Gujarat polls: Results show the winner came second; Rahul Gandhi's Congress has much to cheer
Though BJP has beaten 22 years of anti-incumbency, Gujarat results show that the party was weakened more in this Assembly election than in any recent time.
As the final results of the Gujarat Assembly elections are being tallied, it is clear that the Congress will win close to 80 of the 182 seats in the state Assembly. To put things into perspective, the last time the Congress won more seats in the Gujarat Assembly was in 1985, and that was a whopping 149 seats.
That year, Madhavsinh Solanki became the chief minister. The misrule was such that even today many remember that era – marked by Hindu-Muslim violence and poor law and order. Many Hindu traders remember that time for Muslim criminals and curfews.
In the next election, in 1990, the Congress won just 33 seats. In 1995, it improved its tally marginally to 45 seats. In 1998, 53 seats; in 2002, 51 seats; in 2007, 59 seats; and in 2012, 61 seats.
Winning close to 80 seats in Gujarat makes the Congress look not weak but rather a strong contender for power. It can be said that finally, the Congress in Gujarat has turned a leaf, and has moved beyond the Madhavsinh Solanki era.
The cherry on the cake is that this has happened when the tallest product of Gujarat BJP, Narendra Modi, is India's prime minister. It is no mean achievement to have staged a recovery on Modi's home turf when the Gujarati Modi-Shah duo has been winning state after state, wiping out the Congress in a mission to create a 'Congress-mukt' Bharat.
The BJP beat 22 years of anti-incumbency, that is true. Yet the numbers also show that the BJP was weakened more in this Assembly election than any recent Gujarat election. Its vote share has increased but so has the Congress'. The 'others' have disappeared. Congress rebel leader Shankersinh Vaghela's newly formed party is nowhere to be seen.
The Congress, with its ally the Bhartiya Tribal Party, has reduced the vote share gap with the BJP. The gap is now around seven percent, it used to be around 10 percent.
But that is a misleading statistic because the high vote share gap comes from the large margins with which the BJP wins its urban seats. The small margins on many seats, particularly rural seats, is reflective of how close this election was. If a few more things had gone the Congress' way, it could have actually won.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won 43.3 percent vote share. In the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, nearly three years later, it won 41.35 percent votes. In terms of both votes and seats, the BJP retained its popularity in Uttar Pradesh from 2014 to 2017.
This, however, is not the case in Gujarat. The party won each one of the 26 Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat in 2014 with a 59 percent vote share. The Congress, with 33 percent vote share, was 26 percent behind the BJP. If the 2014 Lok Sabha results were broken down, assembly/segment-wise, the BJP won 162 Assembly seats out of 182.
From that landslide to just a handful above the majority mark, the BJP has fallen quite a bit. When BJP leaders tell us to ignore these numbers and look at the fact that there was a 22 year-wave of anti-incumbency, it is an acknowledgement the Modi-fied BJP is not immune to anti-incumbency.
The Congress party has been so down and out since 2013 that the spectre of a 'Congress-mukt' Bharat has looked real. By staging a recovery in Gujarat, the Congress can finally have the confidence that it can recover, that it can put up a fight against the BJP and exploit anti-incumbency.
The BJP is going to form the government in Gujarat once again, but the Congress has won its highest ever seats in the state since 1985. It would be fair to say that the winner came second.
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