2nd phase of Gujarat elections: A bigger challenge for BJP

3 months ago, the BJP thought that it would be able to retain the state without breaking into a sweat but a combination of the Patidar agitation, demonetisation and GST gave Congress a glimmer of hope

Photo courtesy: Twitter
Photo courtesy: Twitter

Rahul Pandey

The landmark election in Gujarat has entered its final lap and as voters cast their ballots on Thursday, they could be voting for the biggest political upset in recent political history. The outcome of the second phase would depend on BJP’s ability to retain its base in in Ahmedabad and Vadodara and the Congress’ capacity to hold its ground in rural Gujarat.

The second and final phase of the poll is expected to be an extremely close affair as inputs from the ground suggest that the BJP would come several notches down from the 63 seats it had won in the 2012 polls. The second phase, with its political complexities, could emerge as a bigger challenge for the BJP as its traditional political equations have been dismantled.

BJP had a 7.6 per cent lead over the Congress in the 93 seats that go to polls on Thursday, winning 52 seats against 39 seats for the Congress,  the remaining two seats were won by the NCP and an Independent. The overall figures, however, need to be dissected for us to understand what is really happening on the ground.

Ahmedabad and Vadodra are the among two largest districts in the state these two districts have 31 seats in the 182-member Gujarat Vidhan Sabha. The BJP won 26 of these 31 seats, against four for the Congress, and ended up with a lead of 25.5 per cent in Ahmedabad and 16.9 per cent in Vadodra. The political equation in the remaining 62 seats was opposite. The Congress won 35 of these 62 seats against 26 for the BJP. In terms of vote share, the BJP’s lead is a mere 0.2 per cent.

The BJP’s has historically been strong in Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodra and Rajkot. The BJP’s base in Surat had suffered extensive damage due to demonetisation and GST while the Patel agitation with the farmer distress made an impact in Rajkot, Ahmedabad and Vadodra have also had their share of problems during the Patel agitation but considering that the BJP had a 25 per cent lead in 2012 in Ahmedabad, dislodging the BJP would not be easy.

The Ahmedabad district has 21 Vidhan Sabha sears and the BJP won 17 of them. The Congress won four seats in the district but three of them came from the outskirts and the Congress could have won Jamalpur–Khadia had it been a straight contest. The situation in Vadodra was worse for the Congress as it drew a blank, BJP won nine of the 10 seats while Independent candidate Ketanbhai Inamdar won the Savli seat.

The 26 seats in Ahmedabad and Vadodra form the core of the BJP’s poll equation the Congress would be happy if can make a big enough dent. While an even split in these two districts would put the Congress in a winning position, the Congress would be happy if they can keep the BJP at 20 or below.

The outcome of the 2017 Gujarat polls could come down the rural areas that go to polls in phase two. The Congress would like to increase its tally from 35 seats to 45 and push the BJP down from 26 to around 15. The outcome on these seats will depend on the way the complex political factors play out.

The Congress’ equations in these seats were built on its KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Muslim, Adivasi) social alliance and the presence of Shankarsinh Vaghela helped. While Vaghela’s exit from the Congress has made election management easier fort he party, it might create some problems for the party. The question is if Alpesh Thakore would be able to make up for the loss, which is not unlikely, considering the Vaghela has been missing from the overall poll narrative and the overall mood among the farming communities.

The Patidar factor, could, however, be the deciding factor in these seats. The BJP has been fielding a large number of Kshatriya candidates in seats where the Patels and Kshatriya were evenly matched, comfortable in the thought that it could count on support from the Patels for the BJP. With the BJP’s popularity among the Patels taking a hit, the BJP would have to rework its political formula.

The Patidar factor, however, could put the BJP in serious problems as almost half of the 26 BJP MLAs from phase two seats outside Ahmedabad and Vadodra come from the Patel community. The BJP would have serious problems in retaining these seats, almost completely negating whatever advantage the BJP would have got by Vaghela’s exit.

The BJP prides itself in running a ruthless election management machine and is known to plan their elections to the last dot. Three months ago, the BJP thought that it would be able to retain the state without breaking into a sweat but a combination of the Patidar agitation, demonetisation and GST gave Congress a glimmer of hope and it has been able to keep control of the election narrative, pushing the BJP out of its comfort zone.

A big BJP win in Gujarat looks unlikely, a narrow win would be seen as defeat on their home ground while a Congress win could possibly alter the direction of contemporary Indian politics. Lets see how it plays out.

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