That the BJP captured power in Gandhinagar Municipal Corporation or won 136 out of 184 local body seats largely in the cities and peri-urban localities is nothing unexpected. The media in Gujarat would have almost kept their stories ready 24 hours in advance if not more on Tuesday’s election results.
Ever since 1995 when the BJP first came to power on its own in Gujarat until December 2017, the party’s electoral victories have generally been a foregone conclusion.
It is another matter that between 2014, when Narendra Modi moved to Delhi, and 2021, the BJP has a third chief minister in Gujarat. It is also another matter that there is no dearth of issues — state as well as national level — which affect almost all sections in Gujarat and should have seen any other party biting the dust.
The latest addition was the Covid-19 chaos, which also the government has survived by a cosmetic change of the chief ministerial face. And how? Gujarat’s new chief minister Bhupendra Patel at a press conference on Tuesday said, “We got 41 out of 44 seats but our State president CR Paatil-saheb was asking why we didn’t get the other three. That’s because he aims 182 out of 182.” None of the two previous chief ministers used the word “saheb” for the State party president. But then, when it comes to Gujarat, this also, is beside the point.
Political scientist and economist Hemant Shah sum up the situation thus: “The injection of Hindutva is almost like an anti-Congress vaccine for the people of Gujarat. The BJP has a well-oiled network and cadres as well as an entire government machinery at its disposal that it uses with impunity — but even if it doesn’t deploy any of it, Hindutva will see it through.”
Hemant Shah, however, may not be entirely true. First, the numbers. Under Narendra Modi’s aggressive Hindutva, the BJP won 127 seats out of 182 in 2002. This fell to 117 in 2007, 115 in 2012 and 99 in 2017.
When the BJP high command decided to change chief minister Vijay Rupani and his entire team last month, the reference point was the 2017 polls. It may be recalled that the BJP snatched victory then from the jaws of defeat by an apologetic 7 seats. This was despite Modi himself having campaigned in Gujarat during the last few crucial days.
All the issues like unemployment, farmer distress and adverse effects of twin blows of demonetisation and GST that created hurdles for the BJP then were very much there even during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections — until the Pulwama terror strike and the government’s response to it. And it is public knowledge that when it comes to nationalism and with it the incumbent Hindu-Muslim divide, none can beat Modi’s rhetoric.
But there is a key difference. The BJP didn’t forget its close shave with defeat in 2017 and the Congress snuffed out its first flicker of victory. The decimation accelerated when several Congress legislators defected to the BJP in regular succession.
And the party appeared like a veritable group of suicide bombers of sorts out to destroy themselves with no collateral damage to the other during the local body elections in February 2021.
The Congress party lost as many as 200 seats in those elections, days ahead of actual polling. Defeat was conceded on some of these seats because the nominations were rejected, but there were more candidates who withdrew their forms on the last day. Besides these 200, there were also those who were changed at the eleventh hour despite having got the party’s mandate.
And the results demonstrated the disarray that the key opposition was in: From 389 out of 572 seats in 2015, the BJP scored 483 in 2021 and the Congress fell from 174 to 55. Except Ahmedabad and Jamnagar, the Congress could not even reach single digits. None of its candidates could win in Surat and the Aam Aadmi Party walked away with 27 seats.
The Congress’ allegation, at the same time, that AAP and AIMIM are proving to be the BJP’s B-team is not entirely misplaced. However, as political scientist Ghanshyam Shah puts it, “They (AAP and AIMIM) are walking into the space that the Congress is ceding for them.”
Tuesday’s result of the Gandhinagar Municipal Corporation election explains how the AAP is proving a spoiler for the Congress while it itself has not been able to do much. Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi buttresses his party’s argument with the vote shares.
He says, “The BJP managed 46.89% vote share in GMC this time, as against Congress 28.02% and AAP’s 21.77%. In the 2016 elections, the BJP got 44.76% and Congress bagged 46.93% of the total votes cast.”
This clearly explains, he adds, that the anti-BJP vote was split by the AAP to BJP’s advantage. Adds Hemant Shah, “While the AAP got only one seat, it hopelessly split the anti-incumbency vote. If the AAP — and the Congress — want an alternative to the BJP, they have to come together. But AAP is not bothered.”
This may not still be the end of the road for the Congress, with a glimmer of hope in its bagging the Bhanvad Municipality in Devbhoomi Dwarka district as well as several assorted rural seats across regions.