The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has retained power in Gujarat for the sixth consecutive term as they won a clear majority in the 2017 state assembly elections.
But they were not able to secure 150 seats as BJP President Amit Shah had predicted, as the Congress party proved to be a formidable force.
Out of 182 assembly seats, BJP and their ally bagged 99, Congress and its ally won 80, and others won three seats. BJP’s vote share in the state increased from 47.9% in 2012 to 49.1%, but it is still a loss relative to the 59.1% share it got in the 2014 Lok Sabha (parliament) polls. But it would have been worse if Narendra Modi had not come to campaign in the last moment. On the other hand, the Rahul Gandhi-led Congress party improved its performance and its vote share increased from 38.9% in 2012 to 41.4%.
Despite the public anger over demonetisation and the goods and services tax, and with textile closing down and the diamond market reported to be in the doldrums -- BJP got the votes in the cities. It won Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Rajkot, and Surat.
BJP did better in these cities for Modi’s last-minute campaigning and for the satisfied middle class who support BJP.
In spite of that, the Gujarat elections might have turned out very differently if two parties, Sharad Pawar’s NCP and Mayawati’s BSP, were not in the picture. These two parties together earned enough votes that -- if they had gone to the Congress party, BJP would have lost.
In as many as 10 seats, BJP-led NDA defeated the Congress’s allies by a marginal vote. In the Godhra seat, BJP won by only 258 votes but in that seat, BSP and NCP got 1,015 votes.
Similarly, in Porbandar, BJP won by 1,855 votes where BSP and NCP got 4,337 votes; in Rajkot Rural, BJP won by 2,179 votes where BSP and NCP got 4,203 votes; in Prantij, BJP won by 2,551 votes where BSP and NCP got 4,797 votes; in Vijapur, BJP won by 1,164 votes where BSP and NCP got 1,658 votes; in Himatanagar, BJP won by 1,712 votes where BSP and NCP got 1,757 votes; in Fatepura, BJP won by 2,7711 votes where BSP and NCP got 3,933 vote;, in Botad, BJP won by 906 votes where BSP and NCP got 1,622 votes; in Dholka, BJP won by 327 votes where BSP and NCP got 4,337 votes; in Umreth, BJP won by 1,883 votes where BSP and NCP got 3,5051 votes.
Three were others, meaning anti-BJP voters would have elected 93 members of the legislative assembly but it did not happen due to the failure of Rahul Gandhi.
However, after the Gujarat election, Samajwadi party’s Akhilesh Yadab exhorted Congress to take the lead and “to take all the secular parties along to usher in the change in 2019.”
The chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, tweeted that Gujarat “has belled the cat for 2019.”
Tamil Nadu’s Dravida Munetra Kazhagam party reacted by saying that “all secular parties should come together to uphold pluralism of the country. This is the message of Gujarat.”
Being young and progressive, Rahul Gandhi has to be a pan-Indian leader, someone who is for pluralism and for a diverse India
In this context, the Congress must figure out how it managed to come this close to defeating BJP and why it still failed.
Rahul Gandhi, now Congress president, outdid himself this time and won the public’s adulation.
But the Congress’s promising performance was largely due to three young men who mobilised the people’s discontent against the BJP, thereby helping the Congress’s cause.
They are: Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti chief Hardik Patel, OSS’ (Other Backward Classes, the Scheduled Castes, and Scheduled Tribes) Ekta Manch, and Gujarat Kshatriya Thakur Sena founder Alpash Thakor, and Dalit leader Jignesh Mewani.
As Smita Gupta writes in her recent article: “The trio worked towards solidarity among the youth of their communities, focusing on academic aspirations and employment rather than on caste contradictions.”
In the Gujarat elections, inequality also came into focus. The Congress and other opposition parties did better in the distressed agrarian states, where education, health care, and jobs are sorely lacking. In contrast, BJP-led NDA did better in urban areas, among the middle classes.
So, where is Hindutva in this election? BJP saved its face by the virtue of Modi’s popularity, not by the Hindutva. But it is not possible for BJP to give up Hindutva immediately.
That is, finally, where Rahul is shining. He came to know where his strength lies. Being young and progressive, Rahul Gandhi has to be a pan-Indian leader, someone who is for pluralism and for a diverse India; a leader who will work to reduce inequality in society and in the economy.
Swadesh Roy is Executive Editor at The Daily Janakantha.