Gujarat Elections: Congress’ Gamble With Hardik Didn’t Pay Off
The results of the much awaited Gujarat Assembly elections are out. BJP has managed to hold onto its citadel by winning 99 (-16) seats, while the Congress-led alliance managed to improve its tally by bagging 80 seats (+16). This is a significant improvement, considering there was a mass exodus of Congress MLAs, 17 to be precise, just months before the elections. Congress’ ally, Bharatiya Tribal Party, won two seats while independent candidate and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani, backed by the Congress won from Vadgam.
In terms of vote share, while the BJP recorded 49.1 percent (+1.2 percent), the INC-led alliance recorded 42.4 percent (+3.5 percent). While a victory is a victory and one can’t take away BJP’s sixth straight win, the Congress, as an organisation, had put its weight behind Rahul.
Hardik Factor Was Missing
The Congress party had banked on Hardik Patel, but the political alignment doesn’t seem to have worked. As per reports, as many as 19 seats were handed over to Hardik by the Congress, including those which the party could have won on its own.
Hardik’s doctor as well as his advocate were given tickets by the Congress. He drew huge crowds at his rallies, some even suggested that the numbers were more than what one saw at public gatherings addressed by Modi and Rupani.
Hardik’s magic did hold sway among the young voters in the 18-25 age group. According to the Axis exit poll, it was in this category that the INC was leading against the BJP by 1 percent. So while the youth switched over to the INC, voters belonging to other age groups chose to stick with the BJP. It may have so happened that some of them decided not to vote, as exhibited in a lower turnout compared to 2012.
Patidar Agitation Didn’t Hurt BJP
According to the CSDS tracker poll, BJP was seen losing support among the Patels consistently. BJP had a lead of 58 percent in August 2017, which fell to 20 percent in October 2017. In November 2017, the CSDS polls showed Congress leading by 2 percent among the Patidars. Even the Axis opinion poll had predicted that Congress was leading among the Patel voters, with BJP losing almost half of its support – from 70 percent to 39 percent – and Congress along with Hardik garnering half of that support.
We do not have exact caste-wise break up of voting preferences. However, Today’s Chanakya exit poll is close to the BJP’s actual vote share, which is 49 percent. While the agency accurately predicted the BJP’s vote share, it lost out on the tally of seats massively (30-35 seats).
The Chanakya exit poll showed 54 percent support of Patels (-16 percent) to BJP despite Hardik factor, and only 37 percent support to Congress. This has resulted in a loss of 2.5 percent vote share to BJP, but is half of what was expected.
Congress Fared Better in Saurashtra
While the Kadwa Patels have significant influence on 32 seats in north Gujarat and parts of Saurashtra, the Leuva Patels enjoy dominance on 41 seats in Saurashtra, Kutch and south Gujarat.
In Saurashtra and Kutch, it is the support by the Patels that has helped the Congress. Though this region is also the hotbed of agrarian crisis which also worked in Congress’ favour. In south Gujarat, where the Patels form a majority of the trading community, Hardik’s jadoo (magic) didn’t work. Among the 32 seats in north Gujarat, Congress (16) and BJP (15) shared the honours.
Questions for Hardik Patel
In Mehsana, which was the epicentre of the Patidar agitation, BJP had won five seats in and Congress two respectively in 2012. This time Congress has won four and BJP three seats respectively. There are 12 seats which are dominated by Patels – Morbi (1), Rajkot (4), Amreli (6), Varchcha Road. BJP had won eight seats in 2012, which has marginally gone down to six. The Congress, on the other hand, has increased its tally from four to six on these seats. In fact, in Varchcha Road where the population of Patels is more than one lakh, the BJP has retained its seat.
Two questions remain to be answered by Hardik which will determine his future course of action:
1. What happens now to the Patidar agitation? Will Hardik aggressively chase this issue? Will he get support from the Congress party?
2. What happens to his career? Will he join the Congress party? Will he contest the next Lok Sabha elections?
To conclude, Hardik did help Congress with a section of Patel voters who were disillusioned with the BJP, however, the turnout at his rallies doesn’t seem to have converted wholly into votes. He needs some time and perhaps work harder to become a true leader of the Patidars.
(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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