Gujarat Polls 2017: Did Modi Gain 2 or Lose 11 Percentage Points?

Five reasons why Gujarat 2017 was a national election fought in a state.

5 min read
2014 Lok Sabha elections are an appropriate frame of reference to compare loss in BJP’s vote share in Gujarat.

It’s been less than 72 hours after the stunning Gujarat Assembly results, but sharpshooting pundits are already having a lot of fun with stats:

  • BJP got 14 mn (1.40 cr) votes, and Congress 12 mn (1.20 cr), just 2 mn (20 lac) votes less; but wait, 15 lac of these surplus votes came from just 5 urban districts
  • In fact, BJP won 50 of its 99 seats in Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat, Rajkot and Bhavnagar; Congress got less than 12 seats here
  • In the rest of Gujarat, Congress knocked the stuffing out of BJP, nearly 70 seats to 44, scoring a 2/3rd majority
  • In 7 districts, BJP did not win a single seat
Gujarat Polls 2017: Did Modi Gain 2 or Lose 11 Percentage Points?
(Infographic: Rahul Gupta/ The Quint)

Who Really Won Gujarat?

There’s an intellectual slugfest on – who really won Gujarat? The answer depends squarely on what your frame of reference is:

  • Those rooting for Modi say he increased BJP’s vote share by almost 2 percentage points between 2012 and 2017. They assert, vigorously, that the only apples-to-apples comparison is between two assembly elections. How can you rank the percentage of the national election of 2014 against the Assembly numbers of 2017, they ask, with exaggerated injury?
  • But those in the Congress camp reject this reasoning. For them, it’s 2014 vs 2017, because the context of the 2012 Assembly polls was entirely different. They claim, with exaggerated triumph, that Modi’s citadel has crashed by 11 percentage points – do remember that at 60%, then chief minister (and challenger) Modi had perhaps notched up the highest vote share ever in a large state in independent India’s history. So we’ve brought him down to earth, to a far more modest 49%, Congressmen say with undisguised glee.

When in doubt, pull out your most colourful Bollywood lines to win an argument:

  • For Modi fans, it’s Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikandar (only victory matters, whatever the margin)
  • For Rahul supporters, it’s either Haar Kay Baad Hi Jeet Hai or Is Haar Main Jeet Hai (this defeat is embedded with seeds of a future victory)

Shorn of all the song and drama, the “who won Gujarat” question boils down to whether we should be comparing 2012, or 2014, with 2017.

Here are my five key inputs.

Five Reasons Why It’s 2014 (and not 2012) Vs 2017

One Modi Was the Only BJP Campaigner in 2014 and 2017

2017 saw a vintage Modi campaign, a la 2014. Hopping from one rally to another, five a day, kicking up chopper dust, undulating his voice to a hoarse whisper, then suddenly raising it to a roar, arms flailing, asking (much smaller and less enthusiastic) crowds to respond to repeated questioning, taking on Congress in a vicious, no-holds-barred duel.

You had to be a magician to guess that there was a chap called Vijay Rupani who was defending his office, or that Modi was not directly in the fray. If you had to choose only one reason to prove that 2017 was a clone of 2014, this had to be it.
Gujarat Polls 2017: Did Modi Gain 2 or Lose 11 Percentage Points?
(Infographic: Rahul Gupta/The Quint)

No other personality mattered, no other voice was heard, and each barb was flung with amazing energy and stamina. Unremitting. Vintage. Modi. QED.

Two: Modi Raised Only National Issues; Extolled Only His Record in Office

Make no mistake. The candidate up for re-election was Modi. His record in office was up for re-endorsement. He demonetised the currency to crush the rich, his anti-corruption campaign would clean up the country, he would digitise India and prop its entrepreneurs to stand up.

He had demolished the Congress dynasty. He had unified India’s tax system. Local problems – of cotton farmers, of poor ghettos, of greedy doctors and teachers, of idle youth – were simply not addressed in stump speeches.

Even on this count, it was 2014 vs 2017 (since 2012 was not invoked even once).

Three: Why Only National, Even India’s Foreign Policy Was on the Manifesto

Prime Minister Modi questioned former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s ‘secret meeting’ with Pakistani officials at Mani Shankar Aiyar’s house. File photo of the leaders.
Prime Minister Modi questioned former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s ‘secret meeting’ with Pakistani officials at Mani Shankar Aiyar’s house. File photo of the leaders.
(Photo: Reuters)

Forget about low prices of local crops, Gujarat’s electorate was given a crash course in Pakistan’s nefarious policies (in some unguarded moments, even Doklam and China marked their presence).

It was as if a surgical strike had to be done on ISI agents who had switched from Kashmir to the Kutch border and infiltrated election booths.

And now, they were being remote controlled by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh! Once the air was thick with such rhetoric, how could this ever be a mere state election? Once again, not 2012, but it was 2014 vs 2017.

Four: Rahul Led Congress’s Campaign; Local Face, Who?

File photo of Congress president Rahul Gandhi in Gujarat.
File photo of Congress president Rahul Gandhi in Gujarat.
(Photo: PTI)

If it was Modi all the way for BJP, Congress was helmed almost entirely, and single-handedly, by Rahul Gandhi. It was one national leader taking on another on Gujarat’s turf. How could you call this a local face-off? It was a national election taking place in a state. So there, it was 2014 vs 2017, one more time.

Five: Modi Spoke in Gujarati; Ironically, This Just Amplified the 2014 vs 2017 Vote Loss!

Unlike 2014, when Modi was addressing national audiences, and therefore spoke in Hindi, this time he took to Gujarati. Ostensibly, this should have made it more of a local election, thereby giving us one reason to say the correct frame of reference should be 2012 (and not 2014) vs 2017. But here the argument falls on a tangent.

Since he spoke in a local dialect (even about non-Gujarati issues) his “audience resonance” should have been higher as compared to 2014. So his vote change figure would need to be “adjusted” between 2014 and 2017.

But that adjustment would have to be adverse, ie, he would have lost more than 11 percentage points if he had not spoken in Gujarati, right? I know this argument is a bit complex, but it is consistent.

Even here, the comparison between 2014 and 2017 would be more favourable for Prime Minister Modi than if the benchmark year were to be 2012!

Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikandar

For me the conclusion is inescapable. I’ve given five reasons above why the correct frame of reference is 2014 (and not 2012) vs 2017. On that maap dand (measurement), Prime Minister Modi and BJP have lost 11 percentage points. QED.

Jo Jeeta Wahi Sikandar!

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