In the run-up to the results of UP elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) focused on a new battlefield — Gujarat. The Assembly Elections in the State are scheduled for the end of this year. While Uttar Pradesh elections were a matter of prestige for PM Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, Gujarat could well be the ‘do or die’ battle for them. Modi and Shah know that Gujarat had paved the way to Delhi for them, hence the biggest challenge at this point is to hold on to power in the State.That is why after hectic campaigning in the last phase of UP elections, the Prime Minister rushed to Gujarat. He spent two days there and participated in several programmes. State Chief Minister Vijay Rupani also hosted a dinner for him. Modi met party MLAs and other leaders during his visit, discussing with them the strategies for the upcoming elections. He is also said to have spoken about the challenges posed by Hardik Patel.
Party president Amit Shah is also devoting a lot of time to Gujarat, beginning his State tour soon after UP elections. Although he wasn’t present at the dinner hosted by the CM, he along with Modi paid obeisance at the Somnath temple. Shah has been managing Gujarat elections for years, but this would be the first election for him after the BJP has assumed power at the Centre, hence it is a big challenge for him.
The BJP had bagged over 50% of the vote share to wrest 30 of the 31 district panchayats in 2010. It could win just six district panchayats in 2015 and its vote share dipped by 7 %. The Congress increased its tally from one to 24 district panchayats. The results of elections to the taluka panchayats were equally distressing for the BJP – from 150 (with 48.51% votes) in 2010 to just 67 (with 42.32% votes) in 2015.
The BJP leadership was quick to read the warning signs. Modi approved a change of guard in Gujarat, removing chief minister Anandiben Patel in August last year. It followed a tug-of-war between her and BJP chief Amit Shah. Both had been trusted lieutenants of Modi during his Gujarat days. Shah has got his aide, Vijay Rupani, to replace Anandiben Patel and remains in control of the party and government in the western state.
Gujarat has always been a bipolar contest between the BJP and the Congress but a new entrant, the Aam Aadmi Party, is trying to make it a three-way fight.
Modi’s bête noire and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, too, plans to take the electoral plunge. Hardik Patel, a 23-year-old patidar leader who spearheaded a mass agitation in Gujarat demanding reservation for the community, is also in the fray. The agitation is believed to have loosened BJP’s grip over the patidars, an influential community that has largely supported the BJP in the past.
Modi, and BJP, cannot afford to lose Gujarat this year. The impact of any adverse result in Gujarat will resonate beyond the boundaries of the saffron fortress. It was the “Gujarat model of governance” that Modi showcased between 2002 and 2013 and won him the prime ministership in 2014.
Crediting Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the stunning political victory in UP, political scientists say this could well be the beginning of an era of right wing dominance with more assembly polls lined up in 2017 and 2018. Political analyst Vidyut Thakar believes that BJP’s UP victory marks the end of pseudosecularism in Gujarat, making caste politics ineffective.
He also says Modi-Amit Shah combination has been the most successful after Sardar Patel- Mahatma Gandhi jodi— “Shah’s strategy and Modi’s charisma have set the ball rolling for the BJP.” “The duo has an ideology, an army of foot soldiers from RSS and financial support to run the show which has wiped out the opposition,” he said. Other political parties lack such charismatic jodis, he said. “BJP did not have a single Muslim candidate in UP but still managed to get Muslim votes. It is sharing power in Muslim-dominated Jammu and Kashmir and also won Assam that has 20 per cent Muslim population.
The caste factor will certainly not work in Gujarat now,” avers Thakar. Vidyut Joshi, another political analyst, however, believes it is impractical to compare UP with Gujarat. “Both the states have completely different political dimensions and factors that influence voters,” he said. He also said it is easy to replace Shah in the BJP but impossible to replace Modi. “Shah is not important; he is just a strategist.
It is Modi who is running the show with his charisma and skill to attract voters,” he added. But political analyst Ghanshyam Shah has a different opinion. He believes that while BJP’s chances of a comfortable victory in Gujarat only increases after UP’s win, one cannot forget that in all the five states where results were declared, anti-incumbency factor had played an important role. “All the ruling parties have lost to the opposition. And if strategised well, it could be repeated in Gujarat.”The BJP has turned Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state, into its own bastion and the Congress is unlikely to cash in on any anti-incumbency wave against the government, said Ghanshyam Shah, an Ahmedabad-based political analyst and former Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) professor, in a phone interview.We will win Guj: Cong
Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee President Bharatsinh Solanki called the Congress victory in Punjab “historic” claiming that corrupt rule of BJP-Akali Dal has been defeated. The embarrassing defeat in Uttar Pradesh notwithstanding, Solanki said the Congress has emerged as a single largest party in Goa and Manipur, moving closer to power in both states. In a joint statement, Solanki and Leader of the Opposition in Gujarat Vidhan Sabha Shankersinh Vaghela said results were pro-Congress in three of the five states that went to polls.
“The electorate in three states voted for the Congress despite the kind of language used by top leaders and the politics of fake promises pursued by them. People voted against scams and anti-people corrupt policies of the BJP and allies in Punjab and Goa,” they said. Solanki and Vaghela, in the statement, said the people of Gujarat will vote against anti-youth, anti- Dalit and tribal government in Gujarat in the 2017 election. They further claimed that the BJP government in Gujarat was anti-women and anti-people and the results on Saturday clearly indicate that the people of Gujarat will vote for the Congress as they did in BJP-ruled states of Punjab, Goa and Manipur.Congress preferred to see the silver lining and its workers burst crackers in eight municipal corporations to celebrate the party’s wins in Punjab and voters garnered in Goa and Manipur. Congress workers assembled at the State headquarters near Paldi to celebrate the win. Meanwhile, Kanu Kalsariya, senior leader of Aam Aadmi Party, said, “We accept people’s mandate in Punjab and will evaluate the reasons for the defeat. The party’s higher- ups will decide the future course of action for Gujarat Assembly polls. AAP team is ready for a challenge even if Gujarat polls are pre-poned.”