BJP outclasses itself : The Tribune India

gujarat verdict

BJP outclasses itself

Indeed, if the BJP normalised the use of ‘pro-incumbency’ in its political lexicon, it cannot be accused of hyperbole because every cavil was followed by copious praise for the ‘achievements’ of the Gujarat and Central governments under Modi, with people unwilling to brook interjections and arguments. The BJP ensured that Modi’s personality so dominated every inch of its electioneering that dissidence was quelled in Gujarat.

BJP outclasses itself

EPIC VICTORY: The BJP has surpassed its previous scores and those of the Congress in Gujarat. PTI

Radhika Ramaseshan

Senior Journalist

THE BJP recorded an epic victory in the Gujarat Assembly elections, surpassing its previous scores and those of the Congress. The latter was decimated in its erstwhile stronghold which, along with Maharashtra, it claimed as its own ever since Gujarat was carved out as a separate state in 1960.

The Congress had clung on to a respectable position after the BJP made a spectacular debut in 1995, winning seats in the 40-plus range. It has now plummeted way down from a decent figure of 77 seats bagged in 2017, the decline marking a near-complete wipeout from western India because today even in Maharashtra, the Congress is a shadow of its former self. The Gujarat outcome has all but eliminated the Congress in northern and western India, barring a presence in smaller pockets such as Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh.

The BJP, now in its seventh term, had set its sights on the 150-plus mark as a trophy to be bagged for two reasons. It would beat its own electoral best of 127 (2002 elections) and outperform former Congress Chief Minister Madhavsinh Solanki, who chalked up a historic 149 seats in the 1985 polls.

From 2017, when the BJP was down to its worst showing of 99 seats, it resolved to not only retrieve the lost ground which it did by winning all 26 Lok Sabha seats in 2019, but also outclass Solanki’s victory that began hurting it.

While Solanki achieved his career best by riding on the crest of a social formula that knitted together four communities — the Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims — into a winnable whole, the BJP had more than caste formulas to help it reach the peak on December 8.

True, much as it feigned a studied indifference to the role of caste in electoral politics, the BJP’s singular achievement under Modi was coalescing the backward castes (accounting for nearly 50 per cent of Gujarat’s population) as a counter against the rising supremacy of the Patidars or Patels, who, ironically, formed its core constituency since 1995.

In 2012 itself, before the Patidars had hit the streets to demand reservation in education and jobs, Modi sensed it was futile to anchor the BJP’s politics on the community. In 2017, the loss of the Patidar votes was compensated by the support from the backward castes which enabled the BJP to tide over a potential defeat.

Five years ago, the BJP was beset with adverse social circumstances created by caste-driven agitations and economic distress, resulting from demonetisation and the arrival of the GST regime.

This time, the negatives were missing or vastly diluted by the correctives. Discontent prevailed among economic and social groupings. The dairy farmers of north Gujarat complained of declining returns from milk produce because of the escalating cost of cattle feed and fodder; the tobacco growers of central Gujarat were still hurt by the GST. But the dissatisfaction did not intensify into anger and add up to an overarching narrative against a double-barrelled BJP government because in the mind of the voters, Gujarat was synonymous with the Centre, and by implication, Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Inflation featured in every conversation I had with voters as did the sub-par quality of state-serviced education and healthcare. People’s grouses were eventually subsumed into an all-encompassing sentiment emanating from a strong desire to keep Modi in power in Gandhinagar (by proxy) and Delhi. They reasoned, illogically, that a vote against the BJP in Gujarat segued into a negative point for Modi-as-PM and could even destabilise his government in Delhi.

Indeed, if the BJP normalised the use of “pro-incumbency” in its political lexicon, it cannot be accused of hyperbole because every cavil was followed by copious praise for the “achievements” of the Gujarat and Central governments under Modi, with people unwilling to brook interjections and arguments.

The fact that the BJP changed a CM midway (Vijay Rupani made way for the incumbent Bhupendrabhai Patel), retooled Rupani’s entire cabinet, eased out old and entrenched leaders such as Nitin Patel with an independent mass base, confronted rebellion after several sitting MLAs were dropped, that did not impact the outcome.

It testified to the BJP’s ability to virtually relegate the state leaders and candidates to the margins and ensure that Modi’s personality dominated every inch of its electioneering. Thus dissidence, that might have played a spoiler in Himachal Pradesh, was quelled in Gujarat.

Of course, this scale of victory was not possible if the Opposition was even half-way robust. The Congress managed to put up some kind of a fight even in the 27 years it was out of power but the absence of Ahmed Patel, Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary who steered its ship in choppy waters, and the lack of a state leader laid bare the deficiencies in its organisation. Gujarat is a stepchild of the AICC and it was an oft-heard refrain in local Congress offices.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), an early bird in the campaign, doubtless aroused curiosity and even hope in the electorate from the economically less well-off sections and young professionals and students. Bereft of a grassroots infrastructure, the AAP could not disseminate its agenda and messages to the extent its leaders would have expected. The AAP was punching above its weight in Gujarat.

Gujarat’s significance in the BJP’s political scheme cannot be overemphasised. LK Advani, who for long was an MP from Gandhinagar, extolled it as a jewel in the BJP’s crown. The “jewel” lost some of its lustre in the first seven years of the BJP’s rule, owing to factionalism. Modi’s arrival in 2001 ensured that the acquisition recovered its glory.

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