UP election victory was a watershed moment. It not only consolidated BJP’s hold over the Hindi heartland but also raised stakes of an easy 2019 general elections. Once the fort of UP was secured, it was time to set sights on two objectives. Firstly, it was about focusing on BJP breaking into low or no presence states like Kerala. Secondly, it was winning back election bound BJP governed states where anti-incumbency may have seeped in.
Gujarat is one of those states and retaining the same is very much symbolic to the BJP and PM Modi. The state is the foundation on which PM Modi carved his national ambitions and made it a success. The Gujarat model of governance was the endorsing flagship product of his political career. And so, winning Gandhinagar again is significantly important.
Gujarat has seen PM Modi governing the state for a decade. He had administered the state with a complete hold over its politics. This time around Amit Shah is aiming for a record. Despite overwhelmingly winning the state elections for the past three editions, record 149 seats secured by the Congress in the 1980s remains a feat. BJP in Gujarat is planning to surpass 149 and give PM Modi the best form of tribute they can ever imagine.
Nevertheless, the biggest factor that may spoil BJP’s juggernaut in Gujarat is not the opposition but anti incumbency.
The state has been ruled by the BJP since 1995 and em-battling a monumental anti incumbency will be a major challenge. The fragmented opposition however looks unprepared to take advantage and dethrone the party in its bastion. Gujarat is one of the states harboring a direct BJP vs Congress battle. Although CM Rupani is managing the state, BJP will bring PM Modi into full throttle here to spearhead the campaigning. This unfortunately will be a disadvantage for the Congress party which is still reeling under the effects of Modi wave.
Congress is devoid of leadership in the state. Old war horses like Shankersinh Vaghela are in their days of fading oblivion. Unfortunately, Congress unit in the state seems to be divided with severe infighting between the Vaghela faction and Bharatsinh Solanki group. Both unceremoniously are trying to exert maximum influence on the party high command. When Ahmed Patel visited the state, Congress MLA’s divided into respective factions met the leader separately raising eye brows. The grapevine is that the Vaghela faction is keen to declare the veteran as a CM face. And if not at least Vaghela should be given the authority of deciding ticket allocation and handling other election aspects. This civil war within Congress party ranks will certainly halve its chances of giving a tough fight to the BJP.
Anti incumbency can be used in your favour if the opposition is completely united. In this state, Congress is the only credible party electorally to provide some form of a resistance.
Here the Bihar model of a grand coalition cannot be invented to defeat the BJP as other parties have no significance. Congress had vouched for alliances with JD(U) and the NCP. But any coalition will not work the way it had in Bihar.
There were further two reasons in the state which could have been a hindrance for the BJP to storm back to power handsomely again. The first one was the Patidar agitation for reservations. The Patel community has supported the BJP and has been one of the most important pillars of their rule here for decades. Patidar activist in the form of a young Hardik Patel seemed to have found a chink in the strong armour of the BJP ruled state. However, his movement spiralled out of control after achieving initial success. The BJP leadership emboldened by the first real threat to its power structure here quickly replaced CM Patel then with Rupani. This was to quell the tide of the political fall out over the agitation. Hardik Patel could raise the issue but seems to have failed to channelize it into a much beneficial political derivation. He met Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray and even Nitish Kumar and both seemingly used him for an anti Modi tirade rather than providing a political platform. Hardik Patel is the Gujarati version of Arvind Kejriwal. In a couple of instances his agitations led to violence and this I feel may have spurred his chances of being a future political leader.
The second reason was about AAP which was planning to make a foray in Gujarat. Arvind Kejriwal had even toured the state raising speculations of a grand debut especially after AAP won Delhi. However, AAP’s national aspirations have gone into doldrums following their humiliating loss in Goa and Punjab. On the contrary, they even lost deposits in these states and a by poll in Delhi. Their further loss in MCD elections has really broken their back. The immediate after effect was their postponement of decision to fight Gujarat polls. AAP will focus on consolidating their citadel before embarking on national scene and Gujarat elections may be a casualty for it. Even if AAP decides to fight Gujarat assembly elections, they will be equivalent to what Shiv Sena politically is in states like UP.
With the opposition in disarray, BJP is riding high on the popularity of PM Modi. Policies like demonetisation are working and the saffron surge seen in biggies like UP is even entering local bodies like the MCD. The Modi wave is expected to be bigger than the anti incumbency counter wave in Gujarat. With a fragmented opposition, a complete sweep may be just a mere formality.
Of all the internal surveys of political parties, AAP has always been reduced to a laughing stock with its quality of predictions. Amit Shah on the other hand had forecasted 300 for BJP in UP which then made political pundits giggle. But with 325 seats, he had the last laugh. With Shah putting the number at 150 for the Gujarat assembly polls, no one perhaps would dare to question his electoral and political acumen now.