Opinion

Gujarat Elections was never about Congress anyway

Congress and Rahul Gandhi might portray its defeat in Gujarat as ‘Moral Victory’; but here’s a truth we spoke about three months ago- It is all about BJP and not Congress

On the morning of December 18, when the results of Gujarat Assembly elections were being counted, the early trends indicated a lead for Congress. It sent a hysteria among the Congress workers-the only problem, it was premature. By 5’O clock in the evening, the picture was clear. BJP had won.

Three months back when the election campaign for Gujarat Assembly kick started we had predicted, that the Gujarat Election is centred around BJP and not Congress. Although the aggressive campaigning from Congress led many to believe that Congress will be deciding factor in Gujarat election, our early foresight predicted just the opposite.

  •         Anti-BJP sentiment

For 22 years BJP has retained its throne in Gujarat. Least did one expect Congress to fight back. But the majority of the Congress’ little success should be credited to the Anti-BJP sentiment at the grass root level. Simply put, the Congress won 80 seats in Gujarat not because people were ‘Pro-Congress’; but because largely they were ‘Anti-BJP’.

The deciding factor in the election always remained whether people of Gujarat will vote for BJP or against BJP. If there would have been any other candidate taking BJP head-on, he would also receive the response Congress fetched. However, there were several factors that led to the built up of the ‘Anti-BJP’ sentiment.

  •        Blow from the Rural areas

Those who have observed Gujarat election closely, know that BJP never had a stronghold in rural areas. For evidence, consider an analysis: On 127 rural seats, BJP could only win 56, while Congress emerged victorious on 71 seats. In many parts of Saurashtra and Kachchh BJP was trailing. Agriculture is the primary occupation these parts, especially cotton and peanut farming activities. However, the agrarian economy of these parts was badly hit due to demonetization; the imposition of GST further killed it. The image of the BJP government over the year is of a capitalistic and not so ‘farmer-friendly’ which worked as an add-on to the Anti-BJP factor. Rural Gujarat voted for Congress because it did not want to vote for BJP.

  •        The vengeance of Patidars

Patidar who were once BJP loyalists turned their back to the party in this election. The demand for reservation for patidars led to an unprecedented massive agitation against ruling BJP. But Hardik Patel’s politically inspired coalition with Congress was not aimed at bringing the reservations. It all gravitated to vengeance. When the agitation was at its peak and anger was brewing among patidars, the Gujarat police under BJP’s Anandiben Patel resorted to lathi charge and firing. Several Patidar youths were killed during the firing. This incident went against BJP who lost the trust of its loyalists.

Even Hardik Patel in his many interviews said that he wanted to defeat the BJP’s arrogance. The reservation always remained in the back seat. Thus, the patidars too voted Congress because they did not want to vote for BJP. It would be imprudent to say that Patidar actually believed Congress.

  •        The Dalit Divide

Even in the dreams, BJP would not have thought that a resilient political enemy would rise from the Dalit community. Jignesh Mewani led the Dalit agitation from the forefront following the flogging of Dalit youths suspected of killing cows. BJP who always played by hardline Hindutva found it hard to tame the ignited Dalits across the state. Though, unlike Hardik and Alpesh, Jignesh did not join Congress; he wasn’t against the idea of taking help from Congress to defeat BJP.

  •    The Significant rise in NOTA votes:

If NOTA would have been a party, it would be the third largest party in Gujarat Assembly elections. Out of around one crore people, 1.8% i.e. nearly 5 lakh people voted for NOTA. The figure is more than the votes AAP or NCP received. The people chose NOTA because they did not want BJP to run the state again. But to put it in a perspective, they also did not see Congress as an alternative.

  •     Steady decline in BJP’s vote share

Though BJP’s votes surged after the communally charged environment in 2002, the subsequent years showed a steady decline in BJP’s vote share in Gujarat. This year, BJP vote share reduced to 49% from earlier 60%. This decline laid a foundation for the rise in the vote share of Congress.

The conclusion of the Gujarat Assembly election is clear. The results will also have repercussions on 2019 General elections. If BJP continues to connive the interests of its loyalists it is bound to lose its vote share. At this pace, it can also be reduced to half of the 282 seats it won in 2014. On the other hand, Rahul Gandhi must focus on building Congress as a brand that people trust rather than waiting for an ‘Anti-BJP’ wave to ride on. It must identify and work on its organizational and execution flaws. It must establish a connection on grass root level to build itself as a relevant opposition and a strong alternative to the BJP.

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