Assembly elections

Preview: Caste leaders play key role in Gujarat as Congress eyes a win, BJP banks on Modi

Around 43.3 million voters chose from among 1,828 candidates for 182 Assembly seats in the state.

Gujarat had its Assembly elections in two phases – on December 9 and December 14. Around 68.41% of voters, or 43.3 million people, turned up to choose their representatives for the state’s 182 seats. However, polling on both days was marred by complaints of malfunctioning electronic voting machines. Re-polling was held at six booths in four Assembly constituencies on Sunday.

Gujarat has had a Bharatiya Janata Party government for 22 years. This election is particularly important for the ruling party as it will be considered a testimony of how successful demonetisation and the Goods and Service Tax have been.

The polls are also equally significant for Rahul Gandhi as this will be his first election after becoming Congress president. Reportage from the state suggested that there was plenty of unhappiness with the BJP, but it remains to be seen whether that will translate to outright preference for the Congress.

Names that matter

This time, the Gujarat election, does not seem to be a simple two-party fight. Ground realities have showed that it is new faces like Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani who are viewed as opposition leaders in the state.

Hardik Patel, the face of the Patidar agitation for reservation, has drawn huge crowds at his rallies. His core political plank has been reservation for his community. However, he has neither floated a political party, nor has he said outright that he supports the Congress.

Alpesh Thakor, the face of the Kshatriya-Thakor community in the state, made the lack of educational opportunities the focal point of his campaign. The OBC leader joined the Congress in October, and contested the elections from Radhanpur in North Gujarat.

Jignesh Mevani became a rallying force for the Dalit community after four men were flogged in Saurashtra’s Una town in 2016. He contested as an independent candidate from the Vadgam constituency, but is expected to deliver the overall Dalit vote to the Congress.

The campaign

The BJP started its campaign with vikas (development) as its poll plank before the first phase of voting but appeared to play the communal and nationalist card as the second phase neared. It talked about reducing the number of “dadhi-topi” people in power and accused the Congress of colluding with Pakistan to make Ahmed Patel Gujarat’s chief minister.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was the party’s star campaigner, used a range of dog-whistles to insinuate that the Congress is a party of Muslims, and hence untrustworthy for Hindus.

The Congress has largely failed to fend off the attacks. Instead, Rahul Gandhi, who was the face and the brain of the Congress’ campaign in Gujarat, reached out to Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani.

Electoral issues

The farming crisis, lack of development and rising unemployment were the major issues ahead of the election. However, while campaigning, the BJP rarely delved into what it has done to boost development. Rather, it combined its polarising rhetoric with Modi’s star campaigner status to woo voters. “BJP’s performance speaks for itself,” Arun Jaitley had said while releasing the party’s manifesto.

The Congress has sought to reap an advantage from the anti-incumbency wave. In its campaign, the party highlighted how demonetisation and the hasty rollout of GST hit the informal economy in Gujarat. Patel, Thakor and Mevani ripped into the Gujarat model of development by highlighting the problems that their communities are facing.

Exit polls

Exit polls from Gujarat projected a comfortable victory for the BJP. All the major polls predicted more than 100 seats for the saffron party, meaning they will cross the halfway mark of 92. Though most suggested the Congress had also made gains, those only appeared to be incremental.

An average of the major exit polls’ seat projections suggests the BJP will actually better its 2012 performance, adding two seats, while the Congress will be 53 seats behind it.

The 2012 elections

The BJP had won the 2012 Assembly elections in Gujarat, with 115 out of 182 seats. The Congress had got 61 seats while the Gujarat Parivartan Party won two, independents got 1 and others bagged three seats.

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