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Opinion | Modi Magic Makes All The Difference: Explaining Why BJP Won Gujarat And Lost Himachal

By: Sandip Ghose

Last Updated: December 09, 2022, 18:03 IST

New Delhi, India

PM Narendra Modi waves during celebrations of BJP's victory in the Gujarat assembly elections, at BJP headquarters in New Delhi on Thursday. (Image: PTI/Atul Yadav)

PM Narendra Modi waves during celebrations of BJP's victory in the Gujarat assembly elections, at BJP headquarters in New Delhi on Thursday. (Image: PTI/Atul Yadav)

Without Narendra Modi, BJP is subject to the same old laws of diminishing return and anti-incumbency. That is the stark difference between Gujarat and other states that Himachal Pradesh demonstrated in a small but timely manner

There is never a dull election in India. Be it in a local club, municipality, state, or the Centre, polls always whip up a frenzy. Probably cricket comes next to that. Television has added colour to both. Opinion and Exit Polls have done to elections what IPL has done to cricket. However, this time around many journalists who went to cover the Gujarat elections found it boring. They felt the dice was far too heavily loaded in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Congress had virtually vacated the field. Despite the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) having cornered a disproportionate share of voices, pollsters did not expect it to cause any serious dent in the fortunes of the BJP. Himachal Pradesh was too small a state to make an impact on the national political scene. Traditionally, it had swung between the Congress and the BJP with the two principal political parties entering and exiting the Assembly via a revolving door as it were. Therefore, though a hill state, the battle was unlikely to be a cliff hanger, said the pundits. The exit polls by and large corroborated the views of commentators.

Though at a superficial level the results went along the lines of the prediction — with the BJP returning to power with a massive majority in Gujarat and the Congress ousting it in Gujarat on the back of anti-incumbency — they were far from unidimensional. A deeper examination reveals layers and contours that may have a significant bearing on the politics of the coming months leading to the 2024 Lok Sabha polls. The outcome both in Gujarat and Himachal are important in their own way and, therefore, they merit serious consideration. BJP’s victory in Gujarat is a testimony for Narendra Modi’s super-human popularity and phenomenal emotional connect with the people of his state. But warts and moles have developed beneath the surface, as is bound to after twenty-seven years of rule, which if ignored can turn malignant in a short time.

Yet, the BJP not only managed a clean sweep but increased its seat tally to an all-time high of 156 seats in a 182-member Assembly, reducing the Congress to a rump with only 17 seats and the AAP barely opening its account with 5. However, this was not the TINA (There Is No Alternative) factor at work with the Congress having virtually abdicated the field. There was palpable disenchantment with the BJP government at the local level. Rebel candidates further muddied the queered the pitch.

The reason for this historic mandate is the trust voters place in Modi and their pride they feel seeing him succeed as Prime Minister. They are convinced that the best interest of the Gujarati people is foremost in his heart and mind. Thus, if anyone can solve their problems it is Modi and no other politician across parties. They wish to see him scale even greater heights on the world stage and would not take a chance risking his prospects by voting against him. But take out the X factor of Modi and BJP will become another political party subject to the same laws of diminishing return and anti-incumbency. That is the stark difference between Gujarat and other states that Himachal Pradesh demonstrated in a small but timely manner.

Political analysts usually speak with the benefit of hindsight. On rare occasions, their prognosis precedes the event. This writer had tweeted a health warning on the evening of the 5th of December when Exit Polls were announced.

There are lessons for the BJP to cull out from the Himachal debacle. First, it underscores the importance of strong local leadership whose authority is not undercut by factionalism encouraged by power centres at the party’s central headquarters. There was a similar crisis of leadership in the neighbouring state of Uttarakhand, but Narendra Modi and Amit Shah could salvage the situation by a last-minute change of the Chief Minister. A similar intervention was made in Gujarat when an underperforming Vijay Rupani was unceremoniously replaced by an untried Bhupendrabhai Patel over a late evening phone call. But the problem in Himachal was not so much the Chief Minister but infighting in the party.

Truth be told, weak Chief Ministers have been the Achilles’ Heels of the Modi regime. Except for Yogi Adityanath, no other BJP Chief Minister has been able to play the game of “Double Engine Sarkar”. This was apparent even in Modi’s previous term when the BJP lost Karnataka (later retrieved), Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and later Jharkhand. Even Gujarat was won in 2017 after some tense moments purely on the strength of Narendra Modi’s charisma. This time too, an encore of 2017-18, may be awaiting the BJP if it does not pull its act together soon. Karnataka already looks vulnerable under lacklustre leadership and disgruntled former Chief Ministers pulling strings from the rear. Whether BJP will be in a position to change the Chief Minister is difficult to tell, but it is unlikely that it can go to the polls in Madhya Pradesh with Shivraj Singh Chouhan at the helm.

Much is being made of the AAP’s foray into Gujarat and gaining the status of a national party. But Gujarat was no Punjab and by replicating the same entry strategy Arvind Kejriwal is not going to get far before 2024. In any case, his sights are set over a distant horizon, and he is shrewd enough not to blow up his longer-term prospects by using up his ammunition too soon. The Congress on the other hand, true to its culture, exaggerates the Himachal Pradesh success to gloss over its near decimation in Gujarat and the Delhi municipal elections. If it chooses to bite the Himachali apple instead of smelling the coffee that would be its own undoing.

Meanwhile, with this resounding victory in Gujarat, Narendra Modi will launch himself on to another orbit after the G20 inauguration just as he had done after his 2012 win in the Assembly elections. In 2024 he will not be marketing the Gujarat model but take the campaign to an entirely different plain — selling the vision of a new India making it the “Vishwaguru” under his watch.

The author is a current affairs commentator, marketer, blogger and leadership coach, who tweets at @SandipGhose. Views expressed are personal.

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first published:December 09, 2022, 16:49 IST
last updated:December 09, 2022, 18:03 IST
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