One of the most hotly contested elections in recent history is over. The Gujarat election was truly high-stakes battle for both the main contenders. BJP was battling 22 years of anti-incumbency. Besides, the state unit had to deal with the loss of the undisputed king of the state, as he moved to the centre. The State BJP had not even come close to finding a proper replacement. In state elections, the local leadership is important. The Patidar agitation was another major local issue. National issues which get magnified in Gujarat due to its high trader population are Demonetisation and GST.
The Congress too was playing a high stakes battle. In the recent Rajya Sabha elections in Gujarat, the Congress was forced to move 44 MLAs to a resort in Karnataka, after BJP had managed to woe away many of the MLAs. Congress went without a local face in Gujarat and instead projected Rahul Gandhi as the main face of the Congress challenge. Rahul on his part put almost everything at stake: His religious outlook, his party president-ship, his credibility etc.
The election results were a complete see saw. Early trends indicated a healthy lead for BJP. Soon the lead evaporated and became a neck and neck contest with the Congress. For a brief period, the Congress actually went ahead of the BJP. Soon, Congress fell back, and BJP was back into the lead. Then BJP moved ahead and after going into a sort of undefeatable lead, showed some hints of vulnerability.
Finally, as of now the BJP has secured 99 seats (leads+wins) whereas the Congress has reached 77 seats (leads+wins). A comparison purely based on seats shows that BJP’s tally has come down from the 115 seats of 2012 whereas Congress has moved up from the 61 seats its won then. But more interesting than the actual seats, is the magic of vote-share
In the 2012 assembly elections, the BJP had managed to get 47.9% of the votes, which converted to 115 seats. The Congress had gotten 38.9% of the votes, which translated to just 61 seats, in the house of 182. In the 2007 assembly elections, the BJP had secured 49.1% of the votes to get 117 seats, so a 1.2% jump in vote share resulted only 2 more seats. The Congress at that time had secured 38% votes, and 59 seats.
If we see the vote shares for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had amassed a massive 60.1% of the votes, and the Congress had crashed to 33.5%. Although the parameters and factors in state and central polls are totally different, one inference can be drawn that the Congress’s base voteshare, even during the 2014 wave, was 33.5%, i.e. 33.5% of the voters are hard-core Congress voters who do not move come what may.
Now if we look at the vote-shares of the 2017 Assembly elections in Gujarat, the picture is interesting. The BJP has improved its voteshare from the 2012 polls and is almost back to 2007 levels, with 49.1% of voteshare. This in itself is massive. A state BJP without a strong leader, on the back of 22 years anti-incumbency, with GST and Demonetization impact, improving voteshare to Modi-as-CM levels is a very good performance. In fact, in assembly elections in the last 2 decades, BJP’s best voteshare has been 49.9% in 2002, so 2017 is not far off from the best.
But the Congress has also gained quite a bit. The Congress voteshare is around 41.4% up from the 38% odd it secured in the past 2 assembly elections. The increase in Congress’s votesshare is more than BJP’s increase in voteshare, but Congress seems to have won the additional votes from Others and not from BJP.
Comparing this data with the other elections going on, in Himachal Pradesh, one sees that BJP’s lead in terms of votershare 7.7% is actually more than the margin it has in Himachal, which is 6.7%. BJP’s absolute voteshare in Himachal is 48.6% which is lower than the Gujarat number of 49.1%. In spite of higher voteshare in Gujarat, BJP is winning a higher proportion of seats in Himachal, as compared to the seats it is winning in Gujarat. The higher voteshare in Gujarat is not translating into a higher number of seats.
One inference from all this data is: BJP may have increased its margins in strongholds, Congress may have wrested a few seats in the places where the battle was closely fought, because it cornered the opposition votes which were a bit more fragmented earlier. The gains of BJP could be in seats where it was already winning, thus increasing margins, whereas Congress may have gained in seats where it was narrowly losing earlier. Hence, BJP’s seats tally has reduced, in spite of an increase in voteshare and the Congress has bettered its tally due to its increased voteshare.
What does this mean for Gujarat and the country at large? If the opposition consolidates and comes together, BJP is not invincible. We saw it in Bihar where 2 hard-core foes came together to crush the BJP. It did not work in Uttar Pradesh, where the wave was too strong for any coalition to survive. In Gujarat, a small consolidation showed that the Congress can at least put up a decent show. Come 2019, can the opposition stitch together a nationwide coalition? Samajwadi party scion has already hinted at it!