Anandiben Patel finally resigned as Gujarat’s chief minister, ending months of speculation. In a column for The Quint on 16 May, we highlighted the challenges the BJP could face in the assembly polls scheduled next year. Anandiben posted her resignation on Facebook. The technique she used was novel and first of its kind. BJP President Amit Shah, who has prescribed that each party MP/MLA should be active on social media, certainly didn’t recommend this.
The question everyone is asking is: why did Anandiben resign?
Anandiben Patel was a surprise choice for Gujarat CM after Modi became Prime Minister. Many argue that the arrangement was to ensure that the Modi-Shah duo continue to call the shots – a Congressisation of sorts.
Anandiben’s troubles started early, with the Patidar agitation demanding reservation in jobs. The agitation is said to have been fuelled by her rivals both within as well as outside the party. She was unable to handle the issue properly, leading to a loss in rural Gujarat in the panchayat and municipal polls. Hardik Patel’s arrest and his recent release made him a hero, endangering the BJP’s traditional vote bank.
Damage Control Mode
Rumours were also rife that Anandiben was getting close to Sanjay Joshi, Modi’s bete noire. Then, soon after the agitation began, allegations of nepotism surfaced against her daughter that led to a severe blow to Anandiben’s personal image. The final nail in the coffin was the Dalit agitation and a huge rally calling for a boycott of the BJP following the brutal beating of SC youth by cow vigilante groups.
Muslims, Dalits Join Forces
There are two dimensions to the Dalit issue. First, while the Dalits (SC) do not have significant numbers in the state, every 10 percent loss in vote leads to nearly a 1 percent loss in the BJP’s vote share. This can make a difference in closely contested urban and rural constituencies.
Further, if the BJP were to lose all the 10 SC (reserved) seats it won in 2012, the gap between the two parties, which was 55 in 2012, could reduce to 34 seats. Given the fact that Muslims have also joined the Dalit agitation and the BJP won 12 out of the 19 seats where Muslims are significant in numbers, a loss of 5-10 seats here could reduce the gap between the BJP and Congress from 55 to 20-25 with losses just in these two voting groups. The BJP has received one of every five Muslim votes in the state in the past few elections, its best on a pan-India level.
Finally, if the Patidars are
not recovered by the end of next year, Gujarat could definitely move the Congress
way with large number of rural seats moving to the grand old party. The idea behind
replacing Anandiben would be to prevent losses amongst these key voting groups.
Dalit Vote Bank
The second dimension is that the Dalits account for 20 percent of the population in electorally important Uttar Pradesh and 30 percent in Punjab. Both these states go to polls in 2017. The BJP has been under constant pressure since January after the suicide of Dalit student Rohith Vemula. Dayashankar Singh’s comment on Mayawati and alleged atrocities on Dalits by cow vigilante groups is leading to a perception that the BJP is anti-Dalit.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP won 24 percent of the Dalit vote, the highest amongst all parties. The BJP and its allies won more than half of the 84 reserved seats for Dalits.
The ratio was even higher for the NDA where nearly one in every three Dalits voted for it. This was possible due to the deft alliances with Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP, Ramdas Athawale’s RPI and induction of leaders like Udit Raj. Mayawati lost massive support among the Dalits. The recent episodes have the potential of pushing the BJP back to the third slot among Dalit voters.
BJP Scared of Anti-Dalit Narrative
The BJP also won about 45 percent of the non-Jatav votes in UP (+34 percent vis-à-vis 2012 state polls), higher than the BSP which bagged 29 percent. The emergence of a national narrative that the BJP is anti-Dalit could lead to severe losses across the states where the BJP won handsomely in 2014.
It could also lead to a defeat in the assembly elections, especially in the most electorally significant state of UP.
As per our assessment, the BJP could lose anywhere between 2-3 percent Dalit vote share, which, in a tight contest, could prove to be the game changer in UP.
Great Wall of Gujarat Under Threat
The BJP has continuously ruled Gujarat for more than 18 years now. The current prime minister was the chief minister for more than 12 years. The BJP owes its 2014 Lok Sabha election success to a large extent to the Gujarat model of governance. A B Vajpayee’s Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani also belongs to Gujarat. The state is a stronghold of the BJP. Any loss here will cause severe embarrassment to Modi and could signal that all is not well with his model of governance. Anandiben’s resignation is a clear hint that the BJP is sensing strong competition in 2017.
It remains to be seen whether replacing the chief minister will help the BJP in Gujarat. Modi is a once-in-a-generation politician and any leader trying to fill his space will struggle in Gujarat. That said, a favourable monsoon and some deft moves could still save Gujarat for the BJP.