BJP chief Amit Shah yesterday blamed Congress’s “caste politics” for his party’s lowest tally in Gujarat since 1996, but cited the rise in its vote share and the sixth straight victory in the state to assert that the people had chosen its “politics of performance”. Citing his party’s winning streak since it came to power at the Centre in May, 2014, he said the BJP would win the 2019 Lok Sabha poll with a strong majority, and the people would help realise Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dream of a “New India” by 2022. He rejected suggestions that it was a “kante ki takkar” (close fight) in Modi’s and his home state, saying that the BJP’s vote share was eight per cent more that of the Congress. “A gap of 8 per cent does not imply a close fight,” he said at a press conference held after it became clear that the BJP would form another government in Gujarat and wrest power from the Congress in Himachal Pradesh. The BJP is set to win 99 seats in the 182-member Gujarat Assembly against 77 of the Congress. It had won 122, 117 and 116 seats in the 2002, 2007 and 2012 polls, respectively, against the Congress’s 51, 59 and 60.
With the Congress claiming “moral victory” after putting up its strongest show in the saffron bastion since 1985, when it had 149 seats and had formed a government, Shah accused it of “lowering the political discourse”, claiming this was the lowest form of campaign he had witnessed in his career. The twin verdicts were a defeat of the “politics of dynasty, casteism and appeasement” and a win for his party’s politics of performance, he said, adding that Indian democracy was entering a new era. The country’s development journey had taken two more steps with these wins, he said. While the BJP had five chief ministers and was in power with an ally in another state when it formed the Central government in May, 2014, it would now have 14 chief ministers. It is in power with allies in five other states, he said. He rejected the claim that his party had carried out a shrill discourse, with Modi alleging a collusion between the Congress and Pakistan.
The BJP could not have remained silent after it was targeted and Modi was called names, the BJP president said. Asked if the Congress’s strong show in his home state was a setback to his agenda of a “Congress-mukt” (Congress-free) India, he replied that the opposition had lost power in one more state, in a reference to Himachal. He played down the opposition party’s improved performance, saying that it had carried out a casteist campaign and tried to divert the attention of the people from real issues by attempting to throw the state into the “fire of casteism”. To a question about his target of winning 150 seats in Gujarat, Shah claimed he had not realised that the Congress would have “sunk to such a low” in its campaign. Despite that, the BJP, with a 49.1 per cent vote share, had seen a rise of over 1.25 per cent from that in 2012, he said. The defeat of several top state Congress leaders showed that the people had rejected it after it “outsourced” its leadership, Shah claimed.
The Congress had struck alliances with Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani, who won as an independent candidate, and OBC leader Alpesh Thakor, and also had an electoral understanding with Patidar leader Hardik Patel. He said the people’s faith in Modi and his government’s reforms and pro-poor policies were the reasons for the victory. Shah expressed confidence that his party would win the Assembly polls in Tripura, Meghalaya, Karnataka and Mizoram, to be held next year. To a question on the likely impact of the Patidar agitation for quotas, he said his party had done well in Surat and Mahesana, the hotbed of the protests. He also rejected Patel’s allegations that EVMs or electronic voting machines had been tampered with. Polling machines work well when opposition parties win, he said dryly.