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Modi wins, but Congress knocks harder

But if economic figures don’t improve in real terms, a determined Rahul will be waiting in the wings

Image Credit: AFP
Supporters of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) celebrate outside the party headquarters in New Delhi on December 18, 2017, with early counting of votes indicating a comfortable win for them in the key states of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.
Gulf News

New Delhi: For the sixth straight term, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), under the leadership of prime minister Narendra Modi has won the Gujarat state assembly elections. The BJP has won 99 out of the 182 seats. The opposition Congress party won 80. The BJP’s vote share is 56 per cent, while that of the Congress is 42 per cent. The turnout was close to 70 per cent, according to first reports.

Nevertheless, compared to the 2012 assembly elections, the seat count of the BJP has come down. Then they had won 115 seats.

The Congress showed northward progress in this election. Last time they had secured only 60 seats.

Despite the fact that Himachal Pradesh assembly elections also were in Modi’s favour, it’s clear from Gujarat that the Congress is likely to make a return to the centre stage, and that 2019 general elections would be closely fought. A little more than a year ago, the 2019 elections had been considered a shoo-in for Modi.

Contrary to the results predicted by a few surveys in August when Rahul Gandhi’s Indian National Congress Party was projected to lead the polls narrowly, the Modi wave has held good in his home state. Subsequent polls and the latest exist poll had placed the BJP ahead. A loss in Gujarat would have meant an end to Modi’s political career.

A few takeaways from the polls:

1. The fight was fierce and divisive. The Congress party had garnered the support of the minorities, and Gandhi had campaigned with uncharacteristic verve, often scaring the BJP. The elections showed Gandhi might yet emerge as a worthy leader challenging Modi.

2. What seemed to have swung the results in BJP’s favour are two factors: Firstly, a consolidation of the Hindu votes as against the fragmentary support that the Congress managed to get from listless minorities; and secondly, party president Amit Shah’s campaign that said that Gujaratis would be cutting their nose to spite their face if they chose Rahul’s Congress against the Prime Minister. Shah played on the Gujarati pride that the PM was one from their ranks, and that he should not be let down.

3. The secular civil society, as visible in social media, had supported Gandhi. But as in the 2014 general elections the distance between ground reality and drawing room good wishes remain considerable. This is despite measures such as demonetisation and digitisation and a clear oligarchic favouritism that the Modi government seems specialise in.

4. The improved performance of the Congress should sound several alarm bells in BJP quarters. And Modi has his task cut out for him.

The economy is not doing well. Jobs are down. So is manufacturing. Defying logic, as in the old Indian rope trick, the stock exchange has been shooting up.

But if the figures don’t improve in real terms, a determined Gandhi will be waiting in the wings.