The ensuing Gujarat Assembly election is significant in its own way. The State has been a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) bastion for over two decades now and is the home ground of Narendra Modi. So, Gujarat is a prestige battle for the BJP and they would like to win again.
At the same time, the Indian National Congress (INC) would like to reclaim its lost ground of two decades. This is going to be an intense battle of prestige and survival. On one hand, losing Gujarat to INC would be a big setback for the BJP ahead of the 2019 parliamentary elections. On the other, a victory for the BJP will ease its path towards winning the 2019 parliamentary election.
Ground in Gujarat
It is important to understand the history to predict the future. In Gujarat, the INC has been out of power since 1995. However, for a brief period from October 1996 to March 1998, it was a part of the ruling alliance along with Shankersinh Vaghela’s Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP), which he floated after quitting the BJP. This was the last time the INC was part of the government in the State.
The BJP has been in power since March 1998 but more importantly, the party has been dominating the Assembly since 1995. In the last two decades, it has been consolidating its position. The last two Assembly elections have been the extension of its growth story. In the 2007 and 2012 Assembly elections, it polled 49.1% and 47.9% votes respectively. During the same period, the INC attracted 38% and 38.8% votes.
In last two decades, the popularity of the two national parties – BJP and INC — has been on the rise in Gujarat. In fact, the State election has turned into a two-party contest. The two together command roughly 90% vote share, leaving the remaining 10% to other national and regional parties. It will not be wrong to say that over the last two decades all other national and regional parties have lost relevance in the State.
But this election may see the entry of three national and regional parties – Aam Aadmi Party, Nationalist Congress Party and Vaghela’s party. Among these three, AAP could pose a challenge, especially owing to its new campaign methods. The party has learnt from the debacle of Punjab and Goa elections and will field candidates only on seats that meet certain criteria set by its central leadership.
The NCP will play the role of the spoiler for the INC by dividing the anti-BJP vote share and making the task difficult for the INC. The party has decided to contest all the 182 seats, which means it will spoil the chances of revival of the Congress.
Vaghela’s party will also be another spoiler. Till recently, Vaghela was a member of the INC and the tallest Thakur leader. During his leadership, the Thakurs voted mostly in favour of the INC. In the last Assembly elections in north Gujarat, the BJP won 13 of the 27 seats, while the INC raised its tally from 6 to 14. The exit of Vaghela from the INC will damage its prospect in this area.
Though the entry of these three parties will have some impact, in all probability the battle of Gujarat will be mainly between the INC and the BJP. The INC marginally increased its vote share here from 32.9% in 1995 to 38.9% in 2012. In the last three Assembly elections, the INC attracted 39% vote share on an average.
The BJP, however, has been doing extremely well. The overall vote share of the BJP has been on the rise since 1995. It reached around 49% under the leadership of Modi. The party attracted 48-49% vote share during the last three Assembly elections.
Thus, there is a difference of 10 percentage points in vote share between the ruling party and the opposition. This difference is also a function of the urban and rural divide.
The INC has been successful in consolidating the rural vote bank but has failed to entice the urban voters. The same is reflected in the recent local body elections where it consolidated its stand in the panchayats but failed to gain grounds among urban voters.
In the recent panchayat elections, the INC won 23 of the 31 district panchayats and 113 of the 193 panchayats but the BJP won all the big municipal corporations, namely – Ahmedabad, Surat, Rajkot, Vadodara, Bhavnagar and Jamnagar — and also captured 40 of the 56 municipal corporations in small towns.
The mathematics of panchayat and municipal elections suggests that the INC is far from winning Gujarat. In the Assembly of 182, the BJP still commands 67 urban and 20 semi-urban Assembly seats.
It will not be wrong to say that the BJP has been an urban and semi-urban phenomenon. The same is also reflected in the last Assembly elections. In 2012, the party won 15 of the 16 seats in Surat, 15 (17) seats in Ahmedabad, 3 of the 4 seats in Rajkot and all the seats in Gandhinagar, Vadodara and Bhavnagar.