While a jittery BJP is likely to win another term, AAP’s challenge is the talk of the town.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, which has won six consecutive assembly elections in Gujarat, may face a tough fight in the December round of elections to the 15th Gujarat Assembly. The two-party battle between the Congress and the BJP has opened this year with a wide-ranging contest, with an ambitious Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) throwing its hat into the ring. Also, disgruntled BJP and Congress workers have filed nominations as independents, while the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) is also fielding candidates in some seats, all of which have the potential to turn the election on its head. .
Observers in Gujarat said if the elections to the 182-seat assembly are anything to go by, the results could spring a few surprises.
Party officials, workers and commentators in Gujarat frontline Speaking to, there was a change in the mood compared to the previous elections where the BJP dominated.
AAP has complicated Gujarat’s electoral tradition of a bipolar contest. Reacting to the new entry, the BJP launched a high-decibel campaign, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi reportedly making more visits to his home state than ever before.
The beleaguered Congress, which clearly could still win a significant number of seats, is doing little to take advantage of whatever support it still has. It is not clear what is AIMIM’s strategy, but there is every possibility that the party may spoil the game in some areas.
Community Factors Versus Issues
So, who are the voters of Gujarat voting for in this election? In the past caste and community identity overpowered all other factors. Candidate selection was always based on the social mobility of an area. While the issues played a role, they did not necessarily change the voting pattern.
This year, however, the AAP has focused on raising issues that resonate with people – inflation, unemployment, neglect of agriculture, health, education and small business. Across parties, campaign workers said the disillusionment associated with the anti-incumbency wave was unusually visible. The mismanagement of COVID-19, which resulted in lakhs of deaths, is like a cloud over this election. So, amid the issues raised by the AAP and the widespread discontent, voting behavior may go beyond caste.
Read also: AAP has made a strong entry in the political fray in Gujarat.
Rohit Prajapati, a rights activist tracking the campaign across the state, said: “The BJP will win but it will not be the popular vote. Based on candidate selection and maths, they will win more number of seats. However, we anticipate that the vote share will be less.”
He said: “We find tremendous resentment and discontent in many pockets. Unlike the last elections, I feel people are more vocal this time on issues. The mood is definitely not as encouraging as before. It seems BJP is trying to Aware and making strategy accordingly.
The 2017 election was a close call and the party knows it cannot take victory lightly. Despite the Modi factor, the party’s vote share then stood at 49.05 per cent, while the Congress got 41.44 per cent votes. BJP won 99 seats and Congress won 77 seats.
Achyut Yagnik, founder of Setu: Center for Social Knowledge and Action, said: “This election has been a lackluster one. With the Congress showing no imagination, there is virtually no major opposition to the BJP. In fact, the old Congress supporters in the tribal belt would probably vote for the BJP because of the inefficiency of the Congress. However, there are some pockets like Saurashtra and South Gujarat where both AAP and Congress can get some seats.
Yagnik said caste would still play a role, but added that the rise of Hindu sects could be even more influential. For example, Swami Narayan and Swadhyaya groups have massive followings. He said: “Hindutva has taken over caste. Hindutva is their trump card if all else fails. Urban Gujarat is all saffron, cultivated entirely by the BJP. It is certain that this block will trust no one else.”
Additionally, the BJP has garnered the support of the Patidar community (Patels) by giving tickets to 44 members of the community. In 2017, the BJP and Patidars were at loggerheads over the reservation issue, which erupted and became a major headache for the ruling party.
According to the 2011 census, the religious composition of Gujarat is 88.6 percent Hindu, 9.7 percent Muslim, 1 percent Jain, 0.5 percent Christian, and marginal Sikh and Buddhist populations. The census does not give caste breakdown, but research by SETU shows that Other Backward Classes (OBCs) constitute 43 per cent of the population, Patidars 12.6 per cent, tribal people 15 per cent and Scheduled Castes 8 per cent.
Before the 1980 assembly elections, veteran Congress leader Madhavsinh Solanki released the Kham formula (Koli Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims) with an agenda to build vote banks and promised reservation to OBCs and minorities among them.
The strategy worked and Congress came to power by winning 141 seats. A Congress candidate said the party had decided to follow the same strategy this time too, but it may not be able to produce the results of 1980, as candidates needed better matching of constituencies.
woo tribal votes
The tribal and scheduled caste population of Gujarat is much higher than in many other states and they are an important factor in the political strategy of any party at the time of elections.
Anand Mazgaonkar, an environmental and rights activist working in tribal areas, said: “The fact that the BJP government in the last few months has rolled back several major projects affecting the tribal belt is reason enough to believe that that they are concerned.”
Read also: BJP hopes to overcome anti-incumbency wave
He said: “There is no one overarching issue. But there is a lot of discontent. There is no momentum on the ground. It has always been a buzzword in the BJP’s campaign but this time there is no push. The fact is they are again being asked about Modi’s life.” But had to resort to danger, that means they are grasping at straws.
Prajapati said: “The bullet train launch took away a large part of their [tribal] land. We do not believe that the compensation was sufficient. People can see injustice.
division of votes
Broadly speaking, the urban, upper- to middle-income groups vote for the BJP, while the Congress finds support in some rural areas and from tribal and scheduled caste sections. Additionally, the grand old party enjoys the support of 9 per cent of the state’s Muslim population. Interestingly, the Congress rarely fields a proportionate number of Muslim candidates. This time there are only four in the final list of the party.
Observers said the anti-incumbency vote would go towards the AAP as people are curious about the new party and are fed up with the Congress, especially after several MLAs defected to the BJP.
An open rebellion broke out in the BJP after 42 sitting MLAs were denied tickets. State party leaders justified the move by saying that they were looking at the “winnability” factor. It is likely that the party had to accommodate several Congress defectors. A BJP functionary said that since many candidates were sure of victory, the party would not take the risk of changing them.
Indira Hirve, an Ahmedabad-based economist, said: “It has been an unfair campaign. The prime minister used his position to announce all kinds of projects. Other parties do not have this advantage. Want to win. A lot is at stake, especially with 2024 round the corner.
Champalal Bothra, a veteran Congress leader from Surat who was denied a ticket, said: “You are a surprise factor. He has a good chance of getting three or four seats in Saurashtra and one or two seats in North Gujarat. You have launched a vigorous campaign. People are looking very angry with BJP. It is a misconception that AAP will only cut into Congress votes. They can also affect BJP’s stronghold in urban areas.
Many commentators say that if the AAP makes a significant dent in this key state, the road to 2024 will take a new turn.
The BJP is likely to win the upcoming Gujarat Assembly elections, but with a lower vote share.
AAP’s focus on raising issues that resonate with people may come as a surprise to some.
There is widespread resentment against the BJP in the tribal areas of the state.
Anti-incumbency wave can eat into Congress votes. The rise of Hindu sects can also influence the results.