SIGNS THAT SHOW BJP IS WORRIED IN GUJARAT

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.

PRE-POLL SURVEYS

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.

RELIGION CARD

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.

©SantoshChaubey

BJP’S 70% VS CONGRESS’ 11%

Even if we go by the Congress’ claim that it won three states, Punjab, Goa and Manipur, in the recently concluded assembly polls, it still adds nothing significant to the spread of its influence – geographically as well as in terms of the human headcount. The Congress party has effectively lost the electoral space to act as a national alternative to the BJP.

Assembly elections were held in five states, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur these results of which were announced on March 11. The BJP had swept Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand while its alliance with the SAD had seen a crushing defeat in Punjab where it was in the ruling coalition since 2007. The Congress had emerged as the largest party in Goa and Manipur but the BJP stitched the numbers fast to form coalition governments in both of these states.

The BJP and its allies were already ruling over 60% of India’s geographical area with 43% of its population before the March 11 verdict, and the sweep this time has taken it to around 70% of the landmass and 58% of the population.

With Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur in BJP’s stable, the BJP and its allies are now the ruling party/coalition in 17 Indian states while the Congress, that has ruled India for almost 55 years in its 70 years of independent, sovereign history, has shrunk to just six states with Karnataka and Punjab as the only electorally significant states in its fold. The party has ruling presence in another big state – in Bihar – but it is the junior-most alliance partner in the ruling coalition there.

In terms of geographical spread, the Congress has shrunk to just 13% of Indian territory with only 11% of the country’s population residing in areas ruled by it. Even if, for a moment, we consider that the BJP fails to prove majority in Goa and Manipur and the Congress finally forms the governments, it cannot help the Congress much, apart from giving consolation, as Goa and Manipur represent only 0.8% of India’s area and 0.34% of its population.

The BJP along with its allies, is now in all corners of the country with its 17 state governments, in north India, in central India, in south India, in West India, in east India and in north-east India, the footprint the Congress enjoyed earlier while the Congress has reduced to only few pockets.

India has 29 states and seven Union territories. Polls are held in these 29 states and two of the Union Territories, i.e., Delhi and Puducherry. The states where the BJP and its allies have their governments now are – Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh (NDA partner TDP), Jammu & Kashmir (NDA partner PDP), Nagaland (NDA partner NPF) and Sikkim (NDA partner SDF). The party is number two in Himachal Pradesh and Delhi. The BJP is also number 2 in Bihar if we see it as the grand alliance of JDU, RJD and Congress Vs the BJP.

Other big states barring Karnataka and Punjab, are all with the regional parties who have chosen not to ally with the Congress – Tamil Nadu (AIADMK), Telangana (TRS), West Bengal (AITC), Odisha (BJD) and Kerala (Left Front).

The Congress has ruling presence in only two electorally significant states, Karnataka and Punjab. But in Karnataka where elections are due early next year, its prospects don’t look good and there are very real chances that the huge anti-incumbency against the Congress led government will allow the BJP to easily win the state. The other parties in the Congress fold are all smaller states, i.e., Himachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Puducherry.

©SantoshChaubey