What is the situation we are looking at right now?
There is a tense atmosphere that looms above Gujarat at this moment. Even though, many think they know what is going to happen on the 9th and the 14th of December, certainty in Indian politics is fallible, as we have seen time and again. Let’s break it down systematically.
In the state of Gujarat, BJP has held the government for four terms and this term, if it were to win, would be its fifth victory. A recent poll projected, on the average, that BJP will get around 120 seats in the 182 seat assembly, that is approximately five more than what it got back in the Assembly Elections of 2012. Congress is projected to get around fifty-five, that is six fewer than the last time. Another opinion poll called the India Today – Axis My India opinion poll suggested that despite being in power in Gujarat for the past twenty-two years, BJP isn’t suffering from any anti-incumbency factor. The poll also added that the Gujarati public were happy and proud that a Gujarati was the Prime Minister. The opinion poll predicted a resounding landslide victory for the Bhartiya Janata Party and a Congress defeat despite the latter aligning with the new trends in town – Patidar community leader Hardik Patel, OBC leader Alpesh Thakore and Jignesh Mevani leading a campaign for the Dalits in Gujarat.
BJP is campaigning around the state, the face of the entire campaign being none other than Narendra Modi himself. The primary purpose is to reaffirm the faith of the common Gujarati public to remind them what Modi has done and to show what he is capable of. A recent ad released for the campaign which claims that if “you let Narendra Modi fail now, no PM will dare to fight corruption for a 100 years”. Even though one can argue that the claims are baseless, the video uploaded on YouTube has garnered close to fifty thousand hits within 48 hours of its release. A famous actor, Jimit Trivedi has acted and given a rendition of Modi’s deeds. This clearly shows the amount of support he has in the state. All in all, it’s a matter of honour and self-esteem for BJP to win in its home state, which would provide as a guarantee of solid support for the approaching 2019 national elections.
Looking on the other side, we have Congress who knows it cannot win but is desperately trying to hit a dent on the wall. They are using all sorts of gimmicks (like Congress President Rahul Gandhi calling GST “Gabbar Singh Tax”) and bringing back the demonetisation throes of the past, where the farmers, who dealt in cash, had suffered a major blow. The trading community, which is a major vote bank for the BJP in Gujarat, who also suffered because of the GST and demonetisation roll out. The Congress is trying its very best to poach them away from the BJP’s hold. It is also making up alliances with the Dalits, the Patidars, OBCs and Muslims (DPOM) and together these groups close to a staggering 60 percent of the Gujarat Electorate.
The Hardik Patel led Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) is close to signing a deal with the Congress to achieve the minority status with the bracket of OBCs and hence get premier privileges. They can provide a hefty 12-14 percent vote share in the upcoming elections which can sway the tides for the BJP. Heated throws of deals and offerings are rampant in the air and nothing seems to actually work either for Congress or BJP, but it looks on the brighter side for Congress. In the bigger picture, neither the Congress nor the BJP has any clear plans that would promise the Patidars the reservation they want so badly because of the legalities involved in actually implementing such a demand.
According to Alok Prasanna Kumar, visiting fellow at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, an independent advisory group, the move to offer reservation on economic grounds was “pure tokenism”. He also said, “I don’t think a law granting reservations to Patels will stand scrutiny in courts simply because as it stands, there is no material to show Patels are educationally and socially backward. Furthermore, reservation on purely economic grounds is not permitted under the Constitution.” So we are still to see where that goes.
How important is it for Modi to win this round of Gujarat Elections?
From the looks and feels of it, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is, in fact, fighting 2019 Lok Sabha Elections now. One can call it a prelude to the actual fight that is going to happen later. If the BJP romps home with a respectable victory margin, like all the earlier times, Modi’s image of invincibility would be reinforced and strengthened further. This victory would also impact voters from other states directly, where elections are coming up after Gujarat. If the BJP sweeps Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat, it would provide a solid foundation for the BJP in the upcoming 2019 elections. There is also a high possibility that Modi might be able to pick up new supporters who chose to break away from their earlier loyalties.
Yet, a rising dissatisfaction, earlier due to demonetization and off late, GST, can create a very challenging atmosphere for the BJP and particularly Modi himself. The bread and butter voters of Modi in Gujarat, the traders, and businessmen who were directly affected by the GST are hanging on a balance. If he isn’t able to prove his popularity in his home state, he will only feed the opposition narrative of the BJP losing its sheen due to the GST troubles and economic slowdown. So far he has been above the effect of anti-incumbency and near invincibility in the electoral politics of the country. This set of elections is going to be the best measure for his popularity among the so-called Modi voters. Even a narrow victory made by the BJP would put a dent in its reputation and have serious repercussions. BJP’s losses in other upcoming assembly elections won’t matter as much as this one – and a victory will consolidate his voters to vote for him again and again – and this narrative would directly impact voters in other states which would be invaluable when it would come to the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections.
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—. Livemint. October 31, 2017. http://www.livemint.com/Politics/T82sgOsB1OcOIv8yqMXvXN/Gujarat-elections-Why-giving-reservation-to-Patidars-is-eas.html (accessed November 2, 2017).
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Image Source: Sify. March 11, 2017. http://www.sify.com/news/bjp-congress-both-claim-victory-in-manipur-news-national-rdluEicggidfg.html (accessed November 8, 2017).
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