The BJP won, but the Congress didn’t really lose

Virendra Pandit Gandhinagar | Updated on January 09, 2018 Published on December 18, 2017

While the numbers favoured the incumbent, the Gujarat voter is clearly displeased, and neither party can afford to ignore this

It was a unique electoral battle in that both the principal adversaries could claim victory.

The BJP lost 16 seats against its 2012 tally, while the Congress gained 13 seats.

Although the BJP has returned to power in Gujarat for the sixth consecutive time since 1995, the bottomline of this election appears to be the Congress revival. The BJP’s numbers have been drastically reduced — it won just 99 seats compared to its record 127 in 2002 — which makes it its worst performance, seat-wise, in 22 years. The Congress, on the other hand, gained in numbers and is set to represent a strong opposition. The new Congress President, Rahul Gandhi, led a “positive” election campaign, which not only won the party more seats but also arrested its rapid decline since the 2014 general election.

In New Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called it the victory of vikas, while BJP President Amit Shah termed it the defeat of communalism, casteism and dynasty politics. The BJP had increased its vote share though it had bagged fewer seats, he pointed out.

In a tweet, Rahul accepted the responsibility for the defeat in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. Gujarat Congress President Bharatsinh Solanki also accepted the responsibility for the party’s inability to form the government and thanked the Election Commission for its “impartial” role.

Encore for Rupani?

As celebrations broke out at the BJP headquarters in Gandhinagar, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, unsure of what lay next, said he would accept any responsibility the party leadership bestowed on him. The BJP is likely to replace him with a new face.

The BJP, always seen as an essentially an urban-based party, again saw its urban voters saving its day.

Reacting to the results, Patidar quota warrior leader Hardik Patel said the results reflect the people’s “reawakening”, and added that his agitation for reservation will continue.

Clearly, the Gujarat voter cut the BJP to size but did not trust the resurgent Congress either. And, Rahul, criticised by his detractors for visiting 27 Hindu temples and no mosque, had the pleasant surprise of seeing four of the six Muslim Congress candidates winning the election.

The message emerging from Gujarat in unmistakable — the people want change in both the major parties.

What Gujarat wants

While half-a-dozen BJP ministers in the Vijay Rupani government, as also Assembly Speaker Ramanlal Vora, lost the elections, the entire “old guard” stalwart leadership in the Congress — Siddharth Patel, Arjun Modhwadia, Shaktisinh Gohil and Tushar Choudhary — was wiped out. Gujarat Congress President Bharatsinh Solanki did not contest the poll. Clearly, both the parties will have to look for new faces to perk up their front lines.

Significantly, Modi had been brought in as the Chief Minister in 2001 when the BJP’s then central leadership felt the incumbent, Keshubhai Patel, whose government virtually collapsed under the rubble of the Republic Day earthquake that year, would not be able to win more than 95 Assembly seats in 2002.

Winning only 99 seats now, it would be interesting to see how the BJP copes with the 2001-like political situation.

The results are a wake-up call for the hitherto complacent BJP. The Congress revival, if it continues, may spread nationally and spell trouble for the ruling party in eight States that go to polls in 2018. If the trend continues, the NDA’s dream to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Independence in 2022 may well stop in 2019, with the next Lok Sabha elections.

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Published on December 18, 2017
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