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Gujarat Cong Leaders Must Curb Their Ambitions Before 2017 Polls

The Congress must mobilise urban voters if it wants to win the 2017 Gujarat polls, writes Madhusudan Mistry.

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The Gujarat unit of the Congress performed spectacularly by seizing 21 zila parishads in the just-concluded polls to the lower bodies after a long spell of time. This was not perhaps envisioned by the party.

The Congress’ performance was satisfactory in north and central Gujarat and Saurashtra but was not quite to the mark in south Gujarat. As far as the six municipal corporations are concerned it has improved its performance, from which it can take some solace.

In rural Gujarat, the patidars’ (Patels) demands for reservation and the state government’s refusal to grant them quota in government jobs seems to have gone against the BJP in north Gujarat and Saurashtra, since these regions have a sizeable population of patidars.

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The Congress must  mobilise  urban voters if it wants to win the 2017  Gujarat  polls, writes Madhusudan Mistry.
A BJP candidate poses for a selfie with supporters as she celebrates her victory in the municipal elections in Ahmedabad on Wednesday. (Photo: PTI)

The Factors at Play

In large parts of these regions, agriculture is the main occupation. The non–remunerative minimum support price for cotton and other crops, lack of irrigation facilities, crop failure, farmers’ suicides, lack of job opportunities and self-financed higher education policies, especially in medical education, are important factors which adversely affected the BJP’s fortunes in rural areas.

Indeed, the BJP was able to retain the support of urban voters, but rural distress caused the electorate to abandon the party which had taken their support for granted.

Chief Minister Anandiben Patel’s charisma, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s legacy and the BJP president Amit Shah’s presence were not sufficient reasons for the voters to go along with the party. It was widely speculated that inner-party dissension played a role in the BJP’s poor show, but there was more to its defeat in the zila parishads and taluka panchayats than in-fighting.

Snapshot

The Message From Gujarat

  • In rural Gujarat, the patidars’ protest for quota seems to have gone against the BJP in north Gujarat and Saurashtra
  • BJP was able to retain the support of urban voters, but rural distress caused the electorate to abandon the party
  • Congress needs to change its present electoral strategy if it wants to win the assembly election due in 2017
  • Congress must make efforts to deliver on social and economic schemes and programmes in the zila parishads and taluka panchayats it has won
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Rural-Urban Divide

The election to the lower bodies has brought out in sharp relief the urban-rural divide in Gujarat. There is no denying that the scale of urbanisation in Gujarat is higher when compared to other states. But the fact remains that people in rural areas voted overwhelmingly in favour of the BJP in the last two elections to zila parishads, village talukas and municipal corporations.

The Congress must  mobilise  urban voters if it wants to win the 2017  Gujarat  polls, writes Madhusudan Mistry.
Congress workers set off crackers as they celebrate their candidates’ victory in the municipal elections in Ahmedabad on Wednesday. (Photo: PTI)

So, what led voters to change their mind this time? Besides the aforementioned factors, the party’s defeat in the Bihar assembly polls, the perception that the PM is inclined towards corporate houses, the government’s inability to take concrete steps that would benefit farmers, agricultural labourers, people belonging to low-income groups and the disillusionment caused by the government’s hollow promises resulted in anti-BJP votes.

The PM will certainly be disappointed by the BJP’s performance, especially because the party has not kept pace with his winning streak in a state run by his hand-picked nominee. The electoral downslide will allow Modi to say that the BJP would win all three tiers of the political system as long as he was at the helm in Gujarat.

While it is fact that a sizeable number of assembly seats are in urban areas, the onus is on the Congress to change its present electoral/mobilisation strategy if it wants to win the assembly election due in 2017. One of the ways for the Congress to turn electoral fortunes in its favour would be to target urban voters and attract professionals and the youth to its fold.

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Congress’ Task Ahead

Besides, the party must work among the urban poor, including slum-dwellers. More importantly, it must make efforts to deliver on social and economic schemes and programmes in the zila parishads and taluka panchayats it has won with getting stuck in a bureaucratic quagmire. And, the Congress must credibly show that it is free from corruption and can provide sound governance.

The Congress must  mobilise  urban voters if it wants to win the 2017  Gujarat  polls, writes Madhusudan Mistry.
A candidate celebrates his victory in the municipal elections along with supporters in Ahmedabad on Wednesday. (Photo: PTI)

To achieve these objectives, the party must establish a working mechanism. The task of the Congress-led panchayats will not be easy considering that the BJP’s grip over administration is firm. The ruling party will provide grants to panchayats for committed expenditure, such as staff salary, but it is feared that it might choke the disbursal of funds for development schemes.

As far as the state Congress is concerned, it must take this opportunity to settle weakness that has dogged it for years – unity among party leaders. The Congress’ prospects in future elections will improve if it is able to project that it is a party for all sections of people. It is imperative that state party leaders curb their ambitions if they have to take on the powerful BJP.

(The writer is a Congress general secretary and a former MP from Sabarkantha, Gujarat)

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