The 14th Gujarat Legislative Assembly election 2017 was held on December 09 and 14. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP, which came to power in Gujarat for the sixth time, faced a tough battle against a renewed Congress under the leadership of newly elected party president Rahul Gandhi. Amidst all the pomp and glory, the election was won by the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party with a reduced majority, following losses to the opposition party Indian National Congress. The BJP which had set a target of 150 plus seats for the party in the 182-seat assembly faced a greater challenge that they probably expected. Even though, the result was as much predicted, the conflicts and chaos raised from both the parties kept the people hooked up and guessing the margin of victory.
The Congress which gained nearly twenty seats compared to the 2012 assembly elections secured 77 seats. The BJP, though seen to be getting a majority mandate, was reduced to double digits and finished with 99 seats. The BJP which has been ruling Gujarat for the last two decades saw the victory as a significant one ahead of the 2019 general elections. Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the party’s victory in his home state, where the BJP has been continuously in power since 1998 as ‘unprecedented’, emphasizing that retaining office was once considered a huge achievement in the country.
Implementation of VVPAT
The 2017 Gujarat election witnessed the implementation of Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT). It offers some fundamental differences as a paper, rather than electronic recording medium when storing votes. A paper VVPAT is readable by the human eye and voters can directly interpret their vote. It allows voters the possibility to verify that their votes are cast as intended and can serve as an additional barrier to changing or destroying votes. The VVPAT includes a direct recording electronic voting system (DRE), to assure voters that their votes have been recorded as intended. The major advantage of this technique is that it is helpful to detect fraud and equipment malfunction to an extent. It also serves to audit the stored electronic results which can be used for later reference. Post-election, there were no complaints of any voting machine malfunction leading to the successful implementation of VVPAT and the future course of voting process across the country.
Campaigns in Gujarat, by the BJP and the Congress, were high-pitched and bitterly-fought. The assembly election campaign for the state witnessed a wonderful show from both the parties. Both the parties conducted rallies, road shows, meetings and also interacted with different sections of people. The two leaders personally led a high-pitched campaign to counter attack the opposition party. The Congress party mostly reclined on one-liners to target the BJP on issues such as GST, corruption and development. PM Modi, who carpet-bombed Gujarat with close to 34 rallies highlighted on the aspects of Cleanliness Drive (Swatch Bharat) and development of the State (Desh ka Vikas). Inspite of the various allegations placed by the opposition part, the efforts paved way for the victory of the BJP party. “This is double joy for me,” said Modi, a former Gujarat chief minister, in a victory speech at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi. He said, “The Gujarat elections are an unprecedented election in BJP’s history. Any government coming back to power has been a huge event in the last 30 years. Today, if any government returns after five years, it is considered as a big win.”
Both INC and BJP designed their own master plan for the 2017 elections, focusing on the victory in the main front. They introduced their new leaders and believed them to be the game changers in the elections. Despite the efforts, BJP managed to triumph again despite the disappointment.
Vijay Rupani vs. Indranil Rajyaguru
A long-time RSS ideologue, Vijay Rupani replaced Anandiben Patel as the chief minister of Gujarat in August 2016, after she failed to curb the Patidar agitation and the Dalit movement in the state. Rupani, a Jain Baniya by caste holds a considerable clout in the Saurashtra region and contested for the assembly seat from the Rajkot west region. Rupani faced a tough competition from Indranil Rajyaguru, the candidate of the congress party. A graduate in Arts, Rupani has served as the mayor of Rajkot for one year from 1996-97 and a year later he became the general secretary of the Gujarat unit for the BJP. He also became the member of the Rajya Sabha in 2006 for a period of 6 years. On the other hand, Rajyaguru is an entrepreneur and one of the richest contenders in Rajkot West. For the past 22 years, Congressman Rajyaguru has been in power in Rajkot East constituency, a seat and dominance he retained despite the BJP being in continuous power in the state for the last 22 years. Despite of the indifferences, Vijay Rupani, belonging to the relatively small Jain community, steered the party machinery in Gujarat, and surviving the quota stir by the Patidar community.
Congress backed the support of three young leaders; Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakor to take on the Modi government. The poll battle was projected as Modi versus the troika. The congress party used the three young leaders to represent the anger of society at the failure of the BJP government.
The 24 year old Hardik Patel who led the Patidar reservation agitation is supposed to have successfully split the Patel vote along caste lines, making inroads into BJP’s traditional vote base. He organized several rallies across Gujarat, drawing millions of people through his oratorical skills. This youth leader is unfazed by BJP’s winning spree and is looking forward for the 2019 elections.
Jignesh Mevani shot to fame after he spearheaded a Dalit movement against the flogging of Dalit youths by cow vigilantes. He served as the face of Dalit agitation in Gujarat and contested as an independent candidate from the reserved Vadgam constituency in North Gujarat.
Thakor, a popular OBC leader gained recognition for leading the charge against Patidar agitation by dismissing its demand for reservation. He was a staunch opponent of the Patel leader for wanting a share in the reservation quota. Alpesh Thakor has passionately campaigned against liquor addiction in Gujarat earlier, but turned to politics to help the farmer community. Despite of the fact of facing BJP’s Lavinji Thakor a local leader from the same caste, Thakor indeed grabbed the limelight in the state elections.
