By Madhulika Gupta
Gujarat has once again emerged as the centre of Indian politics, delivering another painful blow to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The state’s municipal elections have again given BJP a reason to celebrate, but only very meekly. Just as in the Gujarat Assembly elections, where BJP won with a double-digit mandate but had to face a moral loss given their low turn-out to the benefit of Congress, the latest municipal elections prove that the public in the PM’s home state is losing confidence in the party.
Nevertheless, as BJP President Amit Shah hails the result as a victory, the party is buckling itself up for a nail-biting show in the 2019 general elections. How the Gujarat factor is going to play out is one of the main areas political watchers must look out for.
BJP losses compared to 2013
A total of 75 municipalities went out to vote a day ago. Of this, the BJP won 47 municipalities and Congress won a total of 16. The numbers come as a surprise when the latest results are tallied with the result of the 2013 Gujarat civic polls where the BJP won a staggering 59 municipalities and Congress won only 11.
Gujarat’s BJP Chief Jitu Vaghani was quoted as saying, “The performance was almost same as that in 2013” and that “the voters had rejected the Congress party”. However, in reality, the party has again suffered the wrath of the common folk because of the unpopularity of the BJP-led NDA Government’s policy decisions. Part of this shift in opinion is also attributed to the revival of Congress as a serious contender, with President Rahul Gandhi at the helm, and the rise of the trio of community leaders, Jignesh Mewani, Alpesh Thakor and Hardik Patel.
Other competitors such as the NCP and BSP bagged only one seat each while four independent candidates were also victorious. Interestingly, a total of 6 municipalities have returned an unclear mandate, with Congress and BJP both finding moderate levels of support.
BJP regains confidence in Vadnagar
Vadnagar, in Gujarat’s Mehsana district, is a VIP area; it is Narendra Modi’s hometown and thus, politically and strategically, very important. BJP faced a massive blow when it lost the Unjha constituency that includes Vadnagar to Congress’ Asha Patel. That win was important in boosting the morale of Congress supporters. However, the latest civic polls had a different story to tell. BJP won Vadnagar with a 96.4% mandate and 27 of 28 seats.
It is interesting to compare the state assembly results to the civic results. For example, the fishing community in Amreli district supported Congress’ Paresh Dhanani in the Assembly polls but voted for BJP in the civic polls.
BJP was more consistent when it came to its performance in urban areas. Even after the blow businesses suffered after reforms like demonetisation and GST, urban areas with affluent populations and trading communities supported BJP both in the assembly and the municipal polls. Congress tried to put up a strong fight and its efforts are to be lauded, but BJP stole the game once again.
Buckling up for 2019
With the urban votes already in hand, what BJP needs next is to focus on winning back the trust of the people in rural and tribal areas. In the Saurashtra-Kutchh region, in particular, it all went wrong for the BJP in the Assembly elections. One way to correct such problems would be to appease to the farmer community and people in the rural areas of the state.
Additionally, BJP will have to prioritise their ‘Gujarat Development model’ if they are to rebuild their rural base. The ‘model’ was lost during the last leg of BJP’s campaign but can fruitfully be used again to pick up seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Featured Image Source: Flickr