Assembly election results in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh on Thursday presented a reflection of the national political scenario – a dominant BJP set to secure its best-ever performance in Gujarat with a staggering over 53 per cent of the vote share and close to 154 sets in the 182-member Gujarat Assembly, while the results were still being counted.
Congress was finally looking like it was going to manage a toe-hold in Himachal Pradesh after a neck-and-neck battle, leading in 38 of the 68-member Assembly with a vote share that almost matched the BJP at 43.4 per cent while the BJP was looking to secure 43.3 per cent of the vote share and 27 seats as the results were still being counted. Newcomer Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) may not win many seats in Gujarat but was set to corner an impressive about 13 per cent of the vote share and was ahead in six constituencies.
Celebrations begin in Gujarat as BJP set for an unprecedented show
In Himachal Pardesh, however, BJP is seen struggling for power as Congress was leading on 37 seats out of 68
But the BJP carried the day and looked like it was set to break former Congress Chief Minister Madhavsinh Solanki’s stupendous electoral win in 1985 wherein he secured 149 seats in Gujarat at the back of his ingenuous social engineering of the Khshtriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim (KHAM) communities and 28 per cent reservation for OBCs. The BJP was ahead in 151 seats as the results came in. In the 27 uninterrupted years that it has been in power in Gujarat, the BJP has not been able to manage such a staggering mandate even when Narendra Modi, arguably the most popular political leader in the state, was Chief Minister for three terms.
There are multiple reasons for the BJP to break its own record in Gujarat this time, especially after the close shave in the 2017 Assembly polls when the Congress put up a tough fight at the back of a movement for reservation by the Patidars and widespread discontent over GST implementation and demonetisation. The Congress had managed to secure 77 seats in the last election and confined the BJP to 99 seats in 2017.
However, in this election, the BJP has dusted off the remnants of the GST teething troubles and post-demonetisation angst and wooed back the Patidars, the community that scripted the party’s rise as a reaction to Madhavsinh Solanki’s KHAM mobilisation in the 1980s. The Patidar leader Hardik Patel who led a popular uprising with the community organisation, the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), backing him, is contesting on a BJP ticket from the Viramgam constituency and leading by a considerable margin of votes till the last results were counted.
Alpesh Thakor, yet another popular community leader who led the counter-mobilisation by Thakor Sena in 2015-16 against any move to split the 27 per cent OBC reservation as a response to the Patidars’ demand for reservation, is also contesting and leading on a BJP ticket from Gandhinagar South in the present election. Overall, the BJP has skilfully managed the caste contradictions that had split its vote in 2017.
Another important reason for the BJP to surge ahead this time is a split in the Opposition vote by the arrival of AAP on the scene. The Congress, which had secured over 41 per cent of the vote share in 2017 giving a close fight to the BJP, looked like it was going to be reduced to 27 per cent of the total votes polled as results came in on Thursday. The split has been caused by AAP which was set to corner close to 13 per cent of the vote share.
AAP led an energetic campaign in Gujarat as compared to the Congress which looked somnambulant with Rahul Gandhi largely staying away from campaigning and occupied otherwise with his Bharat Jodo Yatra. Congress had stitched up major caste alliances with Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakur and Jignesh Mevani injecting rigour into the campaign in 2017. AAP, on the other hand, campaigned furiously with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal making multiple visits to the state and announcing a flurry of freebies in Gujarat – 300 units of free power, ₹1,000 monthly allowance for women, ₹3,000 unemployment allowance et al.
In contrast, Himachal witnessed a close contest between the Congress and the BJP both of which had their share of problems with the BJP suffering from infighting after a whole lot of MLAs were moved from their constituencies and 11 were denied tickets. Congress simultaneously faced a leadership problem after the demise of former CM Virbhadra Singh but hopes to gain from anti-incumbency against the BJP government. BJP had rebel candidates — those contesting as Independents after being denied party ticket — on 21 seats.
Shimla: Media and Congress party workers outside the residence of party’s Himachal Pradesh in charge Pratibha Singh
In Kangra district, for instance, Vipin Nehria, BJP’s State vice-president of ST Morcha was a rebel from the Dharamsala seat against BJP’s official candidate. Nehria was set to secure over 6,000 votes in the constituency whereas the Congress candidate Sudhir Sharma led in the close contest by just about 3,000 votes over the official BJP candidate Rakesh Kumar. In Dehra, Hoshiar Singh, who in the last election won as an Independent and later joined the BJP, was in the fray as a rebel.
Here, Hoshiyar Singh was leading with over 21,357 votes while the BJP’s official candidate Ramesh Chand was set to get about 14,395 votes. Former MP Kripal Parmar in Fatehpur, who was expelled from the party is contesting as rebel. In Fatehpur too, the Congress was leading with its Bhawani Singh Pathania getting about 20,169 votes till the last count.
These elections are unlikely to change the political landscape significantly but the Congress hopes for a breather in Himachal while for the BJP has clearly proved its political muscle in containing a resurgent Arvind Kejriwal.