The Patidar agitation seeking OBC status for the Patidar Community served as a major backlash for the BJP government. The land owning community has been demanding reservations in higher education and employment since 2015. Congress stitched a broad social coalition with the prominent Patidar, OBC and Dalit leaders – Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jigesh Mevani to fight against the saffron party. Patel led a long agitation of his community for reservation, while Thakor led counter protest against inclusion of Patidars in the OBC reservation list. Mevani raised his voice against Dalit atrocities. The impact of this agitation had an adverse effect on the BJP’s electoral prospects in this region.
Patidars wanted reservations in jobs and colleges; other backward classes and Dalits. The small businessmen in the state’s business belt had been hit by demonetization and the implementation of the GST. And all these stood as strong reasons for the fall in the vote share of BJP party, with the former winning only 19 of 48 seats in the Saurashtra region, where the agrarian crisis was most acute. Even though, the Congress won seats in rural Saurashtra, Kutch and the Adivasi belt of eastern Gujarat, it was the BJP on the other hand, which asserted its power over Gujarat’s major cities, winning almost all the Assembly seats in the Urban areas of Ahmedabad, Surat, Rajkot and Vadodara.
The results in the Saurashtra region, which covers about one third of the Gujarat state, came as a surprise for both the parties. The Saurashtrian Impact was very much reflected in the election result, which saw a mass drifting from BJP to Congress. In addition to its traditional stronghold, BJP could only win 23 of 56 seats compared to 36 in the last election. It lost 13 seats in Saurashtra and three in the rest of the state. Meanwhile, the Congress gained 15 seats in Saurashtra and four in the rest of the state.
Saurashtra has a high density of the influential Patels or Patidars. The Patidar agitations and the Dalit conflicts paved way for the victory of the congress party. The BJP suffered a major setback in the rural sectors of Saurashtra. The slashing of cotton prices since 2012 and the scars of the drought in 2016, proved to be the major setback for the BJP, which persuaded the rural sector to favour the opposition party. Apart from this, the caste coalition strategy also worked for the win of the congress party.
Statistics: 2012 vs. 2017
As per the statistical data, BJP vote share has increased since 2012 from 47.85% to 49.10% vote in 2017. Held in two phases, the voter turnout this time was 68.40%, much lower than the 71.32% recorded in 2012 assembly elections. Amit Shah, BJP president, pointed out that though the BJP lost about 15 seats, its vote share rose by a little over 1% to 49.1% compared to the 2012 Assembly polls. The Congress, which had 61 in 2012, also improved its vote share, which touched 41.4%, a mere 2% increase. In 2012, BJP dominated the Saurashtra Kutch region and won 35 of 54 seats. However, in 2017, it got reduced to 23 seats. The region-wise analysis showed the turnout was higher in the north and central parts of the state than in the western coastal region that includes Saurashtra, which traditionally had been a BJP support.
The voter turnout was also generally lower in the rural constituencies dominated by Patidars, who have traditionally been BJP supporters. The Election Commission data showed higher voter turnout in the constituencies that have a sizeable other backward classes (OBCs) and tribal population.
The Patidar-dominated Amreli district recorded the lowest turnout of 61.29%, whereas the tribal district of Narmada saw the highest voter turnout of 79.15%.
Significance of NOTA and ‘Others’ Category
Amidst the nerve-wracking contest between the BJP and the Rahul Gandhi-led Congress what may have been lost in the mix, was the presence of the significant ‘others’ in Gujarat elections. Gujarat has essentially been a two-party system since 1995, with the BJP and the Congress battling each other for the 182 constituencies of the state. Nevertheless, the close contest between the two parties this time was very much evident in the vote share of the category of ‘Others’, reducing the count to four.
The combined vote share of the BJP (49.1%) and Congress (41.4%) in this election came to 90.5%. While the Congress added 2.5% additional votes to its party, the BJP gained 1.2% of votes. This squeezed the ‘others’ to just 7% of the vote share, the lowest the group has ever garnered in the past three elections.
The debut of NOTA (None of the Above) in the Gujarat elections also served as one of the reason for the low vote counts of ‘Others’. NOTA garnered 1.8% of the total votes polled in the state. It is safe to say that NOTA played the saviour as well as the tormentor for both parties, because if this category was not introduced then the vote shares would have been fallen to either of the parties and there would have been a drastic change in the final result.
Impact on Share Markets
Gujarat has a large business community, which has been impacted by demonetization and GST. The elections served as a test of the popularity of Modi’s reforms and threw light on the incumbent in power. The BJP’s victory added as a boon for the share markets. The victory of the BJP party marked the political stability of the Markets, which serves as a crucial factor that decides market sentiment. “Investors will now also focus on developments on the GST front, including implementation of e-way bill mechanism,” said Anand James, Chief Market Strategist, Geojit Financial Services.
Both the parties carefully fielded their candidates, strategically planned each moves and played brilliantly as their master plan yet before their final win. The Gujarat battle was not just an electoral contest but also a mini-referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s three-and-half year rule at the Centre, especially in the wake of issues like demonetization, implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), rising unemployment and the minimum support price (MSP) for farm commodities dominating most part of the campaign discourse initially. Meanwhile, Congress, which recently witnessed a generational shift, faced a tough test on its newly appointed president Rahul Gandhi’s political prowess.
According to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, “The BJP’s win has shown that people are ready for reforms and will embrace good performance. The Congress, meanwhile, seemed energised by its performance with the support of party leader Ashok Gehlot, who was in charge of the campaign in Gujarat, terming it a “moral victory”. Trinamool Congress leader and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee termed the election results a “moral defeat” for the BJP. In a tweet, she suggested that the Gujarat elections could show the way to tackle the BJP in the 2019 parliamentary elections.