Can we look at the historic Gujarat triumph of Narendra Modi—the seventh in a row from the other side? Winning Gujarat is second nature to him though, in 2022, he trumped his own record of 2002. Make no mistake, medals for any electoral victory in his home state—be it a municipal corporation, an assembly election, or a Lok Sabha election, goes to his home.
There is a chief minister, yes, and there have been three since his exit in 2014 to Delhi and there may well be three more by the time the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seeks its eighth term in 2027.
PM Modi trumped his own record of 2002 in Gujarat Elections of 2022 and now claims the state seventh time in a row.
Gujarat was the worst bouncer given that among all the states where it is in the opposition, the Congress party was the best in its most hostile state.
The Congress failed to notice the BJP number falling from the best of 127 in 2002, 117 in 2007, 115 in 2012 and 99 in 2017. Except in 2017, the gradual fall in saffron numbers was under the impact 'Modi Magic'.
Rahul Gandhi was trying his ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’, which is his own 'Discovery of India'. So, the future captain was warming up at the counties and the team back home waited for him to be battle-ready while a nightwatchman held the fort.
Modi Mania Grips Gujarat Yet Again..
There is a Gujarat BJP president, and the present one is the third since his exit in 2014. The prime minister gave full credit to the party’s rank and file in the state for the performance, but this machinery is only a well-oiled logistical structure.
From the prime minister himself, the second most powerful Amit Shah, to all union and state ministers, even the chief ministerial candidate— all were seeking the vote for Modi.
There is nothing new in this, it was exactly the same in Gujarat in 2017 (or 2012, 2007 and 2002). But the similarity ends here. In 2022, Modi delivered an intoxicating performance by grabbing 156 seats out of 182 when the Congress party was still popping Disprins and antacids to fight the hangover of its best 2017 performance of 77/182 seats. And someone who deserved the credit for Congress back in 2017 was taking a brisk morning walk in the deep south, heading listlessly for the north in India’s discovery of sorts.
This is where the cue lies to examine the Gujarat verdict or the 'Modi Magic' from the other side. In simple words, it was not 'Modi Magic' but 'Congress’ Condescendence'. It is not BJP’s historic victory. It is Congress’ historic defeat. Let us not blame the Aam Aadmi Party(AAP) and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) for this, though they both have proved to be a B-team.
How Congress’ Backfoot Stance Cost Its Political Innings
So what went wrong with Congress? Nothing. They didn’t play at all. When the party’s command was too high for anyone to reach, they were debating on who deserved to be the captain, and who could play ball with the chief coach. The immediate playing team some 1,000 km away in Gujarat was looking for a safety net to practice, where some half a dozen captain (chief minister) probables, who couldn’t find a seat to warm themselves up, were playing the first selectors. Obviously, few selections were free.
What better could the BJP have expected from an opponent whose 44 candidates couldn’t rescue their deposits? Well, yes, some 128 of the 181 contestants of B-team AAP also forfeited their deposits but that’s fine, they were there to fulfill an assignment of chopping whatever little was left of the Congress tail.
India has long been watching its oldest political party getting out hit-wicket, but Gujarat was the worst bouncer given that among all the states where it is in the opposition, the Congress party was the best in its most hostile state. Forget the history, the party won 51 seats (39.28% vote share) on Modi’s peak Hindutva wave in 2002 when the BJP got its highest 127 seats (49.85% vote share), followed by 59 in 2007 (38%), 61 in 2012 (38.93%), 77 in 2017(41.4%).
From 2017 to 2022, How Have State Elections & Key Issues Transitioned
The Congress party didn’t notice the BJP number falling from the best of 127 in 2002, 117 in 2007, 115 in 2012, and 99 in 2017. Except in 2017, the gradual fall in the saffron numbers was under the impact of what is now being indisputably referred to as 'Modi Magic'.
The issues of price-rise, unemployment, agrarian distress with land-grab, alleged crony capitalism, privatisation of education and health sectors, unrest in the tribal population (27 reserved seats and 13 others with good Adivasi population), atrocities against Dalits (13 reserved seats and 27 others with high Dalit population), angry outsourced and temporary government staff as well as police constabulary were not only the same in 2022 as in 2017 but had become more serious this time.
In 2017, Rahul Gandhi— the only scion from the family who had spent three days in four different regions in Gujarat, precisely spoke of all these issues, raised the campaign pitch right up to the days of the Nehruvian welfare state, and took the rhetoric to the pre-economic liberalisation of the ’90s. He sounded like a statesman when he declared at a townhall in Vadodara in September 2017: “Hum kabhi bhi BJP-mukt Bharat ki baat nahi karenge, wo Congress-mukti ki baat bhalen kare; wo hamare sanskar nahi hai; ees Bharat desh mein har vichardhara ke liye jagah hai (We will never speak of BJP-free India, let them speak of a Congress-free India, that’s not in our culture; this India has space for all schools of thought).”
In 2022, add to this the complete mismanagement of the Covid-19 crisis and fudging of death numbers, the devastating Morbi pedestrian bridge collapse that claimed 135 lives, exposing the holes in the state government’s policy of outsourcing and privatising essential maintenance services as well as serious allegations of corruption in handing over the bridge’s upkeep to a company not qualified to do so. Not to forget, the leaks of government examination papers at regular intervals. Despite all that, the BJP won the Morbi seat.
‘Congress Missed a Pivotal Chance To Bounce Back Before 2024’
And where was the Congress party? Rahul Gandhi was trying his ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’, which is his own 'Discovery of India'. So, the future captain was warming up at the counties and the team back home waited for him to be battle-ready while a nightwatchman held the fort.
Who came instead? Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot as the national observer and his minister Raghu Sharma as AICC’s in-charge of Gujarat Affairs. And what did they do whatever little time they spent in Gujarat? Gehlot was rocking the party's boat, first by wanting to eat the cake (of being the Congress’ president) and having it too, (by keeping the chief ministership). But he continued to oversee Gujarat, physically, with his eyes and ears to Rajasthan. The desert is still in a storm.
Three small instances are sufficient to explain why Gujarat 2022 was the Congress’ irreparable loss though they may celebrate winning a state that is only as big as one region of Gujarat.
Congress’ young and aggressive Adivasi MLA Anant Patel who won from the Vansda tribal seat after a huge agitation under his leadership forced the mighty Modi Government to scrap the Par-Tapi-Narmada Riverlinking Project that was announced in the Union Budget of 2022-23.
The second instance is the gusty Jignesh Mevani who faced a four-corner contest with Asaduddin Owaisi, dutifully serving his assignment to defeat him even if he himself had a weak candidate and so did the AAP. Mevani, with only the aggressive young man Kanhaiya Kumar to back him from within the party, defeated the BJP with 4,200 votes.
The third is the courageous OBC woman leader Geniben Thakor who had joined the Congress with turncoat Alpesh Thakor but fought back all temptations through the last five years and remained stuck to the Congress. She has also won.
The central Congress leadership may not even be aware that these three gutsy MLAs don’t need them but the party needs them in leadership positions. Bharat Jodo may well have remained a 'Gujarat Chhodo' Yatra, as of now.
(The writer is Founder Editor, Development News Network [DNN], Gujarat.This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)