How did caste equations and economic reforms finally play out in the Gujarat assembly elections?
Here are some observations
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has retained the Gujarat state in the two-phase election held on 10 and 14 December. As of the last available numbers, it is on track to win 99 seats, as against 77 of the Congress, with three Congress-supported candidates winning in addition. The victory isn’t big enough for the party, but a loss would have been devastating, with Gujarat being one of the strongest BJP states.
In 2012, the BJP won 47.9 per cent votes and 116 seats (63.7 per cent of the seats), while the Congress won 38.9 per cent votes and 60 seats (32.9 per cent of the seats). In the 2017 election, the BJP vote share is likely going to be around 49.1 per cent with Congress at 41.5 per cent. The Congress vote share should be enhanced by about 1.2 per cent for the votes won by Bharatiya Tribal Party and Jignesh Mevani, who were backed by Congress. So the BJP will end up with around 54.3 per cent seats with Congress+ around 80 or 43.9 per cent seats with 42.7 per cent vote share.
This is one of the key takeaways for this election. The vote productivity (percentage of seats won to percentage of votes polled) of the BJP has significantly reduced. This ratio was 1.32 for BJP in 2012, now down to 1.1. For Congress, the situation is reverse. From 0.84, it has moved to 1.02. Despite a 6.4 per ent vote share difference, BJP will win only 19 seats more. In a bipartisan contest, such a vote share difference can easily result in a two-third majority, which did not happen in Gujarat.
So Congress votes have been more productive than the BJP ones. This has few implications:
BJP has actually gained 1.2 per cent votes from the last assembly elections, but lost 17 seats. Clearly this is not a write-off election — a 1–2 per cent pro-BJP swing in key seats may have made things very different.
BJP may have won a few seats by huge margins, but trailed in close seats. Conversely, Congress seems to have won almost all it can.
So in a way, the 99–80 tally establishes a floor/ceiling for the two parties in the state. Congress ran an energetic campaign, but may its best wasn’t good enough — and in that BJP can take heart that Gujarat continues to be its bastion.
Congress has witnessed big losses — Shaktishin Gohil (Mandvi, Kutch), Arjun Modhwadia (Porbandar), Siddharth Patel (son of Chimanbhai Patel, Dabhoi), and Indranil Rajguru (Rajkot West) all lost their seats. So this really wasn’t a very pro-Congress vote as such. A pro-Congress vote would have seen its key leaders and potential chief ministerial/ ministerial names win. On the other hand, new Congress names and supported candidates like Chhotubhai Vasava (Jhagadia), Alpesh Thakore (Radhapur), and Jignesh Mevani (Vadgam) all won. So there’s another lesson here for the Congress — its organic leadership was rejected, while acquisitions and outsourced agents favoured.
All BJP big names like Vijay Rupani (Rajkot West), Nitin Patel (Mahesana), Jitubhai Vaghani (Bhavnagar West), and Saurabh Patel (Botad) won/were on their way to a win. Shankar Chaudhary (Vav) was the only key name to lose. Interestingly, the BJP acquisitions like Ramsinh Parmar (Thasra) and Tejashree Patel (Viramgam) lost by 7K vote margin each. Only nine defectors from other parties out of 20 odd won for BJP. There’s perhaps a lesson there for the party to not ignore the homegrown talent.
BJP continues to be dominant in the urban centres. As per last available data, Ahmedabad (15/21), Gandhinagar (2/3), Surat (15/16), Vadodara (9/10), Rajkot (6/8), Jamnagar (2/3), and Bhavnagar (4/4), all voted for the BJP. In fact, BJP would have probably won another three to four of these 12 seats it lost out of the 65 in a better election. Fifty-three out of the 99 wins for the party came from the big cities and their immediate rural vicinity.
This should really put the ghosts of goods and services tax, dubbed Gabbar Singh Tax by Rahul Gandhi and demonetisation to rest. The effect of these economic measures would have been most prominent in cities and business areas. And they overwhelmingly voted for the BJP. In fact, these measures may well have been seen positive, contrary to the Congress campaign, given the extent of the win for the BJP. The only place which is a big trading centre and saw a BJP loss was Morbi — the party lost all three seats there. Predominantly cash sanitaryware/hardware business forcibly moving to tax-paid structure did hurt the BJP politically here.
Compared to 2012, BJP has lost about 17 seats, while that’s the same number Congress and allies has gained — there were no other smaller independent players except the one NCP and two independent wins.
