Gujarat rewards Prime Minister Modi’s BJP even more after 27 years

Mayank Chhaya-

Mayank Chayya

For 34 years between 1977 and 2011 the Left Front, with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPM as its main constituent, ruled the state of West Bengal. With its thumping electoral victory in Gujarat’s just concluded assembly elections the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has moved a step closer to repeating that extraordinarily one-sided ideological dominance of a state.

The BJP has won 156 seats out of the total of 182, gaining a whopping 57 seats over its 2017 performance and in the process turned the idea of anti-incumbency on its head. Quite inevitably, the success of the party is directly attributed to one man—Prime Minister Narendra Modi who remains a political and electoral juggernaut all by himself.

On the flip side, the Indian National Congress (INC) Party, which once dominated the state but over some three decades ago, has been left in tatters losing 61 seats over 2017 and plummeting to a bare 17. This is notwithstanding that the party’s most public face, Rahul Gandhi has been on by all accounts a widely well-received cross-country march by foot for national integration. His lackadaisical efforts in the state by holding two rallies were not expected to turn the tide and they did not.

However, his party scored an equally assertive victory in Himachal Pradesh where it won 40 out of 68 seats, improving by 19 seats over its 2017 performance. Given the askew political discourse in India the BJP’s Gujarat win is already being projected as a harbinger of a similar performance by the party in the 2024 national elections even though the factors there will be fundamentally different.

That is partly because Gujarat with its close to 64 million population is considered the political bellwether for the Hindu right dominance of the country’s electoral politics while Himachal Pradesh with its 7.32 million people is not even considered an also-ran.

In pure statistical terms, the BJP’s Gujarat triumph is unprecedented. Apart from 156 being the highest number of seats won by a party in the state’s history, it has notched up an incredible 52.50 % of the votes cast. Compare that with Congress’s 27.28 %. One remarkable feature of the elections has been the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) helmed by Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

Although AAP won only five seats, its vote share, according to the Election Commission of India, is 12.92 %. For a party making its debut in a state so completely overwhelmed by the BJP, this is as good a performance as any that could have been. Clearly, AAP ate into INC’s base even though retaining that base would not really have helped the latter.

What has been jarring for those who do not support the BJP in Gujarat is that INC has practically written off the state from its electoral planning. It is almost as if a peculiar kind of defeatist diffidence has paralyzed the party apparatus in Gujarat. It went into the elections intent to snatch defeat from the jaws of defeat.

The BJP on the other hand went into the elections intent on winning with unabashed enthusiasm and it did. Gujarat has been a BJP captive for over a quarter century and a decisive percentage of its electorate has internalized the pithy, albeit arrogant, political construct “Ayega to Modi hi” (Eventually, only Modi will win). At least in Gujarat Modi remains the ultimate political truth despite the fact that he is not necessarily as invincible outside.

There are those who cite the fact that eight Indian states — Rajasthan, Odisha, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Bihar, Punjab and Jharkhand– accounting for some 416 million Indians have non-BJP governments at the state level. Their point being that the claims of Modi personally dominating the national electoral scene in terms of its impact in state elections is seriously exaggerated.

However, the same Modi and the same BJP won 37.36 percent of the total votes in the 2019 parliamentary elections, the highest for a party since 1989, to notch up 303 seats in parliament. India may not be Gujarat but at least twice since he first took to the national stage in 2014 the country’s electorate has returned him triumphant.

His party’s Gujarat victory is being seen from the standpoint whether barely two years before the next national elections it foreshadows yet another five-year term for him as prime minister. In objective terms, winning Gujarat would not necessarily mean winning India in 2024 but, by the same token, losing Gujarat also would not necessarily have meant losing India. Electoral quirkiness in India hard to define but in so much as the landslide Gujarat victory bolsters the party’s confidence for the general elections, it has a significant symbolic value.

It is true that for over a quarter century and especially since 2014 a decisive number of Gujarat’s people has made Modi their permanent political passion both at the state as well as national levels. His is a singular success in the state which not just remains undiminished but has strengthened going by the state election results. If the BJP generally and Modi individually remain unassailable and even win 50 plus percentage of votes, it means just as West Bengal loved its doctrinaire Marxist in the late Chief Minister Jyoti Basu for 34 years irrespective of all his flaws, Gujarat continues to love its crafty pragmatist Modi after 27 years. Whether it bodes well for India is a different matter altogether.

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