The results for Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh have gone very much as the exit polls predicted. The Congress ‘shock’ did not materialise in Prime Minister rendra Modi’s home State Gujarat, though the BJP has maged to hold on to its citadel with reduced strength of 100 odd seats in the 182-seat assembly. However, this has to be seen in the context of the saffron party ruling Gujarat for 22 years on the trot. This time around the Congress fancied its chances of mounting a credible challenge, banking on the perceived angst of patidars and dalits, as well as traders supposedly hassled by GST. Rather than home-grown Congress leaders, considerable expectation was pinned on the HAJ troika — patidar leader Hardik Patel, OBC leader Alpesh Thakor and dalit leader Jignesh Mewani to deliver for the Congress. Mewani won as a Congress-backed independent candidate, while Thakor emerged victorious on Congress ticket. But the patidar vote was ultimately divided, and the BJP succeeded in making inroads into tribal and Muslim domited constituencies the Congress was eyeing. In fact, fear of patidar consolidation — with the Congress striking a deal with Hardik Patel promising ‘special quota’ to patidars parallel to OBCs — may have led to reverse consolidation of other OBC communities under the BJP banner. To twist the knife in further, the BJP also targeted the trading community by playing on their apprehensions of another KHAM-type (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim) social engineering that the Congress had used so potently to domite Gujarat politics during the Eighties. Congress rebel Shankar Singh Waghela too may have caused a significant dent to his former party’s prospects at the hustings. The embarrassment caused to the Congress by Mani Shankar Aiyer’s ‘neech (lowly)’ comment hurled at the Prime Minister, as well as Modi using this ‘insult to Gujarati pride’ to the hilt — is hardly surprising. Along with it, Modi did not forget to tar the Congress with allegation of ‘conspiring’ with Islamabad to bring about a more Pakistan-friendly regime in Gandhigar; this was very much in line with the ‘samshan-kabristan’ remark Modi had made to telling effect in the run-up to Uttar Pradesh polls.
Lessons from results
All this just goes to show how bitterly fought the Gujarat election was, galvanizing the PM and most of his cabinet to take to the campaign trail. Overall, the saffron party gave a good account of itself in north, central and south Gujarat, while the Congress put up a strong showing in Kutch-Saurashtra. The vote share of BJP coming down from over 60% in 2012 to around 49% this time will surely give its leadership something to think about in the coming days. After rendra Modi, who ruled Gujarat for 13 years and laid a strong foundation of the BJP there, the saffron party has been hard put to find an able successor to carry on the good work. Had the Congress succeeded in its ambition to cut off Modi from his power base, it would have put an ignominious end to his much-vaunted ‘Gujarat model’ of development. At the end of the day, the BJP did prevail in Gujarat due to its organisatiol strength, its government’s developmental track record and Modi’s abiding persol appeal. The BJP also moved adroitly to mollify the trader community by getting GST rules and rates tweaked, as well as inducting new faces to hold on to voters. Compared to the complicated caste equations in Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh presented a far simpler picture to the two main contenders. The Himalayan State has been altertely going to the BJP and the Congress, and this time BJP has made its anticipated comeback. The campaign decibels were far lower there — the political discourse was centred around development and governce on one hand, and corruption and unemployment on the other. In the first flush of securing a nearly two-third majority in the 68-seat assembly, the BJP has been faced with the piquant situation of its chief ministerial candidate PK Dhumal biting the dust in his constituency Sujanpur. Several other high-profile leaders belonging to the BJP as well as the Congress have also lost, indicating the absence of any wave. For the tiol leaderships of both these parties, the Gujarat and Himachal poll results will bear important lessons for the electoral battles looming in 2018. Rajasthan, Kartaka, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh, along with four NE States Meghalaya, Mizoram, galand and Tripura, are up for grabs next year. All will be bitterly contested in the run-up to 2019 Lok Sabha elections. While the Congress can take heart from the aggressive intent of its newly installed president Rahul Gandhi and improved showing in Gujarat, it remains to be seen whether the Modi government ups the ante with more eye-catching reforms in 2018 or decides to play safe.