The Gujarat Assembly election, scheduled for 9 and 14 December, is significant for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. While the former is eager to retain home turf, the latter is trying to mount a serious challenge to the BJP ahead of the 2019 General Election.
The BJP may have its numerous infrastructure projects and the bullet train to help sway votes, but the Congress has the saffron party's flawed implementation of the GST and the demonetisation going in its favour.
The high-stakes battle in a state with only two major parties — BJP and Congress — will be contested on a number of issues that may well decide the outcome. The Gujarat election is considered even more important than Uttar Pradesh for Modi and a defeat will be embarrassing for the BJP.
With the quota agitation crippling Gujarat and the disenchantment growing, BJP might not find it easy to win the state and Congress appears to be putting up a good fight to counter the saffron party.
The Patidar problem and the Dalit dilemma
The two sensitive issues that rattled the state and forced Anandiben Patel to resign as the chief minister were the protests for reservation for Patels in jobs and educational institutions, and the angry response against the flogging of Dalits.
The BJP was at its wits' end thanks to the fierce agitation led by Hardik Patel. Party leaders were not allowed to hold public rallies and they were barred from many Patel-dominated areas in a show of increasing irritation with the saffron party.
The issue has still not abated and Hardik has emerged as an influential leader able to sway votes in favour of whichever party he chooses to endorse. According to the India Today-Axis opinion poll, the Patidars play a decisive role in 21 of the state's 182 seats and makes up almost 16 percent of the electorate. Hardik can give a bump of two percent to whichever party he supports.
The drifting away of the Patidars from the BJP might alter the result of the election because the party has been banking on these votes for last two decades.
The other issue which can play a major role in the election is the Dalit uprising. Gujarat witnessed one of the biggest Dalit uprising that ever took place in the state last year. Anandiben faced criticism after four Dalit youths were beaten up in Una on 11 July, 2016 for allegedly skinning a dead cow.
Her exit was seen as BJP’s message to Dalits that the party was concerned about the growing unrest in the community. The Dalit anger, as The Hindu points out, is mounting. Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani extended his support to the Congress and met party leader Ashok Gehlot.
They comprise seven percent of the electorate in Gujarat and their vote in favour of the Congress could represent a huge loss for the saffron party.
The GST decision and demonetisation gamble
As Hindustan Times pointed out, small and medium-scale businessmen and traders, who form the core of the BJP support base, have been hit by what they call implementation glitches in the roll out of the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
Textile traders in the state want a roll back of the GST on cloth. According to the Times Now-VMR opinion poll, about 40 percent respondents feel that the quality of life has worsened after the implementation of GST and demonetisation.
Fifty-three percent of the people are dissatisfied with demonetisation, according to the India Today-Axis survey. The Opposition, specifically the Congress party, has been very vocal and vociferous in its criticism of the new tax regime.
Rahul termed it the 'Gabbar Singh Tax' and the party will also observe Black Day on the anniversary of demonetisation. This might shift the stakes in the favour of the Congress. Traders have traditionally been BJP’s principal vote base but the disenchantment over the GST and demonetisation might shift the favour.
In the Gujarati press, The Hindu reported, there are alarming reports of disenchantment with the BJP government, particularly due to unemployment.
Development and infrastructure
Modi said that the election in Gujarat is a contest between development and dynasty. "The elections for us are about politics of development while for the rivals it is about promoting dynastic politics. And let me tell you that the politics of development will win," he was quoted as saying by Livemint.
BJP has perhaps been focussed on infrastructure projects because of this. Modi laid the foundation stone of Ahmedabad-Mumbai High-Speed Rail Network, commonly known as the bullet train, on 14 September in Gujarat along with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe.
He also laid the foundation stone of a bridge between Okha and Beyt Dwarka. He also announced six-laning of the Ahmedabad-Rajkot National Highway and four-laning of the Rajkot-Morbi state highway.
During his visit to Gujarat, the prime minister inaugurated the Bhadbhut Barrage that will be constructed over the river Narmada, and also flagged off the Antyodaya Express from Surat to Jaynagar in Bihar, The Financial Express reported.
With focus on these infrastructural projects and promoting its development pitch, BJP may be able to sway some voters who are concerned about the development of the state. Almost 16 percent of the voters, according to India Today-Axis opinion poll, agree with Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah that it is the most important issue.
The BJP is facing the anti-incumbency sentiment and the Gujaratis are showing signs of fatigue from being ruled by the BJP since 1995, The Indian Express reported.
With the change of chief minister in the middle of a tenure and the absence of Modi as the chief ministerial candidate, the anti-incumbency sentiment is perhaps apparent. Achyut Yagnik, a leading expert on Gujarat, told Rediff that there has been a difference in administrative control since Modi was elevated.
"Modi had tight control over the bureaucracy, which was not the case with Anandiben Patel and Vijay Rupani," she said.
According to OpIndia, "with 20 years being in power, the state BJP seems to have peaked and reached a saturation point. Of these 20 odd years, Modi was the chief minister for little over 12 years. In the three years that Modi has moved to Centre, Gujarat has had two chief ministers."
Inflation and unemployment
Almost 31 percent of those surveyed in the India Today-Axis poll said that inflation is the most important issue in the polls. Price rise has irked the Gujaratis and it is followed by unemployment. Rahul Gandhi has accused the the state government of failing to provide employment to the youth. He said that nearly 30 lakh youths were unemployed in the state.
The Gujarat Congress also announced monthly unemployment allowance to jobless youths in the state if the party is voted to power. Apart from the allowance, Congress also promised to give smartphones to such youths so as to "keep themselves abreast with the latest technology".
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: Nov 23, 2017 14:23:43 IST