Best chance for change in Gujarat

Though this time too, the numbers continue to be mostly in favour of the BJP, this is also the best chance for the Indian National Congress (INC) to defeat the BJP in Gujarat. In many ways, the ensuing Assembly election is the opportunity the INC has been waiting for, for the last two decades.

Also read
Gujarat Elections: An intense battle in the offing
State of Flux
The BJP, even after two decades, is not facing any huge anti-incumbency wave. However, the local leadership and the Chief Minister are struggling to match up to the popularity of Narendra Modi. It does not have stalwarts of Modi’s stature to run the party and the government in Gujarat.

Besides, the unrest among the Patel vote bank, its largest in Gujarat; emergence of parallel local leaders, like Patel leader Hardik Patel and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani, have added to the BJP’s woes.

Local and regional leaders now have the opportunity to invoke the Gujarati asmita card, which the BJP has been playing for long. Despite this fertile ground, the INC has a long distance to cover. In recent times, the INC has lost one of its tallest leaders in Shankersinh Vaghela.

Voting Blocks
Bridging the gap of 10 percentage points in vote share is not an easy task. The INC needs to rework its campaign strategy and execution. While it needs to strengthen its base in rural Gujarat, it must work hard to win the trust of urban voters.

The party also needs to do some deft social engineering. The dynamics of caste-based politics in Gujarat is changing, and the INC must work to redefine it in its favour.

In fact, the dynamics of caste-based politics in the State remained unchanged for two decades. The Patels, who constitute 15% of the vote bank vote for the BJP; Brahmins and Jains (roughly 5%) too mostly vote for the BJP, and the OBCs who are the biggest block of around 35% also favour the BJP, making it 55% of the total vote bank.

Muslims, who constitute 10%; a united block of SC and ST which adds up to 25% of the vote bank, and Thakurs (8%) support the INC. So, the INC is supported by Thakurs, Dalits (Harijans), Tribals (Adivasis) and Muslims, politically known as THAMs, who make a total of 43%.

THAMs Equation
In recent times, the BJP has also made some serious inroads among the old voting blocks of the INC. This may change the THAMs equation. The BJP has been making efforts in this direction since 2015. In the last two years, it has been trying to engineer a new social coalition in Gujarat ever since its core constituency, the Patidars, revolted against the government demanding reservation in government jobs.

The party is aggressively wooing the Tribals (Adivasis), Thakurs and Kolis. The Thakurs and Kolis are currently split almost equally between the BJP and INC.

In the last two Assembly elections, 16 of the 27 reserved seats for ST were won by the INC and the remaining by the BJP and others.

New Battleground
Gujarat’s tribal belt is set to be the new battleground and any party that wants to win the State must win big here. The tribal votes are critical for the BJP to register a respectable win and for the INC to remain relevant. If the BJP succeeds in winning even a small percentage of Tribals, Thakurs and Kolis’ vote share, it would be a big blow to the INC.

While the RSS is working hard to divide the INC’s core vote bank, the grand old party is still in search of a concrete strategy to defeat the BJP. It is trying hard to consolidate the rural base and devise a plan to win urban voters. The INC may devise a plan to increase its vote share but the absence of an organisation like the RSS will make it difficult for it to implement it on the ground.

The INC had a better chance of winning the State had Anandiben Patel not been replaced as Chief Minister and Vaghela not quit the party. The present equation is quite complex and with new players in the fray, all parties need to rework their strategies.

The Gujarat elections will in all probability set the tone for all upcoming Assembly elections in 2018 – Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh – and, the next general election of 2019. So, there is a lot at stake and not just for the main parties INC and BJP.



Gujarat Elections: An intense battle in the offing

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.

New Challengers
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.

Two Together
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.

Clear 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.