Gujarat Elections: Popularity Ratings May Spell Trouble for BJP
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A fascinating contest is underway in Gujarat. BJP is trying hard for a sixth straight victory in the state, while Congress is striving for a comeback. A lot is at stake for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah in these elections. Campaigning in Gujarat has also revealed an aggressive side of Rahul Gandhi who is trying to make a mark before donning the hat of the Congress President. Surveys have predicted a victory for the BJP so far.
Does Popularity Determine Electoral Fate?
Lately, the “Leadership Ratings” have been the key determinant of election results across states. The party whose leader enjoys highest popularity gets maximum number of votes.
This trend was observed during the 2017 Assembly polls in Punjab when the Congress recorded a resounding victory as Amarinder led the party in the state. In Uttarakhand, Khanduri was ahead of Harish Rawat in popularity ratings and thus, the BJP made a comeback.
In Bihar, Nitish was more popular than even Modi, with the Mahagathbandhan dealing a severe blow to the BJP.
On the face of it, the formula doesn’t work when a party fails to declare a chief ministerial candidate. For example, in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP had not declared its chief ministerial candidate and Akhilesh was ahead in leadership ratings. Yet, the BJP won 325 out of 403 seats in the UP Assembly elections. This is because BJP leaders, when combined, had a higher popularity rating than Akhilesh.
Similarly, the popularity rating of BJP leaders, when combined, was higher in Maharashtra and Jharkhand, where the party had not announced its chief ministerial candidate and went on to win the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
The vote share of parties which win elections is usually in the range of the popularity of their chief ministerial candidate. With Kejriwal’s popularity rating being 53 percent, AAP went on to record 54.5 percent vote share.
Similarly, Nitish Kumar’s net likeability score was 45 percent while the Mahagathbandhan’s vote share was 41.9 per cent. As the combined leadership rating of Fadnavis and Gadkari was 29 percent in Maharashtra, BJP’s vote share was 29.2 percent.
Why BJP Should be Worried in Gujarat?
As per the latest CSDS poll, 18 percent people prefer Rupani as the chief minister of Gujarat. This is a drop of 6 percent compared to the survey conducted in August this year.
This is much lower than the popularity ratings which Modi enjoyed in 2012. 46.3 percent people preferred Modi as the chief ministerial candidate when the BJP had recorded 47.9 percent vote share in the elections.
As far as I can recall, no other incumbent chief minister and no other leader whose party went on to win the elections enjoyed such low popularity since the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Even combining BJP leaders which include Rupani, Anandiben, Nitin Patel, Modi and Amit Shah, the party manages to get just 36 percent rating which is lower than the number of people who didn’t take any name (39 percent). This is also much lower than the predicted vote share of BJP at 47 percent.
No One to Replace Modi-Shah
The BJP in Gujarat is suffering from a huge leadership crisis. There is nobody who can fill in the big shoes of the Modi-Shah duo. The deliberate strategy (which is very similar to that employed by Gandhi family of the Congress) of not encouraging second-rung leadership, which can later on emerge as a threat, is haunting the party in Gujarat. The public is not convinced of the leadership capabilities among the current lot of BJP leaders in Gujarat.
Coupled with this drawback is the resurgence of the Congress on social media and the agitations led by Patidars, Dalits and OBCs. This dichotomy of low leadership ratings and high vote share can be dangerous for the BJP in Gujarat.
The gap essentially is represented by the Modi factor, which the party has banked on for now. It is precisely because of these reasons that the party has planned 32 rallies of Modi, one in each district.
Congress’ Folly Working in Favour of BJP
BJP can draw comfort from the fact that no Congress leader is close to Rupani in terms of popularity ratings. Bharatsinh Solanki enjoys 7 percent support only. Congress’ policy of patronising 4-5 leaders in each state parallelly without defining a clear leader is helping the BJP.
On a combined basis, Congress leaders enjoy only 21 percent support vs 36 percent for the BJP. The BJP has an elaborate RSS machinery to canvass for the party via door-to-door campaign. Congress has launched a similarly ambitious campaign but there is hardly any sangathan left. Additionally, the BJP has Modi factor which might work in favour of the party.
(Amitabh Tiwari is an ex-corporate and investment banker turned political consultant and commentator. He can be reached @politicalbaaba. 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.)
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