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  Opinion   Oped  19 Dec 2017  Verdict 2017: Questions of identity trumps over real issues in 2 states

Verdict 2017: Questions of identity trumps over real issues in 2 states

Sanjay Kumar is a professor and currently director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. The views expressed are personal.
Published : Dec 19, 2017, 1:28 am IST
Updated : Dec 19, 2017, 1:28 am IST

The victory of the BJP was hardly doubtful in Himachal as that state has a history of handing its government to alternate parties.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress chief Rahul Gandhi (Photo: PTI)
 Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress chief Rahul Gandhi (Photo: PTI)

What at one moment looked like a close election in Gujarat finally turned out to be another comfortable victory for the BJP. The Congress did put up a contest, and managed to increase its voteshare marginally, but finally could not defeat the BJP in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s and BJP president Amit Shah’s home turf. A comfortable victory in Himachal Pradesh adds one more state to the fast-increasing list of states which the BJP has been able to snatch from the Congress. The victory in Himachal takes the BJP one step closer in its mission of “Congress-mukt Bharat”. True, the BJP won in these two states, but it’s more a victory of Mr Modi than the party. The evidence suggests that when the Congress seemed to put a challenge to the BJP, Mr Modi singlehandedly managed to achieve another victory for the BJP. And one should not forget leaders like Mani Shankar Aiyar, with his comment against Mr Modi, also helped him in his campaign against the Congress.

The victory of the BJP was hardly doubtful in Himachal as that state has a history of handing its government to alternate parties. With the Congress being in power for the past five years, it seemed to be a natural turn of the BJP, but what has surprised many is the victory of the BJP in Gujarat, contesting elections against various odds, over 22 years of anti-incumbency, the Patel agitation against the ruling BJP led by Hardik Patel, the Dalit andolan led by Jignesh Mewani and the unhappiness of OBCs, mainly Thakores, which was channelised by Thakore leader Alpesh Thakore. The absence of Mr Modi from the state was seen as adding to the BJP’s problems. But in spite of all the odds, the BJP managed to pull off another victory in Gujarat, winning 99 seats, although its tally went down by 16, compared to its performance in the 2012 Assembly elections, but still its voteshare increase marginally from 47.8 per cent to 49.1 per cent in the recently-concluded elections. The party also managed to register a comfortable victory in Himachal, winning 44 seats with 48.7 per cent of the voteshare.


What seemed to have worked in favour of the BJP is the aggressive campaign led by no less than Mr Modi during the last two weeks of the campaign. Evidence from the post-poll survey conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies indicates Mr Modi’s campaign made a huge difference in mobilising voters in favour of the BJP. Of all voters, those who took their vote decision very early voted for the Congress in far bigger numbers compared to those who made up their minds on which way to vote just before the election day. There is a distinct shift in the voting in favour of the BJP among those who made up their minds after Mr Modi began his election campaign. And it is important to note that nearly 35 per cent of voters in Gujarat took their voting decision in the last couple of days. During the first few weeks of the campaign, the Congress did led an aggressive campaign, was able to push the BJP on the backfoot, but lost the momentum after Mr Modi led the aggressive campaign, specially after Mr Aiyar’s comment about Mr Modi. The BJP went on the offensive after this comment, made best use of the statement to invoke the sense of Gujarati pride and identity and the Congress was pushed on the backfoot, and in the process lost the momentum of its campaign.


The alliance which the Congress managed to put together with leaders of various caste-communities like Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mewani, Alpesh Thakore and Chhotubhai Vasava may have helped the party in attracting votes among these communities in much bigger numbers than the earlier elections, but this shift was not enough to give the Congress the winning edge. The Congress had hoped that Patidar votes would shift en bloc towards it, but the findings of the post-poll survey indicate that less than 40 per cent of Patidars voted for the Congress and in spite of all odds, the BJP did manage to get more — roughly 60 per cent of Patidar votes. The alliance with Mr Mewani also did not work to the extent that the Congress would have liked, 47 per cent of dalits voted for the Congress while the BJP managed to get 45 per cent of the dalit vote. Similarly, OBC votes were also divided between the Congress and the BJP. The BJP managed to compensate for its loss of Patidar votes by winning back sizeable numbers of adivasi votes, as 52 per cent of the adivasis voted for the BJP, while only 40 per cent voted for the Congress. It is important to note that the adivasis have voted for the Congress in large numbers in previous elections. The BJP would have made bigger inroads among adivasi voters had the Congress not formed an alliance with Mr Vasava, which helped the Congress in winning back adivasis towards the party, which seemed to be shifting towards the BJP during the campaign.


While the BJP should feel happy about winning another election in Gujarat and snatching Himachal back from the Congress, but the victory of the BJP does not indicate everything was fine with the ruling BJP in Gujarat. Though overall the government’s record on development is satisfactory, but still there are visible signs of dissatisfaction and disenchantment. A sizeable chunk of voters are dissatisfied both in Gujarat and Himachal with the government’s policy of demonetisation and the introduction of GST. Farmers are dissatisfied and in deep distress and blame the government for not doing enough to help them overcome their problems. The youths were no more as attracted towards Mr Modi as they were during and after the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and there are visible signs of disappointment with the Prime Minister.


But in spite of all these, a large number of them did not vote for the Congress despite their dissatisfaction and disappointment, as the party failed to turn this into an anger against the BJP. Mere dissatisfaction was not enough for them to firmly decide to vote out the BJP government of Gujarat. What was needed to defeat the BJP government was anger, but the intensity of unhappiness was far too little to be turned into anger. The BJP did get a sense of the dissatisfaction with the government by the crowds which Hardik Patel attracted at his rallies, but Mr Modi successfully countered this by invoking Gujarati pride during various election rallies. The dissatisfaction among voters against the government was overturned by invoking the identity question by Mr Modi during his campaign.


If the BJP won the election in Gujarat by polling 49.1 per cent votes, the Congress lost the election in spite of polling 41.4 per cent votes. Even in Himachal Pradesh, though the Congress lost the election, it still managed to get 41.4 per cent votes. True, Mr Modi was able to tilt the tide in favour of the BJP, but in spite of this victory, there are reasons for the BJP to worry. There growing unemployment has resulted in a shift in young voters away from the BJP in Gujarat since the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. There are also signs of unhappiness among the traders and business communities, who have been the backbone of the BJP’s support base. Losing some ground among its core supporters should be a matter of concern for the party in the long run.


Tags: narendra modi, gujarat election result 2017, amit shah, himachal election result 2017