The region wise data clearly shows that Saurashtra and Kutch region made this election close. The region wise vote share data at the time of writing:
Congress ran BJP neck to neck in Saurashtra and Kutch, where BJP won big in urban seats. However, it lost most of the rural seats in the region to Congress. It was even worse for the BJP in the agrarian seats in this region. It won only 8/31 agrarian seats (Times of India (TOI) real time data, abbreviated later as TOI).
Congress gained 18 seats from the BJP from Saurashtra, and that pretty much explains the election — Congress won every single non-BJP stronghold in the region. In fact in phase one, the two parties ran very close, winning half the seats each. It was the second phase which made the difference for the BJP. This clearly shows that the regional surveys being quoted on Twitter (some giving as many as 70 out of the 89 seats to the BJP) were totally incorrect.
The areas of particular worry for the BJP are Amreli and Surendranagar in Saurashtra, and Patan and Banaskantha in North Gujarat.
What about the caste equations, on which Congress ran its entire campaign?
Hardik Patel led the Patidar agitation. However, he seems to have made zero impact to the urban Patidar vote which seems to have stuck with the BJP. BJP won 23/39 Patidar dominated seats, with all the losses coming from Saurashtra and North Gujarat. All 11 urban seats with high Patidar vote base went to the BJP. Surat was a decisive BJP win — in fact the South Gujarat vote share was the highest for the party, despite being the hub of the Patidar agitation.
Jignesh Mevani led the Dalit agitation. BJP 9/20 Schedule Caste dominated seats. Alpesh Thakore led the other backward class (OBC) agitation. BJP won 25/50 OBC dominated seats. So did Jignesh and Alpesh actually have a higher influence on the election than Hardik? Their numbers are definitely better, with both of them winning their own seats. Does this explain the post-results EVM rant by Hardik on Twitter?
The bigger shock for the BJP was the Koli dominated seats. BJP only won 6/21 of these seats, with Congress gaining 8 from the BJP from 2012. Maybe the real issue of the election was the agrarian situation in Saurashtra while the national media kept on harping on the caste issues! This is further corroborated by the rural seat divide — BJP won 44 rural seats, while Congress+ got 64 and Others 1. A 40.3 per cent seat win in the rural set does not augur well for the BJP for the 2018 elections in the neighbouring states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, which are even more rural than Gujarat.
An interesting stat from TOI — BJP won 19 out of the 30 seats where Prime Minister Narendra Modi campaigned — a 63.3 per cent conversion. On the other hand, Congress won 22/42 seats where Rahul Gandhi campaigned, a 52.3 per cent conversion. This however included the Somnath seat! Maybe Rahul Gandhi should continue to wear his janeu in Karnataka, especially when in the coastal belt?
The election poses two big dilemmas for the BJP.
Firstly, the strategy of a ‘CM above caste’ with a deputy Patel CM will have to be re-looked. The big question here is how much influence the Patidars should have going forward — while their agitation seems to have created a political problem for the BJP, they actually may not have voted against the party in big numbers. To top it, Shankar Chaudhary, the tallest OBC leader lost his seat. That does not leave the party with too many options for the CM post. But a strong CM is needed to steer the state out of PM Modi’s shadow — he cannot be saving another Gujarat campaign in his name!
Secondly, what about Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhatisgarh? It faces exactly the same type of issues in these three states as Gujarat. All three states are a straight fight against Congress, and have seen long-term BJP governments. In Rajasthan, though the BJP lost in 2008, it still had a healthy seat tally. If BJP wins Karnataka, Congress will not be left with any rich or big state in its kitty by December 2018. BJP has no upside in retaining these three states in December — it is expected to do so. Losing even one of the three however will revive the Congress and energise the media, always on the prowl to create an anti BJP narrative. Should BJP offer Congress a chance to revive itself, giving not one but three chances? The answer to that question will likely decide the dates for the 2019 Lok Sabha election — it may well be December 2018 to influence the three state contests.
The Gujarat election did give BJP a small scare. The Congress briefly led in the opening rounds of counting, even hitting the 92 mark at one point! The Sensex had opened almost 800 points down, but closed in the green. But all in all the party should be pleased with its 49.1 per cent vote share and focus on the few districts which completely went the Congress way.
Ultimately, this Gujarat win comes as a big relief for the BJP. The base case has been achieved, and the government can continue with whatever agenda it had planned for 2018. This is an eight-state election year — the slog overs are here!
This article first appeared in Medium and has been republished here with permission.