Ahmedabad: For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Gujarat did not turn out to be a comfortable victory as predicted by the exit polls. The saffron party, which managed to retain power in its home turf, had to face a tough fight from the Congress.
Rahul Gandhi, who was elected the President of the Congress last week, had aggressively campaigned for the elections hoping for a better show in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. His efforts have paid off as the Congress managed to secure 77 seats – 16 more than the last Assembly election (2012).
Whereas, the BJP managed to cross a little over the halfway mark of 92 in the 182 Assembly seats by winning in only 99 constituencies. The incumbent party had secured 115 seats in Gujarat in 2012.
BJP President Amit Shah, however, termed the Gujarat election result a 'triumph' for the BJP. He said the BJP won in Gujarat comfortably, adding that the party's vote share has increased. "It was not a close contest at all," he added.
“We have once again emerged triumphant. I offer heartfelt gratitude to the people of Gujarat…” Shah said, adding that this is a "victory of development over dynasty and polarisation".
Victory comes with major setback
The BJP will form government in Gujarat for the sixth consecutive time, and it surely is a matter of celebration for the party that has governed the state for 22 years. However, a drastic fall in seat sharing is a major setback to the BJP and Modi.
The BJP's not-so-great show could be attributed to the rebellion by the Patidar community, which held demonstrations across the state demanding Other Backward Class (OBC) status, and reservation in educational institutions and government jobs.
As the BJP did not entertain Patidars’ demands, the community shook hands with the Congress ahead of the Assembly elections. The Congress had agreed to fulfill most of the demands of the Patidars if it came to power in Gujarat.
Change in agenda of poll campaign
The second half of this year saw the rise of three young leaders in Gujarat – Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakor. While Mevani won from Vadgam, Thakor grabbed the Radhanpur seat, one of the largest constituencies in Gujarat.
Modi’s change in the agenda of election campaign shows that he had realised Dalit lawyer-activist Mevani, Patidar quota agitation leader Hardik and OBC leader Thakor were going to be a challenge to the BJP.
During the election campaigns in the state, the Prime Minister ditched the ‘Gujarat model’ of development, which he had touted so proudly during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Modi shifted his focus from development to attacking the Congress. He went on to accuse former prime minister Manmohan Singh and veteran leader Mani Shankar Aiyar of conspiring with Pakistan to make Ahmed Patel the chief minister of the state.
What helped BJP retain power?
The BJP-led NDA government’s economic policies – demonetisation and Goods and Services Tax (GST) – had affected business in the state, but traders seem to have remained loyal to the BJP as reports earlier said that they were wary of backing the Congress.
The support from the business section of the state could have helped BJP hold on to the many seats, helping the party win the election.
Hope of revival for Congress
By securing 16 seats more than the last Assembly election in Gujarat, Congress, which was dethroned at the Centre in 2014 general elections and then in most of the states that went to polls thereon, proved that there is hope of its revival.
As the BJP focused on portraying the Congress as anti-national and pro-Pakistan party, Rahul refrained from shaming either the Prime Minister or other BJP leaders.
The Congress too believe that it "put up a very nice campaign".
The true litmus test for the two parties will now be the results of Assembly elections to be held in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan in coming months.