BJP can’t be certain of victory, given the groundswell of discontent over the treatment of Dalits, the goods and services tax uncertainties, and demands for job reservations.
And let’s not forget anti-incumbency for a party that has been in power for over two decades.
The road to Delhi for Narendra Modi began from Ahmedabad in 2012. It was only after his third emphatic win in the state assembly elections that he could claim to be a natural candidate for the prime ministership.
It is more than likely that Modi’s road to 2019 will also run through Gujarat, for – in contrast to media assumptions that this state is his pocket-borough – the odds right now are just about even that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will win the 2017 assembly elections due this December.
The one poll which we need to discount is the one done by Lokniti-Centre for Studies of Developing Societies (CSDS). This tracker poll, dating to September, predicted a huge 30-point vote share lead for the BJP, which should indicate another sweep by the party.
But this poll flies in the face of the Congress party’s emphatic victories in zilla parishad and taluka panchayat polls two years ago, where the bulk of the votes and wins went to the Congress. While the BJP’s vote is largely urban and the Congress’ is more rural, we cannot presume that the Gujarat urban vote will deliver again for the party.
In fact, recent signals from the BJP itself indicate a degree of nervousness over the outcome. Consider these unrelated items.
#1: Last week, the GST Council was busy mollifying angry small businesses, a core constituency in Gujarat. The council not only raised the limit for small businesses and traders under the “composition” scheme to Rs 1 crore, but also freed businesses with turnover of upto Rs 1.5 crore from filing monthly returns. Businesses choosing the composition scheme do not have to comply with onerous GST filing requirements and instead pay a tax of 1-5 per cent on turnover. And, of course, the GST on “khakhra” has been cut. All these are clues that Modi and party president Amit Shah are worried about GST being a pain point with the party’s traditional supporters in the trading and business community.
#2: At a time when Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is just beginning to find traction with the Gujarati voter, Shah and Smriti Irani were in Rahul Gandhi’s constituency of Amethi, when the Lok Sabha polls are a year-and-a-half away. While Rahul Gandhi may not be very popular in Amethi right now, the fight is in Gujarat. By rushing to Amethi, Shah and Irani have given the impression that they are trying to scare Rahul Gandhi into returning to Amethi rather than staying on in Gujarat.
#3: When an Modi-baiting website, thewire.in, ran a poorly analysed story on Shah’s son’s rising business fortunes, not only were central ministers conscripted to debunk the story, but son Jay himself announced a Rs 100 crore defamation suit against the portal. Using a hammer to hit a fly is not a sign of confidence.
Praveen Patil, an astute psephologist, who runs the www.5forty3.in election portal, believes that Gujarat is not an easy win for the BJP. In a recent tweet, he had this to say: “Though ground data indicate a sweep for now, most BJP leaders/workers in Gujarat proffer (sic) that the election is a ‘tough battle & hard to win’”.
Patil is largely pro-BJP, and if he has this to say, let’s be clear that the BJP is not home and dry. Not least when Dalits and Muslims may well choose this time to vote against the party, and several castes – the Patidars, among them – may partly desert the party as there have been no assurances from the BJP on granting reservations to the Patels. It is also interesting that the Aam Aadmi Party will be only a minor player in Gujarat, which means most anti-BJP votes will consolidate around the Congress.
To top it all, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani is hardly a charismatic crowd-puller. It is all upto Modi and Shah to pull off a victory.
The takeout is simple: the BJP has a fight on its hands. And if it hopes to keep its winning narrative alive until 2019, it has to win Gujarat with a clear majority.
Right now, it can’t be certain of that, given the groundswell of discontent over the treatment of Dalits, the goods and services tax uncertainties, and demands for job reservations. And let’s not forget anti-incumbency for a party that has been in power for over two decades.