Loss Unlikely: Experts Estimate BJP's Chances in Gujarat State Assembly Polls
The Bharatiya Janata Party has been in power in the state of Gujarat for the past 27 years. In the last assembly elections held in 2017, the party secured victory with 99 seats and Congress got 77 seats - its highest score in the state for 32 years.
The Indian state of Gujarat will hold state assembly elections in the first week of December and on 3 November, the Election Commission of India (ECI) announced that the polls will be held in two phases.
Of the 182 seats in the Legislative Assembly, 89 will be voted on in the first phase on 1 December and voting for the remaining 93 will take place in the second phase on 5 December. The results will be announced on 8 December.
Politics in Gujarat, the home state for prime minister Narendra Modi
, has been mainly dominated by Congress and the Bharatiya Janata tParty (BJP) although for the past 27 years, the BJP has held sway. Before he was prime minister, Modi was Gujarat's longest-serving state chief having been in the role for twelve-and-a-half years from 7 October 2001 to 22 May 2014.
This year, with the stage set for a high-octane three-way-battle, the campaigning by the political parties has intensified.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has promised a lot of freebies for the people whereas Prime Minister Modi, in his recent visit, dedicated various development projects worth millions to the state.
All the parties have started getting ready: the AAP has unveiled 137 hopefuls and even picked a candidate to stand for state chief. The BJP on Thursday revealed the names of 160 candidates and Congress is fielding 43 candidates for the 182-member state assembly.
Sputnik questioned political experts to understand the dynamics of the forthcoming state assembly elections, which topics will be considered by the political parties and what challenges exist for the incumbent BJP.
Issues Likely to be Raised in Polls and Challenges From Opposition
Talking about the BJP's rivals in the election, political expert Sreejith Panickar told Sputnik that any party would struggle to present itself as a credible opponent to the BJP at the moment.
“As of now, Congress has a significant presence in the rural areas of Gujarat and the AAP is expected to grow into Congress' strongholds in those areas. This may not trouble the BJP, but will weaken Congress. The AAP's welfare model in Delhi and Punjab might tempt voters to choose them over Congress in those constituencies.”
Stating that Congress has been on a downward trajectory in the state, he added that although the party did well in areas such as Saurashtra and Kutch in the last elections, its reasons for success then no longer exist.
“The Patidar agitation has lost steam. Several leaders switched sides and the BJP has been growing its presence in the area. The AAP is also focusing on this area. It would be an interesting three-way battle, but the chances of Congress retaining its tally are very slim,” he said.
Agreeing with Panickar, psephologist Vinod Kumar Shukla said the people of Gujarat will not throw their weight behind an outsider such as AAP leader and Delhi state chief Arvind Kejriwal.
On the main issues to be taken up by the political parties ahead of the elections, he said that although there are issues related to education, health, employment etc, in the state, the chances of them electoral issues now are minimal.
“The AAP might try to introduce more welfare schemes and freebies, but the discussions would largely be based on community politics and caste-based issues. The influence of the parties in the tribal areas could be significant in determining the outcome of the polls,” Panickar said.
However, the Morbi tragedy
in which about 140 people died when the high suspension bridge collapsed into the river below, is likely to be raised by the opposition in the elections. However, Panickar believes that although it might be in the back of people's minds, the lack of a strong opposition means no party is likely to turn the tragedy to their advantage.
However, Shukla disagreed with Panickar and said that issues related to education, health, employment, etc won’t be on the agenda.
“There is no obvious agenda in Gujarat which could be taken up by the opposition as they won’t be able to rake up the issue about development and unemployment in the state because all these issues have been well-addressed by BJP since Narendra Modi was state chief. The opposition will have to raise some superficial issues to get the attention of the electorate,” Shukla told Sputnik.
Regarding the Morbi tragedy, Shukla agreed with Panickar’s view that it would hardly have an impact on polls. “Modi himself visited the tragedy site
, met the injured and families of the dead. He even chaired meetings with officials and directed them to provide every possible help to all the victims. Therefore, there will be hardly any chance for any opposition to raise this issue,” he said.
