First phase of Gujarat state election is over. The second phase is on 14 December and the results will be out on 18 December. But the chances for the BJP, which has ruled Gujarat since 1995, are not looking so bright this time. There are, in fact, signs that say the BJP may lose the polls this time. Signs, that reflect in pre-poll surveys and trends in election campaign.
An opinion poll just days before the first phase of Gujarat assembly election on 9 December projected it to be neck and neck contest between Congress and the BJP. The ABP-Lokniti-CSDS survey projected equal vote share for both parties at 43 per cent. According to the survey, BJP is expected to win 91-99 seats and Congress 78-86.
Though the survey still gives the BJP more seats, when we see it in continuation of its previous pre-election surveys, we can easily see the rising graph of Congress as the campaign is progressing. The same agency in its November survey had predicted 113-121 seats for the BJP and 58-64 for Congress while its August opinion poll had given the BJP even a wider margin projecting 144-152 seats for it against Congress’ 26-32 seats.
Another set of surveys by Times Now also shows a declining graph for the BJP. Its October survey gave the BJP 118-134 seats which came down to 106-116 seats in its December tally. On the other hand, though not much rosy, the Congress pie went up from 49-61 in October to 63-73 in December.
The BJP is facing 22 years of anti-incumbency and to make matters worse this time, there are factors that can derail its juggernaut there, Narendra Modi, demonetisation, GST, atrocities against Dalits and demands of Patel reservation. Narendra Modi is not the chief minister of the state and the CSDS opinion poll showed that the trading class is not happy with demonetisation and GST. And the biggest faces of Patel reservation protests and the movement against Dalit atrocities, Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mewani, are with Congress.
DEPLOYMENT OF A LARGE TEAM TO COUNTER ONE PERSON
The BJP has unleashed its full force in the Gujarat campaign. Apart from dozens of union ministers, many chief ministers and senior BJP leaders, Narendra Modi himself has devoted fulltime to the party’s prospects in Gujarat. He is addressing multiple rallies in a day with at least a big rally scheduled in every district of the state. Though Vijay Rupani is Gujarat’s chief minister, the BJP face in the Gujarat polls is no doubt Narendra Modi. And all this is to counter a single face from Congress, Rahul Gandhi, who has been pivot of Congress’ campaign.
RELEASE OF MANIFESTO IN THE 11TH HOUR
The BJP released its manifesto just a day before the first phase of Gujarat state election. Though the party quoted busy campaign schedule and technicalities behind this delay, the truth is, the BJP move came after Congress made it an electoral issue with Rahul Gandhi calling it a disrespect to the people of Gujarat. Congress had released its manifesto on 4 December.
RAHUL GANDHI’S UNORTHODOX MOVES
Two stands taken by Rahul Gandhi stand out here, saying he is a mature politician now and can take his journey as Congress’ president further. First, he had issued a written instruction to his party leaders last month not to launch personal attacks against Narendra Modi, seeing how a long list of below the belt comments by Congress leaders targeting Narendra Modi had hit the party’s electoral prospects, be it Sonia Gandhi’s ‘maut ka saudagar’ (merchant of death) or Mani Shankar Aiyar’s ‘chaiwala’ or his very own ‘khoon ki dalali’ in last year.
Second, he immediately got Mani Shankar Aiyar suspended from the Congress party for his ‘neech aadmi’ (vile man) comment on Modi saying, “The Congress has a different culture and heritage and I do not appreciate the tone and language used by Mr Mani Shankar Aiyer to address the PM and both, the Congress and I expect him to apologise for what he said.”
While asserting that “the BJP and PM routinely use filthy language to attack the Congress party”, Rahul, at the same time, denied the BJP the plausibility of using Congress’ personal attacks on Narendra Modi in its favour. And it is evident from the fact that Aiyar’s ‘neech aadmi’ jibe could not get much echo beyond few rallies.
Rahul Gandhi started his Gujarat election campaign from Dwarka and has visited several temples across the state so far while on the campaign trail. He has declared his family and himself ‘Shiv bhakts’ (devotees of Lord Shiva) and is trying consciously to adopt the Soft Hindutva image to counter the BJP’s Hindutva politics. And it seems he has been successful so far in his attempts.
Otherwise the BJP would not have made Rahul Gandhi’s religion such a big issue, and that too based on a fake news. The BJP went big time saying Rahul was not a Hindu as he signed a non-Hindu visitor’s register during his Somnath Temple visit, a claim which was later refuted by the Somnath Temple trust.
‘DEVELOPMENT IN GUJARAT’ NARRATIVE MISSING
The BJP initially said its poll plank was all about development in Gujarat, something that would speak for itself. To counter it, Congress mounted a well-lubricated social media campaign focusing on ‘how development in the state had gone crazy’. But one look at BJP campaign speeches and one can easily see the development plank missing from there, something even its ally Shiv Sena pointed out today in its editorial Saamna.
DRAGGING PAKISTAN AND CHINA IN GUJARAT POLLS
The final days of campaigning in Gujarat has seen Narendra Modi and the BJP dragging in the issue of China and Pakistan meddling in Gujarat polls with Narendra Modi going as far as to allege that many including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had a secret meeting involving the High Commissioner of Pakistan and an ex-Pakistani minister to discuss the Gujarat election.
There have also been allegations that Mani Shankar Aiyar colluded with Pakistan and even put out a contract to eliminate Narendra Modi. But the issue is not finding much traction as evident from the media coverage of elections. Apart from few news outlets, most of them are desisting from taking any stand on these allegations and counter-allegations.