Of the two forthcoming assembly elections—Himachal Pradesh in north and Gujarat in west—the polls in the western state in December will be keenly contested and watched as it could determine the politics and pre-poll alliances ahead of the 2019 General Elections.
The elections to the 182 assembly seats in Gujarat are not just about voting the BJP to power for the fifth consecutive time. It could also mean voting the saffron party out of power. More than that, these have high stakes for the BJP and the principal opponent, Congress-led rainbow coalition.
Significantly, more than the BJP, the stakes are higher for India’s two powerful politicians in the ruling establishment.
It is the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP national president, Amit Shah. Therefore, it is a matter of personal prestige for them to catapult the party to power in the state. Or else it would provide enough ammunition to those silent majorities within the saffron party to question the duo’s efficacy in winning elections.
Gujarat will witness two-phased polling for its new assembly on December 9 and 14. The State has around 4.3 million voters, and the counting for Gujarat polls will take place on December 18, same day as in Himachal Pradesh.
This is the first time in 15 years that Gujarat would be facing assembly elections without Narendra Modi at the helm. Modi, who had been the chief minister since 2001, brought the BJP to power in the 2002, 2007, 2012 assembly elections.
Modi led the BJP in the 2014 General Elections and became the Prime Minister of India. Following this, the reins of Gujarat went to Anandiben Patel, who was succeeded by Vijay Rupani on August 7 last year.
Now, the BJP president, Shah has set a higher target for the 2017 assembly elections. The BJP had won 127 seats in the 2002 assembly elections, 117 in 2007 and 116 seats in 2012. If the BJP were to get less than 92 seats—the minimum required for forming the government— then the Modi juggernaut is open to challenges and will galvanise opposition forces for the 2019 elections. It had won all 26 Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
It will also have a strong bearing on states, such as Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where elections will be held before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Realising the challenges in his home turf, Modi has been making visits to Gujarat. In October alone he visited thrice to inaugurate several projects. It is not without reason that the Prime Minister has kept himself busy in his home state.
He is still being sought after to steer the party to power for the fourth time. Shah wants BJP to improve its tally from 120 to 150 in the 182-member house. It is because of this tall and tough order that the party believes that only Modi’s personality can bring triumph. The party believes that no BJP leader can match the popularity and persona of Modi.
Prime Minister Modi is scheduled to address dozens of public rallies and hold roadshows around development and growth. The party’s campaign “Hun chuvikas, hunchu Gujarat” (I am development, I am Gujarat) is woven around its star campaigner, Modi. This is similar to the 2012 campaign slogan: “Hun Modi no manaschu” (I am Modi’s man).
So the BJP is building the campaign strategy for the assembly elections around Prime Minister Modi and the Gujarat Development Model.
This is apparent from how the current incumbent chief minister, Vijay Rupani, does not miss an opportunity to praise Modi’s model of development and how the state prospered under his 13-year rule.
Modi had recently said that the Legislative Assembly polls will be a battle between “vikaswad” (development) and “vanshwad” (dynastic rule) in which his “development agenda’’ will triumph over the Congress’ “dynastic politics”.
Stake for Rahul Gandhi
Much like Modi and his man Shah, stakes are quite high for Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, who is expected to take over the reins of the 132-year-old party by December end this year. This is not out of choice but due to sheer compulsion.
In March this year, the Election Commission had issued an ultimatum to the Congress by extending the deadline to hold the organisational polls by December 31, 2017. The Congress had deferred the organisational elections after Sonia’s five-year term as party chief ended in 2015. She became party chief in 1998 and is the longest-serving party president.
Rahul Gandhi has been making visits, attracting crowds and hitting headlines. He has also been trying to forge an alliance with a trinity of young turks— Alpesh Thakor of the other backward classes (OBC), Hardik Patel of the Patidar community, and Dalit leader Jignesh Patel— to defeat the BJP.
Now it is to be seen how much the coalition led by Rahul Gandhi will make a dent in the Saffron stronghold.
Even as the pains of demonetisation and poor implementation are being raked up by Gandhi in his election rallies in Gujarat, the party has to make up its mind on the reservation in educational institutions and jobs for the Patels. The Congress has a history of alienating the Patels for the last three decades now. Way back in 1985 Madhavsinh Solanki of the Congress party had devised a new electoral alliance of KHAM —Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim —to keep the Congress party in power. However, this backfired as Patel took to the streets, fuelling anti-reservation riots in the state.
Now Hardik Patel, who leads the Patel Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), had demanded that the Congress clarify its stand by November 3, when the party’s vice president, Rahul Gandhi addresses a rally in Surat. The deadline has been extended to November 7.
However, any move to appease the Patels by promising them reservations under the OBC quota will lead to a backlash from the community that forms 40 per cent of Gujarat’s population.
Now it is to be seen who will feast on the fruits of this discontent! Just wait and watch.