So, all exit polls were proved wrong and even though the Bharatiya Janata Party won the Gujarat Assembly elections, it did not reach three digits. Whereas the Congress plus allies reached 77+3 seats, that is 80. Prior to the elections, BJP claimed it would win 150+ seats. This number was based on the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when the party won Gujarat’s all 26 Lok Sabha seats. The BJP thought that it would maintain its lead in the 160 Assembly seats that it had taken in the 2014 elections. But in 2017, in got 16 seats lower than even the 115 seats it had won in the 2012 Assembly elections. Congress increased its 2012 tally of 61 by 16 and reached 77. BJP’s poor result came in spite of Narendra Modi’s charisma and the party’s strong booth management. For the first time after 1995, the elections appeared to be a battle between two equals. Neither of the two parties was sure about how the voters would behave. The result, in reality, was a victory of the people, who showed both parties their respective places. Now BJP will no longer be able to bank on Hindu hegemony and Congress will have to realise that it will have to work hard to attain power.

In essence, it was BJP’s Gujarat model that came under challenge for the first time. Speedy industrialisation resulting from increasing investments, speedy land acquisition, no support price or insurance money for farmers, Hindu upper caste hegemony, privatisation of education, atrocities against Dalits, the so called Hindu way of life, less attention on rural problems, more attention on fantasies like “lok mela”, inauguration ceremonies and celebrations made the rural population uncomfortable. The urban youngsters were happy with Modi, whereas the rural voters were unhappy with the Vijay Rupani government. This rural-urban divide became apparent in the voting patterns. As a result, BJP got completely washed out in the less urbanised seven districts, but got a huge boost in Ahmedabad (16/21) and Surat (13/16), two highly urbanised districts

Gujarat’s lopsided development model has resulted in at least ten anti-incumbency movements, including the Patidar movement (Hardik Patel), the OBC movement (Alpesh Thakor), the Dalit movement (Jignesh Mevani), contractual and fixed-pay employees’ movement (Pravin Ram), Asha workers’ movement, farmers’ movement (Sagar Rabari), Anganwadi workers’ movement, small traders’ movement against GST and demonetisation and the Kshatriya movement against state BJP president Jitu Vaghani, among others. Ruling for 22 years is sufficient for anti incumbency to rear its head in a state. Even the well-entrenched CPI(M)-led government in West Bengal had to go after 35 years of being in power. If the Congress had been arrayed well against the BJP, the anti incumbency vote would have gone fully to its kitty. But Congress is a party only of leaders, without a cadre base. Its edifice has got totally eaten up.

There is a big difference between Gujarat and West Bengal, which is the mahajan ethos (the protestant ethic in Max Weber’s term) in this western state. This saved the BJP. At least 35% of Gujarat’s people are in some sort of business or the other, and most of them belong to the business castes. Business people generally do not go against power. The Patidars of Saurashtra are mostly farmers and they voted against BJP. As a result of which, the party got routed from five districts of Saurashtra. But Surat’s Patidars are businessmen and they voted for BJP. So it was not just the caste factor which was at work, but a caste-class combine (“clast”). This should explain what happened in Gujarat. An individual has five-six identities—caste, class, occupation, language, religion, homeland, etc, and will weigh in all these identities before voting.

Region wise, Gujarat can be divided into three geo-cultural zones. The eastern belt—tribal, forest, hills—is traditionally a Congress bastion. Two third of this belt has voted for Congress. However, BJP has entered this belt successfully. The second zone is the central belt of the plains, known as Shantibhai Gujarat, or the development belt. This is more industrialised and more urbanised than the other belts, and BJP has got more than two-third votes in this railroad corridor. The third is the coastal or the peninsular belt comprising Saurashtra and Kachh. This is traditionally an agricultural belt and Congress snatched it from the BJP.

The emergence of a new style of Rahul Gandhi’s leadership played some role in the elections. Narendra Modi’s is a charismatic, aggressive and emotive style of campaigning. Rahul’s is soothing, mixing with people and entering in dialogues with the audience. Farmers and the semi literate people in rural areas liked this style. This sort of leadership, if it gets appropriate analytical inputs, may offer an alternative style of political leadership in Indian politics.

As for Hardik, Alpesh and Jignesh, all three are here to stay. They are tough men. All three have arrayed against “communal” politics and want social justice. They cannot be lured into other camps. In spite of BJP’s best efforts, Alpesh, the Congress candidate, and Jignesh, the independent candidate won by comfortable margins.

Gujarat elections have been always a two-party affair. Either you are for power or you are against power. Two years ago, this author had predicted that anti incumbency was rising, but that it need not necessarily benefit the Congress. Realising that anti-incumbency was on the rise, various small parties, the BSP, NCP, AAP, Shiv Sena, Shankersinh Vaghela’s Jan Vikalp Moracha, Tribal Party and others entered the fray, with each constituency having a minimum of five candidates. However, no small party could win. Three independents won with Congress support, and three other independents won, likely with BJP support.

Dr Vidyut Joshi is the former Vice-Chancellor of Bhavnagar University, Gujarat

 

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