New Delhi: With the Election Commission announcing the dates for the Gujarat Assembly polls, the process to elect a new government in the state has formally begun.
A month ahead of the actual polling, it is but premature to discuss the poll outcome. But it’s worth discussing issues which may impact these elections.
The Congress hopes to gain from the fact that Narendra Modi will not be the chief ministerial candidate for the BJP this time. The Grand Old Party also hopes that activists Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mevani will lend their support to the Congress. Meanwhile, OBC leader Alpesh Thakor has formally joined the Congress. But collecting faces alone does not win elections. Will this be enough to help the Congress sail through?
The Congress itself has not been able to mount a successful movement against the government. The party’s visibility on the ground is limited to Rahul Gandhi’s own campaign across the state. Other leaders are only seen around their leader.
On the other hand, the BJP, too, lacks a big face in the state. Chief Minister Vijay Rupani is being projected as the leader but the saffron party may find it difficult to sail through on his popularity alone. The BJP’s prospects, therefore, will depend solely on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal popularity and on party chief Amit Shah’s electoral arithmetic.
While it is clear that Hardik Patel’s agitation will lead to a dent in the BJP’s traditional support base – the Patidars, it is unclear just how big a dent this will be. Several members of Hardik Patel’s team have broken away from the agitation to join the BJP.
The two main sub-castes of the Patidars are the Leuvas and the Kadvas. The Leuva Patels, given their greater number, are more influential electorally, particularly in the Saurashtra region. Hardik Patel belongs to the Kadva Patel community, whose influence is limited to a few seats in northern Gujarat.
Alpesh Thakor may have joined the Congress but his community, the Thakors, has traditional been in the Congress camp. Thakor may have had no option but to join the Congress. Besides, his father Khedaji Thakor was considered close to Congress veteran Bharat Singh Solanki.
Jignesh Mevani, too, has limited influence over his community. Dalits in Gujarat are largely divided into Bunkars and Charmakars. Bunkars, by virtue of their larger number, are more influential while Mevani belongs to the Charmakar community.
While Mevani’s fiery speeches have made him a popular figure among all Dalit youths in the state, it remains to be seen whether he is influential enough to wean them away from the BJP.
A matter of concern for the Congress and relief for the BJP is that in urban Gujarat, the saffron party is still dominant. The Congress does not have any big face in the state who can mount a challenge to the BJP in urban areas.
Of the state’s 182 seats, there are 45 urban seats where a BJP win is being seen as a certainty. The BJP needs to win just 47 more seats from the rural areas to get to the 92 seat mark. The road to 92 is looking much steeper for the Congress.
Besides, the BJP is aware that its trump card in the state of Gujarat is Narendra Modi. That is why, perhaps, the PM is expected to address at least 50 rallies across Gujarat to rack up support for the BJP.
Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi has shown great maturity in the campaign so far but after he becomes Congress President (which seems like a foregone conclusion at this point), the Gujarat polls will be his first big challenge.
For Modi, this is an election more important than even the UP polls. Gujarat is his home state and he will leave no stone unturned to retain his bastion. BJP has a goal of winning 150 seats and Congress has a goal of 125. But the only certainty is that this will be the most hotly-contested Gujarat election in over a decade.