The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will retain power in Gujarat for a sixth straight term, after it just about edged past the half-way mark in one of the most bitterly contested elections in recent times. The BJP clinched 99 seats out of 182, whule the Congress improved its tally as compared to five years ago, winning 77 seats. Smaller parties and Independent candidates clinched six seats.
While the BJP celebrated all across Gujarat and in Delhi, the 99-seat tally was far less than the target of 150 set by party president Amit Shah, and 16 less than what it got in 2012.
The Congress' campaign, led by its now president Rahul Gandhi, finished with a tally of 77, its highest in the western state in the last 22 years.
Outside Parliament, a beaming Modi flashed the victory sign to celebrate the result. Senior BJP leaders taunted Rahul and said the result proved that the people had embraced the Gujarat model of development.
But the BJP's overall voteshare in the state plunged from 60.11 percent, which it managed in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, to 49 percent, indicating a sharp erosion of support in a state which the party considers its fortress. However, it can take comfort in the 1.25 percent increase in its voteshare compared to the 2012 Assembly election.
Meanwhile, Congress' voteshare soared from 33.45 percent in 2014 to 41.5 percent.
Union information and broadcasting minister Smriti Irani brushed aside reports of BJP's waning support, saying, "Jo jeeta wohi sikander."
As counting began across Gujarat at 8 am, the Congress' leads at one point went past the BJP's, giving a scare to the ruling party and sending stock markets plunging. However, the BJP managed to recover lost ground and eventually went past the half-way mark of 92 seats with ease.
Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and deputy chief minister Nitin Patel were themselves trailing in their respective constituencies of Rajkot West and Mehsana, but later rallied and won these seats. While Rupani won by 50,412 votes, Patel's victory margin was 7,951 votes.
All Congress' chief ministerial contenders — Shaktisinh Gohil (Mandvi), Arjun Modhwadia (Bokhiria) and Siddharth Patel (Dabhoi) — suffered defeats.
While the BJP dominated the south, north and central Gujarat, Congress held the upper hand in the sprawling Saurashtra/Kutch region of the state.
Interestingly, BJP prevailed in most seats that were deeply impacted by the Patidar agitation. The Patel community had rallied against the saffron party after 23-year-old leader Hardik Patel demanded job quotas and reservations. Patel later joined hands with Congress. However, after the BJP's win, he complained about faulty Electronic Voting Machines.
BJP also proved its sway over urban centres, while the Congress' seats came mostly from rural regions.
However, the one seat the BJP would have dearly loved to win — the Unjha constituency, which includes the town of Vardhana, where Modi grew up — saw a Congress victory.
Positives for Congress
The Congress said the poll results, though another defeat, were an improvement over the last election. It said they have brought the BJP to its knees by restricting it to under 100 seats in Gujarat. It also said these would have an impact on upcoming polls in other states, including BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
The Congress also termed the election results a "moral victory" for the party and said it showed a "mirror of truth to those who are arrogant".
AICC general secretary in-charge of Gujarat, Ashok Gehlot, said the Gujarat results were "neither BJP's victory, nor Congress' defeat". "I feel this is a victory of our issue-based campaign. We see the results that way. No matter who forms the government, this is a moral victory for the Congress," said Gehlot.
"On one hand, they are on 99, and on the other we have won around 83-84 (along with allies). This is clear that Rahul Gandhiji (Congress president) and the party have been able to restrict them to below 100. On behalf of Rahulji and Congress, we congratulate the people of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh," Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said.
"BJP won by a whisker in Gujarat. We will bring them back to the issues of development from trying to divert attention. We will keep fighting on the issues of people and their aspirations," Surjewala added.
"Six of their ministers have lost to Congress candidates. All Congress MLAs who defected to BJP have lost. In Vadnagar, which is Modiji's hometown, they lost to a Congress candidate. Asha Patel won by a margin of 19,000. People are giving a message. In Somath too, BJP lost all four seats. Congress has gained — from 43 MLAs to 84. Since 1995, for the first time, they have been reduced to a two-digit figure (99)," he said.
