Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani summed up the 2019 general election results in one line: “It is not a Modi wave, it is a tsunami.”
In Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state, it was the second tsunami after 2014: in both elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party took all 26 parliamentary seats, wiping out its only significant rival, the Congress.
All talk of farmer unrest in rural Gujarat, particularly in the Saurashtra region, did not seem to matter as counting began on Thursday morning. The BJP established early leads on almost all of Gujarat’s seats and swiftly overtook the Congress on three of them by noon. Thereafter, trends indicated widening victory margins for the BJP almost everywhere, with the Hindutva party even polling better on 23 seats than in 2014.
According to the Election Commission, the BJP had a vote share of 62.2% by 7 pm, 3% better than its 2014 share of 59.1%. The Congress’s vote share declined marginally from 32.9% in 2014 to 32.1% in 2019.
BJP national president Amit Shah is set for a smooth victory in Gandhinagar, having established a lead of 5.5 lakh votes over the Congress’s JC Chavda. The Gandhinagar seat was previously held by BJP veteran LK Advani. Shah – a Rajya Sabha MP since 2017 – was contesting his first Lok Sabha election.
As of 7 pm, the results had been declared for Rajkot, Bardoli and Anand – all won by the BJP.
The results are consistent with exit polls, which predicted a clean sweep for the BJP in Gujarat.
They also show a clear distinction in voter preferences between the 2017 Gujarat Assembly election and the 2019 parliamentary election.
State versus national polls
The BJP has been in power in Gujarat since 1995, holding between 117 and 127 seats, out of 182, over 22 years and five elections. Modi became the chief minister in 2001 and, following the communal carnage of 2002, stayed on for three more terms until 2014.
In 2017, however, the Congress finally managed to make inroads into the BJP’s strongholds in the state. Modi was prime minister by then and voters were reeling from the economic disruptions caused by demonetisation in November 2016 and the Goods and Services Tax in July 2017. Farmers were also reeling from three straight years of drought and blamed the BJP government for failing to provide adequate crop-loss compensation, irrigation water and higher minimum support prices for their produce.
Then, there was the factor of Hardik Patel, the young Patidar leader who churned unrest in his influential community as he led a movement demanding caste-based reservation for the Patidars in government jobs and higher education.
Though the combined impact of these factors was not enough to unseat the BJP, the party’s tally dropped to 99 seats – a majority of just seven seats. The Congress took 77 seats, 20 more than in 2012. Most of these seats were in rural Saurashtra, the heart of farmer unrest.
The farmer unrest was still strong leading up to the 2019 parliamentary election. In Saurashtra, farmers were still complaining about crop-loss compensation, minimum support prices and unemployment, with many claiming they were planning to vote for the Congress.
To the surprise of some farmer activists, however, the BJP swept Saurashtra on Thursday.
“My organisation is connected to farmers across the state and we really thought that the mood was swinging towards the Congress this time,” said Chetan Gadhiya, a member of the Gujarat Khedut Samaj, a farmers’ collective. “Even during BJP rallies, I saw many people express dissatisfaction with the government. But the results do not reflect any of that.”
Gadhiya expected at least three Congress candidates to win: Bharatsinh Solanki in Anand, Paresh Dhanani in Amreli, Punjabhai Vansh in Junagadh. He now attributes the party’s defeat to two factors: lack of organisation at the booth level and the Modi government’s decision to conduct an air strike on Balakot, Pakistan, as a response to February’s Pulwama attack in Kashmir. “I guess there was some switch in people’s minds after the Balakot attack,” he said. “Modi managed to divert people’s attention to nationalism.”
Kadir Peerzada, a former Congress legislator from Surat, also made a reference to the Balakot air strikes as he accepted his party’s loss in the state. “The BJP campaigned on a different topic and they managed to convince people,” he said. “Now we need to think about what our shortcomings were and what we need to do next.”
Political scientist Ghanshyam Shah believes one of the key reasons for the BJP’s sweep is the simple fact that Modi is a Gujarati. “This sense of Gujarati-ness absolutely makes a difference to voters in Gujarat,” said Shah, who is based in Ahmedabad. “Besides, people here just do not see the Congress as an alternative. The party has never spelled out its ideology and has not been able to develop a commitment among the people.”