Nobody is likely to predict that Gujarat is about to deliver Narendra Modi any kind of shock in the December assembly election. If anything, the predictions are getting stronger that Modi will make a whopping comeback.
The India Today-ORG poll last week gave Modi an even bigger majority in 2012 than in 2007, projecting a seat count of 128 (against 117 in 2007) on a lower vote share (47 percent vs 49 percent earlier), but the the CNN-IBN poll steers clear of any seat projections and instead emphasises that Modi will simply get more votes than before.
The CNN-IBN pre-poll opinion survey gives Modi a clear 50 percent of the vote, one percent higher than what he achieved in 2007, while the Congress saw a drop of 2 percent. The gainer is Keshubhai Patel’s Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP), which gains 3 percent. The clear implication is that the GPP has eaten into the anti-Modi vote rather than the core Modi vote. [See table here and here]
Put another way, Modi’s overwhelming personality is giving the BJP its biggest ever vote share – matching the hyper-polarised situation of 2002. The Congress is set to hit rock-bottom again with a vote share of 36 percent, down from 38 percent. [See table here and here]
The pro-incumbency sentiment for Modi is even stronger in 2012 than in 2007, with 52 percent of those surveyed saying the BJP should continue in power, compared to the 48 percent who said so five years ago. Gujarat is essentially saying there is no alternative to Modi. [See table here]
But before we jump to the conclusion that Modi is home and dry with a big majority, we have to put in a few caveats.
First, the sample size is just 3,658 – which is adequate to gauge opinion in a polarised situation, where the gap between the top two parties is more than 10 percent. But converting the vote share advantage into seat gains would be hazardous, since the shape and size of assembly constituencies has changed since 2007.
Second, the poll has been conducted well before the election mood is peaking. Election dates are nearly 45 days away, and the two primary parties have yet to announce their manifestoes or their candidates. Anything can change between now and polling dates on 13 and 17 December.
Third, it is still too early to predict what will happen with the Patel vote – especially since Keshubhai Patel’s GPP is expected to eat into the BJP’s vote base here. A three percent GPP vote share sounds small, but if this is concentrated in a few decisive constituencies, it can impact Modi’s seats significantly. [See table here]
However, what the opinion survey clearly shows is the beneficial impact of having a larger-than-life leader in Narendra Modi. Not only is his popularity at an all-time high (49 percent today compared to 37 percent in 2002), but at the core is the fact that Modi is BJP in Gujarat. Some 90 percent of BJP voters want only him as Chief Minister. There is nothing like a rock-solid party vote to give any leader a strong edge.
In the Congress, there is simply no leader who can match him. And the exit of Keshubhai Patel from the BJP is creating as many problems for the Congress as the BJP.
The survey suggests that while Karwa Patels have significantly shifted from BJP to Keshubhai’s GPP, Leuva Patels have shifted more from the Congress to GPP. Since the Congress’ vote share is far below the BJP’s, this loss of Leuva Patel votes to Keshubhai may hold the key to the party’s fortunes in Saurashtra and Kutch. [See table here ]
In terms of regions, the BJP is in front everywhere, but is leaps ahead in North and South Gujarat, and a nose ahead in Central Gujarat and Saurashtra-Kutch. If the Congress and the GPP want to dent Modi’s overwhelming majority in December, it is in Central Gujarat and Saurashtra-Kutch they have to focus. Sonia Gandhi addressed her only meeting so far in Saurashtra’s Rajkot, but this may not be enough. [See table here ]
Summing up, the survey has the following points to make. The BJP is ahead of the Congress in both urban and rural Gujarat, and also across classes – rich, middle class, and poor – and age-groups.
The worry areas for Modi are the upper castes and Patels, where the BJP is losing some of its strength, but it is gaining from the Congress with the Kolis, Kshatriyas and even Muslims. [See table here and here]
The survey shows Muslim dislike for Modi is reducing in intensity compared to 2009, with the number of people who said they never liked him going down from 44 percent to 23 percent. The likes have gone up from 14 percent to 26 percent. These kinds of numbers indicate that Muslim wariness about Modi is down to the normal level of wariness they have towards the BJP as a party. It may no longer be the extreme antipathy they were reporting with Modi earlier.
One should take any figure indicating Muslim acceptance of Modi with a pinch of salt since it is highly unlikely that the community – which still exhibits the scars of 2002 – is really telling researchers what they think about Modi. Their votes may tell a different story.
But if the numbers are at least indicative of a trend – of greater resignation to Modi’s presence - the Congress has a lot to worry about.