There has hardly been a state election that has had so much at stake, and not just for the people of that state, but for the rest of the country too. Whatever be the result, the election will be remembered for a long time to come. Besides the fortunes of the main political parties – the BJP and the Congress – pegged to the result is a range of serious issues that confront both Gujarat and India.
The Gujarat model of development – touting which Narendra Modi first became the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP caste-based politics – economic slowdown, farmer distress, Gujarati pride invoked by Modi, GST or as Rahul Gandhi calls it, the Gabbar Singh Tax, demonitisation, Pakistan-Congress plans to install their chief minister, Aurangzeb, Communalism, and Rahul’s "temple tours" are just some of the keywords which the election campaigns of the Congress and the BJP threw up.
Are we going to see the rise of a new opposition leader in Rahul Gandhi or are we going to see the further expansion of the Narendra Modi-cult and with it the politics of majoritarianism? In this election, the winner takes it all, almost.
1) The Gujarat model
At stake for the BJP is the so-called Gujarat model of development which was successfully projected by the BJP as an ideal kind of development. Imagined, refined and executed under 15 years of Narendra Modi’s tenure as the chief minister of the state, it is this model that will receive a resounding vindication if the BJP manages to hold on to the state for the sixth time.
If the BJP is unable to get a majority then the "Gujarat Model" and consequently Modi and the BJP would suffer an unprecedented crisis of credibility, a scenario that the Congress and other opposition parties will exploit to the hilt ahead of state Assembly elections next year as well as in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
2) The Goods and Services Tax
The GST is also at stake. Gujarat is a state which prides itself on its entrepreneurial and mercantile spirit, and a victory for the BJP will mean endorsement of the recently passed GST. However, if the BJP finds itself struggling to reach the majority figure of 92 seats, GST is likely to become even more unpopular among the business community in India.
3) Assembly elections in 2018
The winning party will achieve a tremendous boost ahead of the elections in seven states scheduled for next year. The BJP is in power in Rajasthan (five years), MP (15 years) and Chattisgarh (15 years), and will certainly suffer irreparable damage to its prospects if it wins by a narrow margin, or if, it loses Gujarat. A thumping BJP victory will, on the other hand, boost its chances of retaining these states.
4) ‘Pappu’ pass ho gaya?
A Congress victory in Gujarat is likely to dramatically transform Rahul Gandhi into a formidable political opponent of the BJP and the RSS. A triumph in Gujarat will also ease the path for opposition solidarity in the 2019 General Elections. From being denigrated by the BJP as a reluctant and part-time politician, Rahul Gandhi is likely to instantly establish his supremacy both within the party and among the rest of the opposition parties.
5) 'Pappu’ fail ho gaya?
A BJP victory will be devastating for the Congress and Rahul Gandhi. The Congress president’s already uphill task to counter the Modi-Amit Shah juggernaut is going to get near-impossible, and the 2019 elections would appear to be a cakewalk for the BJP.
6) Ram temple in Ayodhya
In the event of a clear BJP win, the clamour for a Ram temple will reach a crescendo before 2019 elections, and it will become a possibility that the government tables a special bill in Parliament to construct a Ram temple in Ayodhya at the Babri Masjid-Ram Janambhoomi site.
7) Politics of communal hatred
A likely outcome of the BJP winning the elections would be the strengthening of the loony fringe of the Hindu right-wing. More cases of anti-Musim violence on the pretexts of "love jihad", cattle-slaughter, beef-eating, and "terror sympathisers" are likely to continue unabated, or possibly even rise. A Congress victory in Gujarat might not be able to stop all such hate crimes, but it will send a strong signal to the rest of the country that communal politics has been rejected by the people (Hindus and Muslims, Tribals and others) of Gujarat.
8) Uniform Civil Code
In the event of a victory, the BJP is likely to become more aggressive on bringing religion-based personal laws under a common law. But a loss for the BJP would mean it would have to keep the issue on a slow-burner.
9) Weakening of institutions
The weakening of India’s public institutions and watchdogs has been underway for a long time. However, in the last three and a half years, the government has often been fairly accused of misusing agencies like the CBI. The election campaign itself ended with allegations of partisanship against the chief election commissioner of India.
Linked to this is the style of functioning of the Modi-government which has acquired the label of a "government of two and a half people". With a victory in Gujarat this centralisation of power in the PMO will only increase and thereby lead to a quick erosion of India’s constitutional framework and even of bodies like Parliament and the judiciary.
A Congress victory, on the other hand, will considerably slow down this process as the Modi-led central government would have suffered a massive dent to its image of being strong and decisive.
10) The cult of Narendra Modi
Perhaps the most immediate and decisive impact of the election will be on the demagoguery aroused by the prime minister himself. In the last three years, the cult of Modi has spread to other parts of India, but the election result will tell us about its vitality in the state where it was founded and nourished.
Having made the election about himself by invoking Gujarati pride, it is Modi’s own public image which is at stake. If the BJP wins the state, which it is likely to according to exit polls, it will prove that the Modi cult is real and growing, but in case the BJP’s performance flounders, it will suffer a body-blow from which recovery will neither be quick nor certain.