The party in a tweet accepting defeat said that they may have lost the polls but they weren't "taking off their gloves yet".
The Congress Party extends a huge thank you to the people of Himachal Pradesh & Gujarat for having faith in us and giving us their vote. Our congratulations to the Bharatiya Janta Party. However we aren't taking off our gloves just yet; see you on the campaign trail in 2018!
— Congress (@INCIndia) December 18, 2017
Rahul also conceded defeat and wished the BJP best in a tweet, adding that he was proud of Congress' workers for "fighting against anger with dignity".
My Congress brothers and sisters, you have made me very proud. You are different than those you fought because you fought anger with dignity. You have demonstrated to everyone that the Congress’s greatest strength is its decency and courage. — Office of RG (@OfficeOfRG) December 18, 2017
Meanwhile, the BJP termed the victory a "people's verdict on demonetisation and GST". Modi insisted that "India was ready for reforms". He also lashed out at Congress for "outsourcing" its election to caste-based agitation leaders like Alpesh Thakore and Hardik Patel though he didn't name them. The prime minister also thanked Gujaratis for "rejecting venomous brand of campaign" and urged them to stay united and foil any further attempts to "sow seeds of casteism".
BJP president Amit Shah said the BJP's engine of growth and victory will continue in full steam in upcoming elections as well.
Hardik, on the other hand, alleged that the saffron party played an "unfair game" by "tampering" with EVMs and using "money power". The Patidar Anamant Andolan Samiti (PAAS) convener, who backed the Congress in the polls, said the party would have won had the BJP not "indulged in cheating". He also conceded that results from urban seats of Ahmedabad, Rajkot and Surat were not on expected lines. Patel insisted that "EVMs can be hacked like ATMs".
Dissatisfaction with BJP
Results in Gujarat reflected dissatisfaction among the state's electorate, with many voting against the governments at the Centre and state. The discontentment was especially rife in rural belts, where Congress outperformed the BJP with farmers raising the issue of 'Minimum Support Price' of cotton. Several regions of the state are also reeling with water woers.
According to a break-up given by CNN-News 18, out of the 98 rural seats, Congress has won 56, while the BJP could get only 39, eight less than what it managed in 2012. Though the BJP improved its tally in north and central Gujarat, the Congress' gains almost entirely came from the rural Gujarat belt.
However, it cannot be said for certain whether the Congress will be able to sustain this combination of ambitious first-timers in politics — two of whom do not belong to the party — for any length of time, especially when the prize for which they came together has eluded them.
For the Congress, therefore, it is almost back to square one in Gujarat as the state has once again slipped out of its grasp and it will have to re-engage all over again in building the party's ground level base.
Psephologist and political activist Yogendra Yadav, while commenting on the results, told CNN-News18 that the Congress leadership must learn three lessons from the loss in Gujarat. "The Congress cannot substitute organisational strength at grassroots level with last minute hawabazi (empty talk). The party must understand it cannot borrow other people's movements. It cannot piggyback on OBC or Dalit leaders' agitations and popularity and hope to win. The Congress cannot battle the kind of naked communalism unleashed by the BJP with the sort of surreptitious casteism it tried to use," Yadav said.
But the big takeaway nevertheless for the Grand Old Party is that it has succeeded in giving BJP a scare which no one even thought possible in 2014, or when the Congress lost four Assembly elections in a row. And secondly, the party can now look forward with considerable confidence to next year's elections in the three BJP-ruled states: Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where it may not be possible for Modi and BJP president Shah to stave off the anti-incumbency factor as they did in Gujarat.
However, the victories in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh will help the BJP retain the electoral momentum ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, though the outcome in the western state has also given the Congress a fresh hope of taking on BJP in the coming battles.
The Gujarat election was held on 9 and 14 December and was marked by a viciousness that pitted Prime Minister Modi against the Congress, including his predecessor Manmohan Singh.
Modi had been the Gujarat chief minister from 2001 until he became the prime minister in 2014. It was the first Assembly election in Gujarat after Modi shifted to New Delhi.
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: Dec 18, 2017 22:35:28 IST