Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra chose to make her first speech as an active politician from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state Gujarat. She spoke at the Congress Working Committee meeting in Ahmedabad on Tuesday, 12 March. Even her first set of tweets were from Mahatma Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram.
The other key development of the day was the entry of charismatic Patidar leader Hardik Patel into the Congress party.
Both these developments underline one fact: The Congress doesn’t consider Gujarat as a lost cause.
There may be merit to the Congress’ optimism if a survey conducted by Political Edge is any indication.
According to the survey, which covered all the 182 Assembly segments in Gujarat's 26 Lok Sabha constituencies, the Congress is ahead in ten Lok Sabha seats, while the BJP leads 16 constituencies.
If this tally is reflected in the final results, it would be a major loss for the BJP, which had won all 26 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
The survey predicts that the BJP could secure close to 50 percent of the votes in the state compared to 43 percent of the Congress.
This is not very different from the vote share of the two parties in the 2017 Assembly elections. It is a significant decrease of 10 percent in vote share for the BJP and an equal increase for the Congress, compared to 2014.
Based on the survey, there are six seats that are Congress’ best chances of preventing a BJP sweep in the Lok Sabha elections. All the seats are predominantly rural. Three of these are in the Saurashtra region, two in North Gujarat and one in Central Gujarat.
Anand is one of the few Congress bastions in Gujarat. The party has lost the seat only on three occasions in the past: In 1989, during the Ram Janmabhoomi wave, 1999 when the NDA formed the government at the Centre and in 2014 in the Modi wave. In that sense, it has been a bell-weather constituency in the past two decades.
The Congress has already declared that senior leader Bharatsinh Solanki, who won from the seat in 2004 and 2009, will be contesting from the seat. According to the political edge survey, the Congress has a 13 percent vote share lead in the seat.
Three Seats in Saurashtra
Three of these seats are in the Saurashtra region where the Congress had made significant gains during the 2017 Assembly elections due to the farmers’ anger against the BJP as well as the Patidar agitation. The last time the Congress had done well in this region in Lok Sabha elections was in 2004, when the sidelining of Keshubhai Patel after Modi’s appointment as chief minister harmed the BJP.
According to the Political Edge Survey, Congress has a 8 percent lead in Junagadh, 7 percent lead in Amreli and 6 percent lead in Surendranagar.
To reverse some of its losses in rural Saurashtra during the 2017 Assembly elections, the BJP has won over a few Congress MLAs from Saurashtra such as Kunvarji Bavaliya, Jawahar Chavda and Vallabh Dharaviya.
Two seats where the Congress has a good chance are in the North Gujarat region, where tribals and Kshatriyas are in substantial numbers – Patan and Sabarkantha.
Patan has alternated between the BJP and the Congress since 1998. BJP’s Liladharbhai Vaghela won the seat in 2014.
Dalits, Muslims and Adivasis together form close to 20-25 percent of the population in the constituency, giving the Congress an advantage. A lot would depend on the Congress’ ability to woo OBC Thakor voters in the constituency.
Patan also happens to be the seat which includes the Assembly constituencies of two of the most prominent young anti-BJP faces in Gujarat – Congress MLA from Radhanpur Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani, independent MLA from Vadgam.
According to the Political Edge survey, the Congress has a significant 12 percent lead in the seat.
A constituency with a significant proportion of Adivasis and Kshatriyas, Sabarkantha had been a Congress stronghold till 2009. It has been represented by prominent leaders like Madhusudan Mistry, Nisha Chaudhry and much before them by former Deputy Prime Minister Gulzarilal Nanda.
The Political Edge survey predicts that the Congress has a 5 percent lead in Sabarkantha.
In addition to these six constituencies, the Congress has a fair chance in Banaskantha and tribal-dominated seats like Panchmahal and Bharuch, according to the Political Edge survey.
The survey says that the Congress has also made significant gains in BJP bastion Surat, which was also the epicentre of the Patidar agitation as well as the protests against the Goods and Services Tax.
However, one must factor in that the survey was conducted before the Balakot air strike.
It also remains to be seen what impact Hardik Patel's entry has on the Congress' prospects. He is likely to contest from a seat in Saurashtra, reportedly Jamnagar. This will help the Congress in the region as well as in other Patidar-dominated constituencies like Mahesana, Kheda and Surat.
(Survey methodology: The survey was conducted in February in all Assembly segments across 10 states. 50 respondents were interviewed at different locations in each Assembly segment, using random stratified sampling.)