The Gujarat Assembly Elections 2017 mandate is notable not so much for BJP’s victory but for the sizeable shrinking of support for BJP, not only since the 2012 Assembly Elections but since the 2014 Parliamentary Elections.
The election campaign was marked by increasing desperation on part of the BJP and its leadership team of Modi and Amit Shah. The winter session of Parliament was postponed, the entire cabinet camped in Gujarat, neglecting every other issue in the country. The Prime Minister fell silent on the “Gujarat Model of development” that had been the main theme of his speeches in 2014 and in Assembly elections in all other states. Instead he attempted theatrics of flying in on a seaplane, and then fell back on the BJP’s last straw: an open, vicious, communally divisive campaign.
With the Prime Minister himself leading from the top, the BJP’s rhetoric used the acronym of ‘HAJ’ for the trio of young leaders in Gujarat challenging the BJP (Hardik-Alpesh-Jignesh) to insinuate that they were a proxy for Muslims. Congress and its leaders were compared to Aurangzeb and Khilji. The Ram Mandir issue was exploited to the hilt. And finally, a visibly desperate Prime Minister resorted to the ploy of claiming that his predecessor was conspiring with Pakistan to install Ahmad Patel – a Muslim – as Gujarat’s Chief Minister! He also pounced on a faux-pas by Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyer to project himself as a victim and put himself at the centre of the campaign.
The very large number of instances of malfunctioning of EVMs and VVPAT machines in the Gujarat elections, combined with the fact that victory margins were between 200 and 2000 votes in as many as 16 seats, raised questions of EVM tampering. The Election Commission to realize that not only must elections to be free and fair, they must be perceived as such, and onus is on the EC to set all doubts at rest.
It is evident that in spite of having pulled out all the stops and resorted to every possible trick in the book, the BJP’s stature stands considerably diminished in every way, while it is the Opposition in Gujarat that has emerged rejuvenated. It is also notable that 5 cabinet ministers of the BJP lost the elections, as did the Congress MLAs who had joined the BJP, and BJP lost the seat in Vadnagar, Modi’s own hometown.
With 99 seats, the BJP has been reduced to two digits: just a few seats above the midway mark and considerably less than the 115 it polled in 2012. Sitting Chief Minister Rupani had declared before the elections, that questions would be raised even if the party’s tally were to fall one or two seats below last elections’ tally of 115.
The erosion in the support for the BJP is even vaster if one compares it with its 2014 Lok Sabha performance. If the BJP were to have repeated its 2014 Lok Sabha performance as it did in Uttar Pradesh, it would have won 162 seats out of the total 182. Amit Shah’s boasts of achieving 150 seats and wiping out the Opposition ring very hollow now.
It is clear that agrarian distress and unemployment were issues that resonated with the Gujarati voter in this election, especially with the rural voter. These issues and concerns called the bluff of the ‘Gujarat Model’, and withstood the shrill, divisive hate-speech, resulting in 80 seats for Congress and its allies.
The Congress, in spite of the encouraging response it got on issues of livelihood and the economy, chose to stick to a policy of visible temple-hopping and silence on issues of communal violence. But it is encouraging indeed to see that activists like Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mevani did not shy away from exposing the divisive communal politics of Modi and the BJP, and received considerable support in this endeavour. The Himachal Pradesh results are more or less as expected, with the Congress Government’s corrupt image helping the BJP win a comfortable victory. Here too, it is notable that the BJP’s Chief Ministerial candidate lost a close-fought election.
With Jignesh Mevani’s victory from Vadgam in Gujarat and the victory of a CPIM candidate in Himachal Pradesh, it is to be hoped that the politics of people’s movements will find its voice inside the Gujarat and Himachal Assemblies.
The Gujarat elections, far from confirming the BJP boasts of a ‘Congress-mukt’ and ‘Opposition-mukt’ political arena for the 2019 Parliamentary Polls, has in fact badly shaken Modi’s and the BJP’s image of invincibility and rejuvenated the opposition. It has also boosted the confidence of the forces of movements of resistance to fascism by confirming that divisive hate politics has its limits and can be eroded; that the myth of Modi’s ‘development’ agenda has received a blow; and that common people’s issues of livelihood and welfare can indeed resonate strongly in elections.