Two recent opinion polls on the Gujarat election gave the BJP, on average, around 120 seats in the 182-seat Assembly. That’s five more than the party won in the 2012 Assembly election. The Congress was projected to win around 55 seats, six fewer than in 2012.
A closer look reveals interesting nuggets. One of the opinion polls concluded that if Patidar leader Hardik Patel enters into a seat arrangement with the Congress, the BJP would lose up to seven seats, bringing its tally down to around the level of the last Assembly election. But with the fiery Patidar leader threatening to cut into Congress votes if it does not extend reservations to all OBCs and not just EBCs (as the Congress has declared), the BJP could gain from vote cannibalisation.
The Congress knows it is unlikely to win Gujarat in 2017 but seeks to chip away at the BJP’s majority. With opinion polls showing a BJP sweep in Himachal Pradesh, the Congress is girding itself for bad news on December 18 when counting takes place. Keeping the BJP to below 110 seats in Gujarat would be a balm. It will also be a good omen for Rahul Gandhi’s incipient elevation as president of the party.
What are the Congress’ chances of restricting the BJP to below 110 seats? Slim. The Congress lays great store by its “rainbow coalition” of Dalits, Patidars, OBCs and Muslims (DPOM). Together these groups comprise over 60 per cent of the Gujarat electorate. But there are already fissures among the Patidars. Several mid-level Patel leaders have joined the BJP.
Aplesh Thakor’s OBCs (who make up 40 per cent of Gujarat’s population) could pose a bigger problem for the BJP though Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s own OBC status will be deployed during the campaigning to stem the flow of OBC votes to the Congress. Dalits, while only 7 per cent of Gujarat’s electorate, could also cause problems for the BJP. There have been frequent atrocities against Dalits in the state in recent months. Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani may turn of to be a wild card in the elections.
The BJP has to deal with yet another factor: rising anger among the trading community over GST. Traders are the BJP’s bread-and-butter voters and the Congress hopes to wean enough of them away over the flawed implementation of GST.
The sops offered by the BJP — including the self-serving decision to reduce tax on khakra, a Gujarati snack staple — will not assuage the anger. As one Gujarati computer peripherals trader told me: “We hate GST, especially the cumbersome online filing and complicated tax slabs on different components in a single product like a computer printer.”
So will he vote for the Congress in December? A look of resignation crosses his face. “No, despite all this I will still vote for Narendra bhai.”
That encapsulates the mood of voters across Gujarat. They dislike GST, were hit by demonetisation and suffered during the floods. Farmers are in distress, Dalits angry and Patidars resentful. But when it comes to the crunch, they will vote for Gujarati pride — which means Modi.
On a visit to Surat and Vadodara, this sentiment was starkly evident: “It’s the first Assembly election since Narendra bhai became prime minister and we will stand by him,” was the common refrain. Warning bells though are sounding across the state. Farmer distress is real; so is Dalit alienation.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the BJP rode a Modi wave and swept all 26 parliamentary seats in the state with 59.10 per cent vote share. That was a sharp rise over the 47.90 per cent vote share it received in the 2012 Assembly poll.
The Congress won 38.90 per cent vote share. It has been unable to reduce the 8-10 per cent vote share gap that the BJP has enjoyed since 1995. It is unlikely to do so in 2017, though the BJP is taking no chances. Modi will campaign extensively across the state. So will party leader Amit Shah and for the first time a phalanx of senior non-Gujarati ministers like Sushma Swaraj.
Rahul Gandhi’s aggressive swing through the state has rattled the BJP enough to target him continuously. That could be a tactical mistake. The more the BJP targets Rahul individually, the more he gains in stature. With a sassy new IT and social media head, Rahul’s Gabbar Singh Tax (GST) barb and other bon mots are gaining traction. Alas for the Congress, the average Gujarati remains unmoved by social media one-liners.
Gujaratis are a pragmatic people. They want development. The shower of new projects, including the Narmada dam’s raised height, power plants and the ferry service linking Saurashtra to South Gujarat are what matter to them.
Women are the other invisible ace up the BJP’s sleeve. When he was CM, Modi assiduously wooed women voters with a slew of women-oriented schemes. One of the most popular is the law that exempts women from property registration charges if the property is in their name. Other schemes for girl students have over the years built up a formidable women’s constituency for the BJP, a factor largely overlooked by most observers of state politics.
This December, while the Congress focuses on disenchanted Dalits, Patidars, OBCs and Muslims, the women of Gujarat could be the Y factor that tips the election decisively in the BJP’s favour.
(Courtesy of Mail Today.)