Gujarat Elections: BJP has a distinct edge. Here is why

Congress, AAP need to dissect the faith that Modi’s supporters repose in Prime Minister

The political importance of Gujarat in India’s national matrix is the highest after Uttar Pradesh. There are two key reasons for this. It is the native state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It will be very difficult for Modi to fly high in India’s political firmament without his regional roots in Gujarat staying strong.

Two, since late 60s Gujarat has been an experimental ground of sorts for the Sangh Pariwar to shape and consolidate the identity of Hindu voters that could eventually be applied to the national framework.

Gujarat assembly elections are due before February 2023. Deliberations within the BJP to advance those election and reap the benefits of the recent UP victory is ongoing. However, such a dramatic decision will have to be taken within a week or so and much before the Monsoons set in.

There are several reasons why the Gujarat Election 2023 (for 182 assembly seats) is likely to be high-pitched, argumentative, communal, confrontational and one of the toughest elections in any state.

The Kejriwal factor
This time around Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Admi Party (AAP) is determinated to attack the well-entrenched, status quoist position in the state, shared between the BJP and Congress since 1995.

AAP, on a high after the Punjab win, is putting its efforts to hit BJP in its urban vote base. It also poses a threat to Congress by eyeing its core constituencies of tribal, Dalits and Muslims. AAP is planning a tribal conclave in Gujarat by teaming up with the controversial tribal leader Chotubhai Vasava.

Its local leadership does not have any mass-based charismatic leader to help push forward Arvind Kejriwal’s big-time national ambition via Gujarat. Obviously, if Modi is slighted on his home turf by any of his adversaries, he or she shall instantly gain national heft.

The state Congress president Jagdish Thakore is a veteran of many elections. He told Gulf News, “Gujaratis have never accepted regional or smaller parties.”

In the past, many parties and big leaders have tried their luck to attract Gujaratis with provincial agenda but even the likes of Ratubhai Adani, Keshubhai Patel and Shankersinh Vaghela failed to nurture a regional party or a third force.

“There are no Lalu Yadav, Mulayam Singh or Mamata Banerjee kind of regional satraps in Gujarat,” a former Cabinet minister of BJP told Gulf News.

AAP’s entry in Gujarat is coming at time when, increasingly, the BJP’s governance in Gandhinagar is in the grip of various lobbyists around bureaucrats. Notably the last election of 2017 wasn’t a cakewalk for the BJP.

Then, BJP had won 99 seats, just seven more to form the government, but due to the two-party fight, it earned 49.05% votes while Congress won 77 seats and 41% votes. BJP bagged 2.3 million votes more than the Congress.

AAP’s state president and former police officer Gopal Itlaia says, “AAP is for those who will never vote BJP and were giving votes to Congress in absence of an alternative. Also, there are young voters who have no memories of the 2002 riots. They are fed up of BJP rule and will find Kejriwal’s positive vision attractive.”

Two things favour AAP to begin its run for power. In 2017 elections on more than 35 seats, BJP and Congress’s winning candidates got less than 5000 votes. Also, last time there were half a million NOTA (None of the above) votes, which made difference in results of 24 assembly seats.

AAP could be “vote katva” (vote cutter) party, if not the prime challenger, affecting BJP and Congress both, in different degrees.

However, Gujarat isn’t Punjab. Unless AAP and Congress get into a strategic alliance to avoid division of anti-BJP votes, it will be difficult to challenge BJP.

Advantage BJP?
Talking to Gulf News, Mahendra Bagda, popular TV anchor said, “These days in Gujarat it is difficult to find anyone who hasn’t seen the movie Kashmir Files. Currently, Veeranjali drama depicting nationalist spirit developed by Sairam Dave, is a hit. It’s a theatrical adaptation of the story of Bhagat Singh. People cry when he is hanged. Now, BJP has been sponsoring this private show and are staging it all over Gujarat attracting thousands of people.”

The inflation, issues of unaffordable private education and poor standard of primary schools run by government, corruption in the system, inescapable arrogance of BJP leaders for being in power for decades are live issues that could be fodder for Congress and AAP this election.

But, Congress is as usual lethargic. Its cadre is waiting for Naresh Patel, community leader, to join Congress to bring in the Patel votes. He has social credibility to influence 30 to 40 assembly seats.

The BJP is in overdrive in making preparations for the election.

BJP president C R Patil, who is addressed as Bhau (brother), is executor of Modi’s strategies.

Patil, who is considered more powerful than the Chief Minister, Bhupendrabhai Patel, has brazenly told media that he is planning to win 182 seats in Gujarat.

Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah’s frequency of Gujarat visits has also increased.

All delayed projects are being taken up on fast-track. Rajkot is getting an ultra-modern international airport, Surat will get Asia’s biggest diamond bourse and Ahmedabad metro will be expanded.

Bhupendrasinh Chudasama, former BJP minister is visiting hundreds of old BJP workers and leaders with a ‘thank you note’ and Kamalpushp (lotus).

Since 2014, Gujarat is ruled by Modi’s proxy. When one interviews BJP’s voters, they look at PM Modi only as “Gujarat no Nath” (The king of Gujarat).

Three CMs have ruled Gujarat since Modi left in 2014 and except in 2015 local elections, BJP has been on the winning spree.

It is interesting to see that even when all different groups within the BJP fight and work at cross purposes, they end up bringing advantage to Modi and his standing in people.

Also, in a state with mercantile ethos, it matters that Sensex is at 58000 plus. According to a survey, every fourth Gujarati is an active investor in the stock market. The roaring market remains advantage BJP in the state.

Modi and Shah’s communication with all the powerful influencers like Gujarat-based religious sects, including Swaminarayan, Swadhyay and Gayatri pariwar, Jain and Vaishnav sects is as close as it has been before 2014.

Over and above these factors, the fact remains that Gujaratis are liking that Modi rules in New Delhi and takes care of “interests” of Gujarat. The common thing you hear is: “Aapno Manas Delhiman raj kare che.” (Our man is ruling in Delhi)

Congress and AAP will have to first dissect this faith that his supporters continue to have in Modi.

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