BJP, Cong Neck-to-Neck in Gujarat Election?

By Ashwin Tombat
01 January 2018 11:51 IST

Yesterday, Gujarat voted. A total of 977 candidates were in the fray for the 89 seats in the first phase. Counting is on Monday 18 December, following the second phase of elections on Thursday. At the time of writing, we do not know the turnout. What we do know is that the highest number of registered voters are in the 26 to 40 year-old bracket.

It's always hazardous to make predictions about elections in India. I may be completely wrong. But I'm sticking my neck out here to say that this election will be much, much closer than most of us expect.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has ruled Gujarat for the last 22 years, with little sign of any anti-incumbency. His party chief Amit Shah says confidently that the BJP will win 150 seats out of 182.

There are pre-poll surveys that support this contention. The 'News Nation' opinion poll projects that the BJP will win 141 seats, and the Congress only 47. The 'Times Now-VMR' survey predicts 118 to 134 seats for the BJP (with 52 per cent of the vote; 4 per cent more than in the 2012 poll), and 49 to 61 seats for the Congress. The 'Sahara-CNX' pre-poll survey gives the BJP 128 seats.

Others differ. The 'TV9-CVoter' poll projects that the BJP will lose six seats and slip to 109, while the Congress gains 12 seats to reach a tally of 73.

However, every survey is predicting a comfortable victory for the BJP. Then why am I doubtful? One reason is a deep disenchantment with the BJP among farmers, who are hurting deeply owing to stagnant and falling prices for their produce ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power.

Youth across Gujarat, who were promised 1 crore jobs by Mr Modi during the 2012 elections are disappointed. Far from expanding, employment has contracted in Gujarat over this period.

Demonetisation is old hat now. People are angry, but it's unlikely to influence votes. The Goods and Services Tax (GST), however, is another matter. Widespread protests by the trading community in cities across Gujarat earlier this year were downplayed by the national TV news channels. Last month, the Central Government announced massive concessions and reduction of rates to pacify the traders. Will it succeed? 

There is Dalit organizer Jignesh Mevani and Backward Class leader Alpesh Thakor. Both are attracting large numbers. Ironically, both are in danger of losing the seats they are themselves contesting. But they have turned lakhs of voters against the BJP.

And there's Hardik Patel. This 23-year-old 'enfant terrible' of the Patel community has been drawing larger crowds than Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress President-in-Waiting Rahul Gandhi. He's too young to contest, but says his mission is to defeat the BJP. A series of 'sex tapes' released strategically just before the elections failed to dent his image. Will the lakhs that throng to hear him do his bidding in the voting booth?

The pre-poll survey that has everybody talking is by 'ABP News-CSDS-Lokniti'. It was done in November, and says the Gujarat Assembly elections are headed for a photo finish, with both the Congress and the BJP getting 43 per cent of the vote each. The CSDS's first survey, in August, had the BJP’s vote share at a massive 59 per cent and the Congress at just 29 per cent. Its second survey, in October, projected the BJP's vote share at 47 per cent and the Congress at 41 per cent.

The survey also shows that in Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's popularity dipped from 82 per cent in August to 64 per cent in November, while Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi’s popularity rose from 40 per cent in August to 57 per cent in November.

However, CSDS survey seat projections still put the BJP ahead with 91 to 99 seats, compared with 70 to 86 for the Congress. That's a narrow but absolute majority.

Such a slender margin, though, will be a pyrrhic victory. For the BJP, it may set in motion a steady, unstoppable downhill slide to the 2019 Parliamentary Poll.

First published on Sunday 10 December 2017

Blogger's Profile

Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.

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