Results of Gujarat Election 2017 are out and Bharatiya Janata Party is all set to form the government in the state for a record sixth time. This, however, was no cake-walk for BJP in the state known as PM Narendra Modi’s and party chief Amit Shah’s bastion. Despite the victory, BJP fell short of big claims it had made before elections and suffered a downward trend in victory margin at a time when it was ruling at the central level. It was nowhere close to 150 seats mark as claimed by top BJP leadership and its ‘Congress-mukta Gujarat’ hope fell flat. And though the saffron party has won, one takeaway of the poll that no BJP leader can challenge is that results could be different had Modi magic didn’t work.
On the other hand, Congress gained at a time when it is at its weakest in the national and state-level politics. Despite defeat, Congress had some smiling faces on television screens and rightly so. On one channel, BJP’s Sambit Patra even quipped Congress’ Akhilesh Pratap Singh “Hum jeeetne ke baad bhi sayamit hain, aap haarne ke baad bhi muskura rahe hain, (We are very patient even after victory, you are smiling even after the defeat).” For Congress, which has suffered so many defeats, now under Rahul Gandhi, not facing the worst is a matter of joy. Well, that’s another topic. Surveys had predicted that Modi’s magic will work again and BJP will win close to 130 seats. Today’s Chanakya, considered one of the most accurate polling agency, had predicted 135+ seats for the saffron party.
Despite a strong presence in the entire country, and at the Centre, BJP was facing multiple challenges in Gujarat. The first challenge was anti-incumbency of 22 years and no Modi as CM face. Then there was Patidar agitation of 2015 and emergence of an anti-BJP Hardik Patel as their leader. Then came vicissitudes in the form of Una incident, demonetisation implementation and GST troubles to traders. To add to saffron party’s woes, Rahul Gandhi – in a transformed, much tech-savvy avataar – came stronger than ever before and seemed to be in no mood to let the opportunity go. Clearly, this was BJP’s toughest test in the state in two decades.
Yet Modi came in and pulled BJP out of jaws of defeat. He did this without making too many attempts to please the angry Patidar community, without making populist promises to the trading community and without promising loan-waivers to the farming community. This makes for a deep case study as to how Modi did it again. Modi and Shah come up with some out of the box ideas to conquer the challenges this time. This started with the very first challenge – to fill the leadership crisis in the state. In the high-octane campaign, the prime minister established himself as the prime administrator of the state.
Modi, the orator, was able to make the link with ground voters with his ‘Gujarat ka Beta’ ploy and was slightly successful in establishing the impression that opposer Rahul Gandhi is an outsider to the state. “They are coming and making baseless allegations on a Gujarat Ka Beta (Gujarat’s son),” Modi has said in one of his famous speeches during the elections. Next, he well exploited Mani Shankar Aiyar’s self-goal of Neech remark. “Ae Gujarat no apna che ke nai che (is it not the insult of Gujarat),” Modi had said at a rally. His speeches then took an unprecedentedly creative turn, where the PM didn’t shy of reminding people some of the most abusive remarks made against him by the Congress, even Digvijaya Singh’s C*** remark.
His next challenge and probably the biggest one was to nullify the Patidar agitation effect. Here BJP took up an anti-thesis strategy which rightly worked in its favour. There were ground reports that BJP was wooing OBC voters which numbers around 40 per cent of the state’s total population. In past, the OBC community, which has more than 100 sub-castes was voting equally in favour of the Congress and BJP. The community this time was worried due to Congress’ strong promise of a reservation to Patidars. By not committing anything to Patidars, BJP virtually wooed the OBCs and cadre did the task on the ground. This is rightly represented in the final tally as well. The party has suffered losses in Patidar dominated areas, while it has scored numbers in some of the OBC bastions. Some of the strong Patidar faces from BJP – Saurabh Patel and Nitin Patel – both seen as CM hopefuls earlier faced the tough electoral challenge.
The anger amongst Dalits after Una incident was somehow pacified by Modi with regular mentions of Bhim Rao Ambedkar in his speeches. While Modi didn’t tell the voter why Dalits should vote for BJP, he communicated the message on how Ambedkar and Sardar Patel were mistreated – and effectively, why the community should not go for Congress party in these elections. It remains to be seen as to how the community voted at last. But clearly, Modi had a strategy, probably the best, to save his party from Dalit anger (if there was any).
In urban Gujarat, small traders which used to be traditional vote bank for Modi and BJP, had shown resentment against GST rollout and demonetisation. This was well observed by the prime minister beforehand. Well before the polls, Centre brought GST rates drastically down and made several procedures simpler. The timely pre-poll tweaks mollified the community. On demonetisation, Modi made people imbibe the idea that it was a one time step meant to rout corruption.
This writer, and many others, believe there was indeed a Rahul Gandhi factor in Gujarat. A leader which kept reminding about all the wrongs done in the state by ruling BJP. And whose party has just fell 10 short of majority. Modi had gone all guns blazing against the Congress and kept telling the people how Congress “mistreated Gujarat and leader who hailed from the state”. His perfect marketing of Sardar Patel worked completely in his favour. He also alleged that it was Congress, which didn’t let BJP develop Gujarat. He had some tough political questions for Congress and Rahul Gandhi – why was it silent on Muslim, what was its stand on Ram Mandir. Rest of the work was done by his lieutenants – Why was Rahul on a temple-run spree, what is his religion, etc.
One may well say that Modi brigade used all the tools of negative campaigning which included baseless allegations and political mud-slinging. But what remains a fact is that Modi still holds his fortress of Gujarat. With seat margin of around 10, the results have brought some veiled smiles for Congress and matter of concern for the BJP. Yet, in politics, the one with bigger numbers deserves celebrations. And the winner, once again, is Modi.