After a happy political run across the country in 2017, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is ending the year with electoral wins in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. For the Congress, it has been a downhill drive, but a minor boost in its fortunes in Gujarat is a silver lining in an otherwise bleak scenario.
With 20 states under its belt across the country, there is an unmistakable BJP footprint and the party has dwarfed the Congress like never before. In the latest round, the BJP can draw satisfaction from the fact that it has convincingly wrested another state — Himachal Pradesh — from the Congress.
In Prime Minister Narendra Modi's bastion of Gujarat, the BJP was fighting with its back to the wall. It was facing 22 years of incumbency and an unprecedented youth mobilisation through Patidar icon Hardik Patel, OBC leader Alpesh Thakor and Dalit activist Jignesh Mevani. But ultimately it emerged triumphant, albeit with a reduced majority.
Both Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi campaigned vigorously in Gujarat, but while the former blunted the edge of anti-incumbency and staved off dissatisfaction over demonetisation and Goods and Services Tax (GST), as also partially rural unhappiness, Rahul's effect on Congress' fortunes was only marginal.
Considering that the BJP had bagged 115 seats in 2012 in an Assembly of 182, its drop was not particularly significant, but a detailed analysis of the results would reveal that its margins of victory were narrower this time across the board.
Results show that the Patel revolt in Saurashtra, with Hardik leading the way and drawing huge crowds, made a big dent in BJP's fortunes. Evidently, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani failed to capture the imagination of Saurashtrians. There was also more to Hardik Patel than just the demand for reservations in jobs; he had charisma and a way with the masses.
All in all, in Saurashtra and Kutch, the electorate has given out a warning to the BJP not to take it for granted. That the Congress secured more wins than the BJP in this region speaks for itself.
However, Hardik's casteist stand and his alliance with Congress propelled most other castes towards the BJP. As it appears, contrary to conventional thinking, Muslims and tribals did not vote en masse for the Congress. It may be a reasonable surmise that Muslim women gravitated towards the BJP due to the party's vociferous support to the campaign against the pernicious practice of triple talaq, over which Muslim women are deeply aggrieved.
Clearly, it was Narendra Modi and his narrative of being Gujarat's torch-bearer in New Delhi that won the day for BJP. There was a time midway through the campaign when BJP was tottering, but in the last few days, it bounced back strongly, helped by some Congress blunders and a shrill BJP campaign which cast doubts on the Congress' loyalty to the country.
As in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections when loudmouth Mani Shankar Aiyar's indiscreet and poor taste comment mocking at Narendra Modi as a "chaiwala" contributed strongly to the anti-Congress sentiment, Aiyar was again no mean contributor this time. His calling Modi a "neech aadmi" devoid of culture was exploited to the hilt by the BJP and especially Modi to paint the Congress black.
The dinner that Aiyar hosted for a Pakistani delegation at which former prime minister Manmohan Singh and the Pakistani High Commissioner were attendees, among others, also came in handy for Modi to beat the Congress with and play to the emotions and sense of patriotism of Gujaratis.
That was indeed a watershed moment in the campaign, from which the Congress downslide started.
This was indeed a unique election in so far as there was a fairly sharp urban-rural divide among the voters — with the urban voter arrayed with the BJP and the rural voter with the Congress. Because in the rural areas, there was a groundswell of anger against the BJP because of demonetisation (the cash economy thrives in the rural hinterland) and some other unpalatable decisions of the Modi government.
While in Saurashtra and Kutch, Congress, buoyed by the Hardik Patel factor, had the edge, it was the BJP that held sway overcoming GST-related anger among small traders in south Gujarat. The last-minute dilution of GST played its part in drawing traders back to the BJP fold. BJP also held sway in north Gujarat with a decisive mandate while it was touch-and-go in central Gujarat.
The party also claimed an impressive win in Himachal Pradesh, an index of the electorate's exasperation over rampant corruption under the Congress goverment of Virbhadra Singh and the appalling misgovernance in the state. Fearing a revolt within the party, the Congress' high command desisted from changing the chief minister mid-stream though the writing was on the wall.
Stock markets too reacted with a drop of 850 points when it appeared that Congress may sprint a surprise, but once BJP looked set to clinch both states, the markets bounced back in style.
There can be little doubt now, that with a succession of wins capped by results in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat, the party is poised to retain power at the Centre in 2019.
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Updated Date: Dec 18, 2017 21:52 PM