The recent Rajya Sabha elections in Gujarat were like a T20 cricket match - till the last over it was difficult to predict victory for the Congress’s de facto high command Ahmed Patel.
And even then, the man of the match wasn’t Patel but former party leader of the opposition in the state Assembly Shaktisinh Gohil, who was quick to point out election misconduct by two Shankersinh Vaghela supporters during voting, which finally took Patel to victory.
Standing outside the state’s Swarnim Sankul in Gandhinagar, where the elections were conducted, one could see Congress MLAs celebrating in relief.
The 43 MLAs who finally stuck together to vote for Patel knew well that defeat for him would be defeat of the Congress workers’ morale for the upcoming Assembly elections.
Many say they noticed after years the Congress state leadership looking united, and this new high morale post the victory will surely help the party in the future, though it must not be forgotten that the Assembly elections are not like the Rajya Sabha elections.
While the Congress barely managed to scrape a win in this T20 match, the Assembly polls will be nothing less than a Test match, where patience, skill and long hours spent in net practice will take the team towards victory.
Though the BJP couldn’t defeat Patel, it surely seems more ready for the Assembly polls than the Congress, which still lacks the preparedness that the BJP has been working on for years.
Looking from the outside, one can say this is going to be the best chance for the Congress to defeat the BJP in the Assembly polls. This is the opportunity they have been waiting for, for some 20-odd years.
The BJP right now does not have any stalwarts to run the party and the government in Gujarat; with Narendra Modi at the Centre and Amit Shah in Delhi it will be easy to take on the local BJP leadership. The BJP also lacks the kind of leadership that Modi has enjoyed since 2007 at least and CM Vijay Rupani lacks the charisma of the PM.
At power in the central government, the BJP can also no more appeal to the “Gujarati asmita” against the powerful Centre – the way they did earlier when the UPA was at the Centre. Adding to this there is the emergence of Hardik Patel, Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani, etc.
Modi has already started his road shows in Gujarat. Photo: AP
Despite this fertile ground, the Congress too has a long distance to cover.
The recent local body elections clearly give the edge to the BJP. The Congress managed to win 23 of 31 district panchayats and 113 of 193 panchayats, but it is the BJP which is ruling the urban voters without any formidable challenge.
With victory in Ahmedabad, Surat, Rajkot, Vadodara, Bhavnagar and Jamnagar, the BJP not only won all big municipal corporations but also captured 40 of 56 municipal corporations in small towns. With 67 urban and 20 semi-urban Assembly seats in an Assembly of 182, victory in the state still looks far away for the Congress.
The 2012 Assembly elections, which saw voter turnout of 71.32 per cent, clearly established the BJP’s hold over urban seats. The BJP won 15 of 16 seats in Surat, 15 of 17 seats in Ahmedabad, 3 of 4 seats in Rajkot (despite the challenge from Keshubhai Patel who was putting in all efforts to defeat Modi), both seats of Gandhinagar, all 5 seats of Vadodara and both seats in Bhavnagar. It was also the first election after delimitation of Assembly seats in Gujarat.
Elections post 2012 also established the fact that urban voters are loyal more to Modi than BJP. In tribal areas, however, the BJP could only get 18 of 41 seats.
The Congress has traditionally banked on its KHAM arithmetic - Kshatriya, Harijan (Dalit), Adivasi (tribal) and Muslim - whereas the BJP with the Patels solidly behind it always emerged victorious.
In the 2012 election, however, Modi picked up the development agenda and was solidly backed by the Gujarati urban class - it looks like the BJP is still banking on that plan.
With the north of the state recently hit by floods, one can already see television ads released by the state on various local news channels talking about instant help provided by the Gujarat government – showing to the urban electorate that the government is in the same mode which Modi had left it in when he became PM.
Modi too has already started his road shows, and with rallies in Surat and Rajkot a few months ago he is trying to show that Gujarat is still important to him and it will be sort of his responsibility to not let it slip away.
On the other hand, the Congress is still searching for a concrete strategy to defeat the BJP. It is trying hard to solidify its rural base but is yet to hatch a plan to attract the urban voters who are going to be key in the Assembly elections.