Facing 20 years of anti-incumbency, Gujarat Assembly elections won’t be a cakewalk for the BJP

Riding high on the unprecedented victory in Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, BJP President Amit Shah has set the target of over 150 out of 182 seats in upcoming Gujarat Assembly elections. While the BJP does stand more than very good chance of winning the elections, 150 is a bit overambitious. Before we delve deeper into what to expect, let us quickly go through Gujarat’s history in politics.

The BJP is facing 20 years of anti-incumbency in the state. It was in 1995 when the BJP came to power with majority and formed the state government with Keshubhai Patel as the Chief Minister. Shankersinh Vaghela, an active RSS member who was even jailed during the Emergency, was not favoured by Narendra Modi, the then national general secretary of the BJP. Soon after that, Vaghela led a coup against Patel and flew about 45 supporting MLAs to Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh, where Congress’ Digvijaya Singh was the Chief Minister. In 1996, Vaghela broke out of the BJP and started his own political outfit Rashtriya Janta Party, and formed the government in Gujarat in coalition with the Congress.

However, Vaghela’s reign as chief minister was short-lived. Elections were held in February-March 1998 and BJP again came to power. Right after the earthquake which hit Gujarat in January 2001, there was a tremendous wave of anger against Keshubhai Patel. There were allegations of corruption in the Patel government and people were unhappy for him not doing enough for those affected by the earthquake. In October, 2001, BJP replaced Patel with Mod as the Chief Minister of Gujarat to adress these issues.

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While Modi led the rescue work, on 27th February, 2002, the Godhra carnage took place, followed by wide-spread riots. Modi was less than 5 months old as chief minister of a state, with not-so-friendly colleagues (as many were also Keshubhai loyalists, and some didn’t like working under such a junior leader). Neighbouring states, too, were hostile and did little to help curb the riots.

Despite things going wrong, in the Legislative Assembly, people of Gujarat yet again voted for the BJP in the assembly elections later that year. Except, this time, they were voting for Narendra Damodardas Modi. The BJP got 127 seats whereas Congress were reduced to 51 seats. In subsequent elections in 2007 and 2012, people voted for the BJP. As on today, the BJP stands at 120 out of 182 seats whereas Congress has been reduced to 43 seats after the exodus of Congress MLAs, including Shankersinh Vaghela and his son, to the BJP in August this year during the Rajya Sabha elections.

Congress, too, has had a dark history in Gujarat. One of the primary reason the BJP came to power with thumping majority was they promised the discrimination Congress was doing to communities because of vote bank politics. In the 1980s, Madhavsinh Solanki, father of current President of Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee, introduced the divisive “KHAM” (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim) theory. The first half of the 1980s saw some of the worst inter-caste riots in Gujarat, which quickly escalated to communal riots. There was rise of crime, including bootlegging and don-wars. Don Latif flourished his bootlegging business, and getting rid of anti-social elements like Latif was the plank BJP used in 1995 which brought them to power.

However, with 20 years being in power, the state BJP seems to have peaked and reached a saturation point. Of these 20 odd years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the chief minister for little over 12 years. In the 3 years that Modi has moved to Centre, Gujarat has had 2 chief ministers.

The two years of Anandiben Patel were plagued with allegations of corruption, Patidar agitation, Dalit agitation and the omnipresent ‘Ben ne kuch nahin kiya’ was the reaction everyone had when asked about the new chief minister of Gujarat. After Anandiben’s unceremonious departure, Nitin Patel was second in command. He would have been the favoured choice for chief minister for two reasons: seniority and Patidar leader with stronghold in Mehsana, North Gujarat. However, even as Nitin Patel accepted congratulations from a news channel without formal announcement and had to face embarrassment as Vijay Rupani, an RSS leader from Rajkot and former Member of Parliament, was chosen as the Chief Minister.

Rupani, too, hasn’t had his share of criticism. He has been accused of being a rubber stamp chief minister who has little say in matters of governing the state. While Rupani has shown his unwavering loyalty towards Modi and the BJP, it is unfair to dismiss him such. He has 12 years of Modi’s ‘development model’ shadow and 2 years of Anandiben’s ‘corruption’ model to erase to make a space for himself as a genuine people’s person.

The issues, other than the personality clash, that will hound Rupani during the 2017 elections are lack of job opportunity in Gujarat, the unresolved Dalit and Patidar agitation issues and the mother of all – twenty long years of anti-incumbency. But what might work in his favour is lack of leadership, direction and credibility of Gujarat Congress and non-existence of Aam Aadmi Party. Hardik Patel has turned into a joke himself and no one except the Left-leaning mainstream media gives him any importance. Rumours are rife that another Dalit leader Alpesh Thakor might join either the BJP or Congress. That leaves us with Jignesh Mewani, former AAP leader and lawyer, who will not let the Dalit agitation die down. This, poses a serious threat since the mainstream media will pick it, even if he hasn’t picked up steam on ground, and discuss it on prime time.

People are unhappy with the colossal money spent on Narmada Mahotsav and Japanese PM Abe Shinzo’s visit when the roads of Ahmedabad are still full of potholes even 2 months after the devastating flood of July. Voter is not seeing the future of metro and bullet train. Voter is seeing the Corporation, which is led by the BJP, not doing anything, coupled with all other issues a common man is facing.

BJP Gujarat’s leaders seem far from ground reality and their social media presence seems limited to trending hashtags whenever there is a Modi visit to the state. On the other hand, Opposition has rolled up their sleeves.

There are a few social media campaign pages too, “Vikas Gaando Chhe” (Vikas has gone mad) mocking Modi’s “Vikas” plank. While it may or may not convert into votes for Congress, it will at least make people wonder if the BJP in Gujarat is capable of leading after Modi’s departure to Delhi.

Having said that, the BJP still stands more than fair chance of winning clear majority because Congress leaders in Gujarat have never been in power enough to be credible option. Along with that, Rahul Gandhi, who has ended up being an international embarrassment, doesn’t quite stand a chance with the enterprising Gujaratis.

While Gujarat Assembly elections may not end up as nail-biting climax as Uttar Pradesh Assembly election, we do expect a few twists and turns and a lot of drama.


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