Gujarat Congress Needs Fresh Blood to Stay Relevant in 2022

There are many reasons behind Congress’ timid surrender in Gujarat, which raises questions about its relevance here.

5 min read
Hindi Female

The Congress enjoyed a massive upper hand in Gujarat for the last time around 34 years ago, when Madhavsinh Solanki came to power with an unassailable mandate of 149 seats out of 182. That feat was never repeated, not even by Narendra Modi when he ran for chief minister.

Cut to present day and the Congress was decimated by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) saffron wash in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, for the second time in a row. The BJP not only won all 26 seats again – its vote share also spiked from 59 percent in 2014 to 62.2 percent in 2019.

Remarkably all the BJP candidates secured a minimum victory margin of over one lakh votes, with party national president Amit Shah clinching Gandhinagar with a record margin of over 5.5 lakh. 

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The BJP was expected to lose a few seats in Saurashtra, with political pundits predicting a 20-6 split between the saffron party and the grand old party.

So, what is the reason behind the Congress’ timid surrender in Gujarat?

2015-2017: Momentum Shifts to Congress

Chhabildas Mehta was the last Congress chief minister who lasted 391 days (February 1994-March1995) in power. His end saw the rise of the BJP in the state. Gujarat has been the BJP and the RSS’ Hindutva laboratory, as Somnath was the genesis of LK Advani’s infamous Rath Yatra to Ayodhya.

Once the BJP took power in the state in the mid-90s, it gave no quarter to the grand old party, who were simply relegated to the role of a weak Opposition.

However, after Modi left for Delhi in 2014, Anandiben Patel was brought in to fill the vacuum, and her own community – the Patidars – rocked the government. The very next year, Patidar reservation movement gained steam across the state with the Sardar Patel Group launching the movement who were later joined by Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS).

The momentum had finally shifted from the BJP who were severely criticised by the influential Patidars and its aftermath was clearly reflected in the local body elections. In December 2015, the Congress finally got through to the rural voters of Gujarat winning 23 out of 31 District Panchayats and 113 out of 193 Taluka Panchayats.

Although the BJP held on to all six municipal corporations and also won 42 out of 56 nagarpalikas or town councils, it was still a wake-up call for the party as it had never lost an election during CM Modi’s stint in Gujarat.

Soon more social issues took centre stage. Following the Una flogging incident in 2016, the Dalit voters discarded the saffron party altogether and by 2017, the BJP for the very first time in 15 years looked skeptical. Anandiben Patel was immediately replaced by Vijay Rupani, however, by then the Congress had finally gained political momentum in the state.

The party did quite well in the 2017 elections winning 77 seats while the BJP could not breach the 100-seat mark. Heavy losses were recorded by the BJP in Saurashtra which was once considered a saffron bastion. This momentum was supposed to last till the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, but it didn’t.

2018-2019: Momentum Squandered

After forming the new government in January 2018, the BJP immediately tasked itself with righting the wrongs. The first blow came when veteran Congress leader Kunvarji Bavaliya resigned from the party in July and joined the BJP. Kunvarji is a key leader in Saurashtra belt and belongs to the influential Koli-Patel community.

He was rewarded with three cabinet portfolios which he followed up with an emphatic victory in the Jasban By-Polls in December 2018. By February 2019, dissent was simmering in the Congress camp as the BJP started picking off key Congress leaders one by one.

By mid-March 2019, four Congress MLAs quit the party and joined the BJP. To top it off the party also had fallout with Thakor community leader Alpesh Thakor, who resigned from all party positions but continues as an MLA.

To top it off, the Congress simply did not capitalise on the growing farmer distress in the state. By the time the election campaign had started, BJP’s grassroots level workers were successful in pulling massive crowds in each of their rallies, which was missing during the 2017 Assembly elections.

The Congress’ campaigning was lacklustre and lacked leadership. The party tried to address farmer distress through its NYAY manifesto, however, the Balakot air strikes had changed the narrative across the country and in Gujarat as well.

Even the most seasoned journalists in the state expected the Congress to win at least two seats – Amreli and Anand. However, poached MLAs, nationalistic rhetoric and a total lack of motivation among the Congress cadres ensured an abysmal performance.


Road to 2022: Rebuilding the Grassroots Cadre

The Congress needs to immediately start the rebuilding process keeping the 2022 Assembly election in mind.

The Quint spoke with political analyst and professor of sociology at Gujarat University, Gaurang Jani, who said that the party has failed to rebuild its cadre for more than 25 years since it lost power in the state way back in 1995.

“Congress Seva Dal is one of the oldest Congress organisations, and the party hasn’t revived it in the state at all. The party is still dependent on its big leaders and believes that they will deliver the results and build its vote bank. The party doesn’t even employ NSUI in Gujarat Campuses, because no elections were held in colleges for over 20 years now. The NSUI doesn’t even try to bring college elections back to the state. So, the indoctrination of new cadre that happens through these college elections, doesn’t happen in Gujarat.”
Gaurang Jani, Political Analyst and Professor of Sociology, Gujarat University

According to Professor Jani, the party doesn’t even try to connect with minorities or SCs and STs in the state.

“The Congress’ traditional vote bank, which include SCs, STs, Dalits and even Muslims, were swayed by the BJP’s Hindutva ideology. The Congress never presented a counter to Hindutva, even when it comes to tribal rights, Dalit rights. Even after the 2002 riots, the Congress has not stood for the rights of the minorities, whereas it was the NGOs who took the cases to the courts,” Professor Jani said.


Professor Jani claims that the BJP’s Hindutva lab in Gujarat was focused on destroying the Congress’ progressive ideology, which the latter couldn’t counter and there was no leader in the party to save its eroding ideology.

“There are still pockets in Gujarat who believe in the Congress ideology and the party needs to target them first. The civil society in Gujarat is predisposed to the Sangh Parivar and they need to be turned to the Congress. There is no Left in Gujarat, and only Congress stands as a true progressive marker in the state. The party has to rebuild its grassroots cadre so that they can reach out to the farmers, Dalits and religious minorities and rebuild its vote bank in the state.”
Gaurang Jani, Political Analyst and Professor of Sociology, Gujarat University

According to Professor Jani, the new Congress cadre need to be educated about Gandhian and Nehruvian ideologies, because they are not aware about their legacy.

The road ahead is bleak for the grand old party, who need to revitalise its cadres, if the party hopes to make an impression in the 2022 Gujarat Assembly Elections.

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Topics:  Gujarat   Sangh Parivar   Gujarat Congress 

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