Gujarat Civic Polls: What Explains BJP’s Sweep & Congress’ Rout?

State Congress chief Amit Chavda and Leader of Opposition Paresh Dhanani have resigned.

4 min read
Gujarat goes to Polls on 23 April for 26 seats along with voting for four Assembly by-polls

BJP's victory in the local body polls in Gujarat in itself is not surprising. Often called Hindutva's laboratory, the BJP has ruled the state for nearly two and a half decades now. It also happens to be the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.

What is surprising is the extent of BJP's dominance and the Congress' decimation in the elections.

According to the results declared until 6.30 pm, the BJP had won around 75 percent of the Municipality seats, 80 percent of Zila Panchayat seats and 70 percent of the Taluk Panchayat seats.

In comparison, the Congress won 15 percent of the Municipality seats, 17 percent of Zila Panchayat seats and 25 percent of the Taluk Panchayat seats.

State Congress chief Amit Chavda and Leader of the Opposition in the Gujarat Assembly Paresh Dhanani have both resigned taking responsibility for the result.

This comes barely a week after the Congress was wiped out in the Municipal Corporation elections in six big cities in Gujarat.

These results are important because if this trend continues, it could mark the beginning of a new phase in Gujarat politics - if total one party domination. More on that later.

First, the detailed results.

The BJP won almost everywhere - from Zila Panchayats in Gandhinagar, Sabarkantha, Mahesana, Kutch to municipalities like Kesod, Unjha, Anand, Dahod, Mahuva, Bharuch, Ankaleshvar, Wankaner, Nadiad, Gandhidham, Bhuj, Anjar, Veraval Patan, Una, Amod, Bhabhar, Savarkundla, Viramgam, Dholaka, Umargam, Padra to name a few.

Most disappointing for the Congress would be the losses in places like Anand, the home district of state Congress chief Amit Chavda and his predecessor Bharatsinh Solanki. The party also lost in Paresh Dhanani’s district Amreli and failed to open its account in the district of its working president Hardik Patel.

Dhanani and Chavda's resignation would now create an even bigger vacuum in the party.

What Explains The Congress’ Loss?

The Congress performed surprisingly well in the 2017 Assembly elections but since then, several of its leaders such as Kunvarji Bavaliya, Jawahar Chavda and Alpesh Thakore have defected to the BJP. The absence of a strong leader in the state to hold the party together, has been a major weakness for the Congress.

The other problem is that the Congress’ support is eroding among its key vote bases. It has already lost much of its OBC support, even the Patidar community that had gravitated towards it during the 2017 polls, seems to have moved away. The handful of municipalities where it managed to do well were places like Sikka and Maliya Miyana, that have a sizable Muslim population.

What this indicates is a steady erosion of the Congress vote base and the rise of a certain invincibility of the BJP.

The death of Congress strategist Ahmed Patel last year also may have contributed to the poor performance. Though Patel was based in the Centre, he did manage to reconciled differences in the Gujarat unit to some extent, besides managing crises.

Four years ago, Patel managed to get elected to the Rajya Sabha by just one vote. Filling the seat after his death should have been easy for the Congress with the seats it won in 2017. But when the Rajya Sabha polls eventually took place, the Congress didn't even put up a candidate, an admission that it didn't have the numbers in Gujarat. As a result, Ahmed Patel's seat is now with the BJP.

BJP's strategy

The BJP has made it clear that it doesn't want to concede even an inch to the Congress in Gujarat. The party has aggressively been courting Congress leaders, particularly in Saurashtra where the Congress had performed strongly in 2017.

The party pumped in a great degree of resources to carry out a blitzkrieg on media and social media highlighting the BJP's promises for the civic elections.

The BJP outspent, outmanned and outmaneuvered the Congress in this election.

The idea for the party is to not just defeat but demoralise the opposition to such an extent that it fails to put up a fight.

Rise of AAP, AIMIM

What's worse for the Congress is that the Aam Aadmi Party, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen have all won some seats, that could potentially eat away the Congress' base even more.

AAP, which made an impressive debut winning 27 seats in the Surat Municipal Corporation, now expanded itself in other districts as well.

As of 6.30 PM it had won 9 municipality seats, 2 Zila Panchayat seats and 31 Taluk Panchayat seats.

The AIMIM won 9 out of 12 seats it contested in Modasa Zila Panchayat, 7 out of 8 it fought in Godhra Municipality and one in Bharuch municipality.

In Modasa municipality, AIMIM has emerged as the main Opposition.

Another party that has the potential of harming the Congress is the Bharatiya Tribal Party, that could woo the party’s Adivasi base.

What Lies Ahead

Unfortunately for the Congress, this seems to be the beginning of a new phase in Gujarat politics in which the BJP remains even more dominant than before.

It is important to understand here that though the BJP has been ruling Gujarat since 1998, the Congress has maintained a healthy vote share of 35 percent and above and has often held its own against the BJP at the civic election level.

But now both the Congress' vote share and its resistance at the civic level seems to be reducing in Gujarat.

On the other hand, the emergence of AAP and AIMIM are likely to lead to further splintering of Opposition votes.

The Congress would need to come up with a massive overhaul in Gujarat. It is possible that the resignations may not stop at Dhanani and Chavda and there could be pressure on AICC in-charge Rajeev Satav to also be axed or at least redeployed.

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