“Moreover, if Congress tries to raise [the issue of the Morbi tragedy] the BJP will counter it with steps taken by its government during the disastrous flood in 1979. The AAP will raise the issue, but it will be of no use.”
Will Anti-Incumbency Factor Come Into Play?
Meanwhile, the AAP leader and Delhi state chief, Arvind Kejriwal, whose party is contesting the polls for the first time in the state, has claimed that the people of Gujarat are ready for a big change and his party will win in the upcoming elections.
He has often urged the citizens of Gujarat to give his party a chance to form a government in the state. In one of his appeals made in April this year, he said that the BJP has ruled the state for more than a quarter of a century and yet has not been able to end corruption.
Accusing the ruling BJP of becoming arrogant, he pleaded with the people of the state, saying “you gave [the BJP] 25 years, now give us one chance
. You gave a chance to the AAP in Delhi and Punjab, now give us a chance in Gujarat, and together with 65 million people (of the state), we will take the state forward”.
However, both Panickar and Shukla said that the anti-incumbency factor won’t be a major challenge for the BJP.
Panickar said that the BJP enjoys a considerable majority in the state, especially in urban and semi-urban areas as they have held many constituencies for more than 27 years.
“The anti-incumbency factor could be there as the natural effect of such a long ruling tenure, but that may not be enough to topple the BJP's prospects in retaining power. Since the power in the centre is controlled by two people coming from the state of Gujarat, it is natural for the citizens of the state to favor the same political party for another term,” he said.
Shukla reckoned that the anti-incumbency factor comes into play when the government is not able to deliver the promises - but this is not the case with Gujarat. Therefore, the BJP will experience pro-incumbency rather than anti-incumbency.
“Apart from this, with the AAP entering the electoral battle in the state, the small number of anti-incumbency votes will be divided which will again help the BJP and not the opposition. I think that the BJP will actually register a record win in the state by winning around 140 to 150 seats out of 182,” Shukla added.
Is There Any Leadership Challenge for BJP?
Just a day before the BJP announced its first list of 160 candidates, several senior politicians including former state chief Vijay Rupani and some ministers in the previous cabinet said that they are not willing to contest the elections this year.
Soon after the news was made public, a buzz erupted that there is in-fighting in the BJP and it might pose a major challenge for the party in the polls. However, all the politicians denied any such thing as they said they will continue to work for the party and will support the candidates chosen by the central leadership.
Regarding leadership challenges, Panickar said that the BJP has been playing around with several state chiefs in Gujarat after Modi's extremely long tenure. However, none of them has been able to strike a chord with the people.
“The quality of the leadership in the state notwithstanding, the prospects of the BJP in the state are still largely driven by the party's central leadership and individuals such as Modi and [Minister of Home Affairs] Amit Shah,” he said.
Rejecting the leadership challenge in the state for the BJP, Shukla said that the party has been contesting elections in all the states on the name of Modi and when it comes to Gujarat, which is his home state, how can anyone say that the elections will be on some state leader.
Impact of Politicians Switching Sides on Polls
With elections round the corner, some politicians have switched sides. Recently, several AAP members joined Congress and some prominent Congress members joined the BJP. However, one of the major switches which grabbed the headlines was firebrand Congress politician Hardik Patel joining the BJP in June.
Talking about the effect Patel would have on the elections, Panickar said: “He had relevance as a strong voice when he was allied with the opposition and raised his voice during the Patidar agitation. But such protests have subsided since then and, therefore, he joined the BJP to further his own political interests. The BJP may win some admiration for converting somebody who opposed the party in the past, but that would be limited to areas which witnessed the Patidar agitation - for instance Saurashtra.”
Shukla said that 29-year-old Patel will help the BJP to consolidate the youth vote which deserted it in the last elections. “However, it should not be seen only from the perspective of benefit in the polls - with Patel joining the BJP, the party has been able to neutralize the damage it faced in the last elections because of him.”