By Harihar Swarup
With the Election Commission firing the starter’s gun for the Gujarat assembly elections, one thing is clear. The real fight is over who is best positioned to challenged the multi—decade positioned political hegemony of BJP. Will it be AAP or Congress?
So it A (APP) versus B (BJP) versus C (Congress)? What will decide the outcome is vote share performance of A. The big question is: Will A win at the cost of C, or both B and C, and what proportion? If B loses less than C, it will sweep the elections, assuming A’s vote share does not result in significant seat gains.
However, there is now an M factor—the Morbi bridge tragedy that killed 135 people and injured many more—that could impact the outcome, either locally or regionally. While it isdifficult to precisely plot the impact of this tragedy on voter intentions, there is little doubt that both Congress and AAP will be raising the issue aggressively, to BJP’s discomfiture. That’s one reason why BJP’s own M factor—Modi rushed to commiserate with the victims and the hospitalized.
The stakes are high for every party. Congress will be seeking to re-establish its hold in large parts of the state; BJP will want to show that it can make gains even in difficult political terrain.
In 2017, BJP won a cliff-hanger with 99 seats in the182 strong assembly. Its tally was down 16 seats from 2012. The party had probably become too complacent after its thumping victories in UP and Uttarakhand earlier that year. But this time it is not taking anything for granted.
In fact, after winning UP convincingly last March, the PM hotfooted it to Gujarat for a political road–show in Ahmedabad. Both he and Amit Shah have no stone unturned to ensure that there is no scope for error in judging the people mood.
Three massive projects—Vedanta Foxxcon semiconductor, the Airbus—Tata military transport plane and the ArcelorMittal—Nippon Steel expansion—have been announced.
The Pradhan Mantri Rozar Mela and Ayodhya Deepotsav were used to send strong electoral messages about growth and jobs under Modi, not to speak of maintaining Hindu “Astha”.
In September last year, BJP thought to secure its core vote among the Patel by replacing the lackluster Vijay Rupani with Bhupendra Patel as CM.
However, it will be wrong to assume that the BJP is home and dry, as we cannot know the precise impact of the entry of AAP and the Morbi tragedy. AAP made a clean debut in Gujarat last year, when it won 27 seats in the Surat municipal elections. While both BJP and AAP gained (BJP won the other 93 seats in Surat’s municipal body) the rout of the Congress in the municipal polls, was significant.
While it would be a folly to project the Surat local body electoral outcome last year onto to whole state, it is nevertheless indicative of the possibility of a split in the anti-incumbency vote between Congress and AAP. If this happens across the state, it can only benefit BJP.
However, this too is a simplistic view. Congress has strong roots in rural areas and the tribal belt where AAP has minimal presence.
It would be highly imprudent to write off the Congress as a spent force. Just as it would be premature to presume that AAP will eat only into Congress vote and not BJP’s.
As an urban party with huge success in the only in the Delhi and Punjab, AAP has potential in urban area, which have been BJP’s traditional grounds in Gujarat.
An ABP-C voter pre-poll survey showed a massive BJP victory, its seventh since 1995, despite a lower vote share, thanks to a split in the anti-BJP vote between Congress and AAP. Pre-poll vote share analysis can occasionally go wrong, but what seems plausible is that AAP will gain vote share, making in a future challenger for BJP after 2024, and especially in 2027 assembly elections, if Congress caves in.
Even though it seems unlikely that Gujarat will see a major political upset, it would not be right to write off either APP’s chances or Congress’s, since they can still pull off new rabbits from their hats. A few days ago, in a bid to woo the Hindu vote, Arvind Kejriwal suggested the currency notes should be printed with images of Lakshmi and Ganesh. Congress, like AAP, could be promising more “ravadis”, including free power and water. These may be economically deleterious but can be politically rewarding.
A three-horse race is always exciting, and even one assumes if one assumes that the broad results will tilt in the expected direction, the importance of the December 8 results date is that it will tell us if there is an impending shift in the underlying tectonic plates that could impact future elections. We will continue to live in interesting times. (IPA Service)