In India, Gujarat is going to polls on Dec. 1 and 5, 2022. For obvious political reasons, it is going to be a national event.
It is widely believed that if, just in case, the ruling BJP loses Gujarat, the flow of India’s contemporary history would change. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will go back to the drawing board. That’s why Gujarat state elections are being closely watched — both by Modi’s supporters and critics.
Modi and Amit Shah are putting all their ideas, energy, time, and resources in the state to ensure that BJP wins a consecutive seventh time, beating the visible anti-incumbency against their government.
BJP has won the assembly elections of 1995, 1998, 2002, 2007, 2012 and 2017.
Not to forget that in all these elections, Modi has played a central role. Even when he wasn’t a Chief Minister, he was instrumental in setting up the BJP chessboard and kept command and control firmly in his hand.
There remains no doubt that the 1995 elections that installed Keshubhai Patel as Chief Minister, was a turning point for Gujarat and India. Patel, Shankarsinh Vaghela and Modi scripted that victory. With the help of thousands of highly motivated karyakartas (workers) of RSS and BJP, they managed to win over Congress’ sociopolitical alliance of castes.
In fact Congress’ robust political network of Kshtriya-Harijan-Adivasi-Muslims found a strong reactionary result in the form of rise of the BJP, which established a new ecosystem of trading classes and religion-based aspirational middle-class regime in Gujarat.
In the 2002 elections, BJP got 127 seats out of 182, and Modi began being called a “Hindu nationalist leader.”
Before that in October 2001, when Modi became a Chief Minister, he wasn’t even an MLA. When he fought his first election in February 2002, leading the party to victory in 2002 election, only then the Modi era began.
Elections of 2017 were the toughest for Modi in Gujarat because the Patel community, core of BJP’s vote base in 1995 and 1998, had rebelled against Modi-Shah’s remote-controlled administration in Gandhinagar.
Patels of Gujarat are upwardly mobile with a strong middle-class culture and its young generation is beaming with confidence. On the eve of elections in 2017, Hardik Patel, rebel community leader and his backers had everything going fine. They had the community support, money power and strong issues of unemployment and high-cost of education to take on the BJP.
BJP was understandably nervous. Also, in 2017, Congress had put its best foot forward as the state unit was micromanaged by Ahmed Patel — a Gujarati who wielded enormous power at national and state level. And Rahul Gandhi had plunged into the Gujarat election campaign carrying a “soft-Hindutva card”.
However Modi never takes any challenge lightly and took his arch-rival Congress head on. He also overcame dozens of mutinies that included displeasure of Patel farmers in Saurahstra, state government officer unions in Gandhinagar and pan-Gujarat 'non-permanent' teachers movement against the BJP.
The aggression of BJP’s election campaigning and Modi’s art to kindle his voters emotions helped BJP win 99 seats out of 182. It was an unimpressive win but BJP survived the Patel fury. Later, Hardik Patel joined BJP, letting down his supporters.
Modi, by 2017 was not only the Prime Minister but was ascending fast in India as its most popular leader. However in Gujarat, BJP couldn’t muster three-digit figure of 100 and it was a bit of an embarrassment for the party.
In the last five years neither Modi nor Home Minister Amit Shah have lost focus on Gujarat. Central government investments from various ministries are pouring in Gujarat, joint ventures are going to Gujarat and not just Patels but the leaders belonging to Kolis (largest caste block), Thakors (significant OBC) and Tribals (14%) are being pampered since 2017.
At no time have Shah and Modi left Gujarat unattended. It’s a kind of a political novelty and an experiment, with which all the BJP opponents have a problem, where the national leader sitting in New Delhi, working in federal structure, is controlling all commands of a state, too.
Subsequent BJP CMs Vijay Rupani and his successor Bhpendra Patel have no political capital to take decisions that matter in the administration. This is the second state election under such an arrangement where PM Modi is leading the campaign of the state assembly and not a state Chief Minister. It worked well for the BJP in 2017 and BJP is doing everything possible to ensure “brand recall” of Modi and Gujarat are inseparable in the nook and corners of Gujarat in 2022.
By all accounts from 1995 to 2017 — all six Gujarat elections were such where two-party fight between BJP and Congress were more or less on expected lines.
But, 2022 election may be different due to the forceful entry of Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Admi party.
Kejriwal has understood well that those who takes huge risks gain huge successes.
By selecting Modi’s Gujarat to invest all the political capital that he has earned so far, he has been able to pit himself directly against Modi and all that BJP stands for.
BJP is vehemently keeping Kejriwal at a distance from Modi and his stature in public eye. But Kejriwal, in an impressive way, has gatecrashed in Gujarat to push up his own stature and wants voters to count him in, too.
Already, in print and TV media, in Gujarat related news coverage — along with Modi, Kejriwal is in the mastheads. His propaganda and politics have been able to instill serious concerns, if not scare in BJP campaign managers.
However, by selecting a non-Patel as a CM candidate, Kejriwal has shown it doesn’t have the nerve to take the highest-risk in his political gamble. It’s a reality check in Kejriwal’s march in Gujarat.
It is clear that AAP is weak in Tribal, Kolis and Thakore communities. The party didn’t opt for a Patel CM candidate for the fear of caste polarisation.
And in the current circumstances, unless the high-risk player grabs big chunk of the Patel votes (who are with BJP), it is difficult to weaken the BJP in real sense.
Most of the ground reports and the surveys suggest that AAP will end up grabbing Congress votes more than the BJP.
In 2017, BJP had vote share of 49.1% and Congress had 41.2% If AAP gains around 12 to 15% vote share in Gujarat, it will be a successful opener’s inning.
If AAP gets up to 8% of the votes, it is an advantage to BJP. But, if AAP gets anything around or above 22-25% votes, it could be possible only at expense of Congress and BJP, both.
In that case, at the national level Kejriwal will be able to take his political stature much above all non-BJP national leaders.
In a long term, Modi’s successors in the BJP will find a strong opponent in Kejriwal if AAP gets 25% or more vote share in these elections.
In the next few weeks we will be able to find if Gujaratis are in mood of “revolution” by lifting the fortunes of Congress or AAP or both, or they find their huge investment in Modi profitable even after two decades.