In less than 24 hours, Gujarat will seal the fate of BJP in the state, as it is highly unlikely that the saffron party will repeat its 2014 clean sweep here. Several issues cropped up in the state in the last five years which has reflected on the party’s performance in local body elections and the 2017 Assembly elections.
Gujarat is the bedrock of BJP’s Hindutva politics and the party has grown from strength to strength ever since Gandhinagar MP, L K Advani took out the infamous Rath Yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya in the early 90s.
However, the Patidar reservation issue, demonetisation, hasty implementation of GST, land acquisition woes and the sliding industrial productivity has narrowed the party’s chances of a strong comeback.
Meanwhile the Congress is looking to return to the political limelight in the state and looks forward to repeating its performance in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.
Patidar Vote Bank
The BJP has a strong voter base in urban Gujarat, especially in Ahmedabad (both east and west), Gandhinagar, Vadodara, Rajkot and Surat. The voters in these six seats have historically appreciated the developmental work that their cities have seen in the past three decades, under BJP rule.
In fact, the local civic bodies and city municipalities are also run by the saffron party. However, outside the urban sphere, caste politics plays a key role in determining voter sentiment. Here comes the Patidar vote bank, who have been instrumental in weakening the BJP’s foothold in the state.
PAAS and Hardik Patel have wreaked havoc on the BJP especially in 2015 and in the run up to the 2017 Assembly elections. However, Hardik has now joined the Congress and declared that the Patidar reservation movement has ceased. Although Hardik cannot contest the Lok Sabha elections in 2019, he is whipping up crowds across Gujarat against the BJP.
The recent attack on Hardik at Surendranagar has helped him bolster support across caste lines in the state. Mehsana which is a Patidar stronghold is expected to see a close fight between the BJP and the Congress. Although the BJP managed to poach Congress MLA from Unjha, Asha Patel, local BJP Cadres in Mehsana vehemently oppose the Congress turncoat.
In fact, on 23 April, bypolls will be held in Unjha and it is highly unlikely that Asha Patel will be re-elected on a BJP ticket. This infighting within the BJP will have a trickle-down effect on the Mehsana Lok Sabha seat. PM Narendra Modi’s home town Vadnagar is based in Unjha taluka of Mehsana.
The OBC Vote Bank
Over 40 percent of the state’s population belongs to the OBC community which are spread across north Gujarat and Saurashtra. The BJP is looking quite weak in both zones. Up in north Gujarat, the Thakor vote is split, thanks to Alpesh Thakor’s political antics. However, the Congress still has an upper hand in north Gujarat.
The community united after the rape of a minor girl in Sabarkantha by a North Indian migrant labourer in the last week of September 2018. The BJP pointed its fingers at Alpesh Thakor and his Thakor sena, for the violence against migrant workers which angered the Thakor community. Not to forget, almost 10,000 migrants fled the state weeks before Diwali, leading to a drop in industrial productivity across Gujarat.
Apart from that, voters in North Gujarat have not forgotten the delayed government response after 2017 floods in Sabarkantha and Banaskantha districts which saw over 224 deaths. Similarly, in Saurashtra, where Koli Patels dominate, the BJP’s sun is setting, especially in the rural belt.
Here cotton and ground nut farmers are in dire straits and the Congress has capitalised on their woes especially in Amreli and Surendranagar districts. Apart from these two districts, the grand old party can also clinch Junagadh and Porbandar, while Bhavnagar can see a close contest.
The BJP and the Congress are contesting these elections on completely different political agendas. For the saffron party, nationalism rides higher than economic development which unfortunately does not impress the rural voter in the state.
“The Centre has promised Rs 6,000 to us farmers. Who can survive on such a meagre handout? We know that the government is more focussed on nationalism and defeating the nation’s enemies. But there is nothing on offer for the farmers. It’s not just in Gujarat, farmers everywhere are suffering. We need a leader who listens to the farmers.”Ashok Patel, Cotton Farmer from Surendranagar
Meanwhile the Congress manifesto has brought some cheer to the Gujarat Congress who were reeling under heavy poaching from the BJP, having lost five MLAs to the saffron party. The Congress has seen its revival during the 2017 Assembly election campaign, which also witnessed Rahul Gandhi’s hands-on campaigning in Modi’s Gujarat.
The minimum income promise of Rs 72,000 each year is a strong selling point for Congress candidates such as Paresh Dhanani, who according to political pundits can clinch Amreli, which is dominated by cotton and groundnut farmers.
Across south Gujarat, land acquisition issue for various infrastructure projects of national significance, including the bullet train project, is a major bone of contention, especially in terms of remuneration. Except for Surat, the BJP can expect a close fight in seats such as Valsad and Bardoli.
The BJP has a lot of ground to cover despite its robust grassroots network in Gujarat. Recent campaign by BJP leaders has rubbed off negatively on voters especially with BJP MLAs threatening action against voters who won’t vote for the saffron party.
The voter turnout will also decide the Saffron Party’s fortunes in the state as 2014 general election saw a turnout of over 63 percent against 45 percent in 2009. In 2014, the state unanimously voted for the party, riding on the Modi wave.
Five years on, the Modi wave is waning in his home state and the results in Gujarat will reflect the national consensus on 23 May.