It's a two-horse race in Gujarat elections, no room for third party

Virendra Pandit Gandhinagar | Updated on January 27, 2018

The Aam Admi Party (AAP) suffered a “jolt” in Gujarat on Monday when its Women’s Wing chief, Vandana Patel, formerly of the BJP, joined the Congress, routinely accusing the BJP on various counts and not the AAP, which she has left, proving once again that no third political party in the western state has survived for long after a two-party system emerged in 1995.

The Arvind Kejriwal-led party is trying to make a splash in Gujarat and has announced its first list of 11 candidates so far.

Along with the saffron sisters of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, having 182 Vidhan Sabha seats, has seen a two-party system working successfully over the last 22 years. This, when neighbouring Rajasthan alternates between the BJP and the Congress every five years, the way Kerala alternates between the Left Front and the Congress. Due to this trend, the state has not seen the rise of a Third Front and the number of candidates in the Gujarat Assembly elections has also remained restrained since the emergence of the BJP in 1995 as the only alternative to the Congress.

Since the first Assembly elections in 1962, on an average, each constituency has seen not more than 10 candidates. Except in 1990 and 1995, when the number of candidates soared, Gujarat has generally been content with fewer candidates: 1962 (500), 1967 (599), 1972 (852), 1975 (834), 1980 (974), 1985 (1137), 1990 (1889), 1995 (2545), 1998 (1125), 2002 (963), 2007 (1180) and 2012 (1666).

Not that ambitious and/ or spurned politicians have not tried to float a third party. In the past, however, such experiments have failed miserably. For instance, BJP rebel Shankarsinh Vaghela formed the Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP) in 1996, but it won only four Assembly seats in 1998, forcing him to merge his outfit with the Congress, with whose support he ran a short-lived government. Even now, Vaghela’s Jan Vikalp Party, contesting on the symbol of a Rajasthan-based All-India Hindustani Congress, is seen as an also-ran, having failed to attract popular attention. While in the BJP or in the Congress, he was a tall leader; but, despite his resourceful and colourful persona, he seemed overrated in his own outfits.

Similarly, former BJP Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel’s outfit, Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP), largely a Patidar outfit, contested all 182 seats in 2012, won only two, and later merged with the BJP. The BSP, too, has unsuccessfully contested many or all seats but has drawn a blank. Some other “national” parties, including the Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh Yadav, have also made poll-time noises only to disappear soon after.

Parties based in other states, including the NCP and Janata Dal, have mostly been content with winning a seat or two in Gujarat, which gives them the status of a “national” party. A few Independents, too, often win, but they quickly become unofficial part of the ruling party.

Clearly, there appears no room for a third political force in Gujarat, which has witnessed a two-horse race to power. In 1962, the Congress cornered over 50 per cent votes at a time when its rivals were the Jan Sangh, the Ram Rajya Parishad and the Socialist Party. Another important outfit, the Swatantra Party, briefly appeared on the political scene but its principal supporters, the Patidars, gradually migrated towards other parties and finally to the BJP.

As a prelude to the emergence of a two-party system in 1995, the Gujarati voters swept away completely the previous ruling party: the Janata Dal government, led by Chimanbhai Patel from 1990 to 1995, failed to win a single seat and also lost deposits in 109 of the 116 seats it contested.

The BJP and the Congress were the only parties that remained in the fray since.

This set the two-party trend in Gujarat.

Published on November 01, 2017

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