots. They don’t see the current leadership delivering at the national level, even though the BJP has strong state-level leaders. Modi’s victory, even though critics will claim otherwise, will now make this grassroots pressure build to a crescendo as we approach 2014.
#7: For the Sangh Parivar, especially the RSS, the Modi victory is cause for both cheer and some trepidation. The Parivar would not have wanted him to be humiliated, but they would not have wanted him to win so big that everyone else does not count. The actual results are what the Sangh Parivar may be okay with. They will now seek to make sure Modi compromises with them and his detractors so that he does not want to watch his back when he moves to Delhi.
#8: The most important takeout of the Gujarat election concerns all parties: Indian elections in the TV age, where social media is beginning to play a part, and where the country is rapidly urbanising, are increasingly driven by personalities. Every future election will now become presidential in nature. Even in Himachal, Vir Bhadra Singh won the state for the Congress, not Sonia or Rahul. In 2014, all parties have to prepare to project real leaders.
#9: The BJP’s loss in Himachal means the challenge for the party will be greater in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where elections are due in 2013. Not only that, the party’s shape in Karnataka is bad after the BS Yeddyurappa revolt. The BJP faces the prospect of nasty surprises in 2013, and will have to do everything possible to ensure that it wins big in MP and Chhattisgarh. Without that, the party will face 2014 with its fingers crossed.
#10: The Gujarat poll has restored partially the accuracy of our pollsters. Even though all predicted a sweeping Modi victory, the final seat count has not exceeded the wildest estimates. This suggests that translating vote-shares into seats remains a tricky business even in a supposedly two-party state like Gujarat.
#11: The biggest surprise is this: neither is Himachal nor in Gujarat has corruption turned out to be a big issue. If it was, Vir Bhadra Singh should have lost since the media had made damaging allegations against him; and Arvind Kejriwal made serious allegations against Narendra Modi’s government.
The bottomline could be this: people may dislike corruption, but when the issue of corruption is weighed against governance and leadership, they are willing to take the latter.