A defeat that wasn’t: The Congress is gaining ground in Gujarat

By K. I. John

In the wake of the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh elections, one could infer from the results that the stance the Congress has taken is one of a true contender. Shunning any notion that these elections may have been a cakewalk for the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), the Congress was able to hold ground in the very heart of the BJP stronghold—Gujarat. The Congress managed to bring down the BJP’s victory margin to the lowest the state has ever seen in its 22 years of saffron dominance.

The vote share and seat win disparity

When viewing the seat tally from a rural-urban or a reserved and unreserved perspective, distinct variations are seen throughout the state. However, in respect of all these aspects, it was seen that the vote share of the BJP exceeded that of the Congress in every region. The irony, therefore, arises in those regions wherein in spite of the larger vote share possessed by the BJP, the Congress was able to acquire a greater number of seats. For the state as a whole, the BJP possessed a vote share of 49.1 percent in these polls.

Although a minor improvement in comparison to the 2012 election where the party had a vote share of 47.9 percent, the new vote share is an immense drop from the 59.1 percent vote share the party possessed during the Lok Sabha polls of 2014. The Congress also increased its vote share to 41.4 percent, but still remained approximately eight percent beneath the BJP. Hence, when the BJP was able to grab the victory only by seven seats over the majority mark, the question arose as to why the BJP was unable to convert such a large lead in votes into a more evident lead in the number of seats.

The Congress impact

The disparity was born mainly out of the fact that a large portion of the BJP’s vote share came from landslide victories in the urban areas. Of the 33 seats won in urban areas, an average winning margin of 47,400 was seen. Similarly, its rural seats were won with average margins over 26,000 votes. This thereby portrayed an excess of votes which did not, in turn, add to the number of seats. The votes received by the Congress were, however, more evenly spaced out. It was in this manner that it was able to acquire a larger number of seats in regions where it had a lower vote share. The same was seen in the Patidar dominated areas of Saurashtra.

The influence of the Patidar revolt

With the vehement rejection of the reservation offered by the BJP under the Economically Backward Class (EBC) quota, the Hardik Patel led Patidar movement was known to be in favour of the Congress devised a formula. That would provide reservation to the Patidars under the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category. Due to the impact that the Patidars’ votes have and the electoral backing received from them for the past 22 years, the BJP has constantly provided major Patidar leaders with important roles. In light of the Patidar anger towards BJP, of the 52 seats in which Patidars constitute a significant part, the party was still able to attain a majority of 28 seats. This, however, reflected a variation in the manner of the Patidar seat behaviour. Only nine of the 28 seats won by the BJP were from the Kutch-Saurashtra region. On the other hand, 17 of the 23 seats won by the Congress came from there. In spite of taking advantage of the Patidar revolt, the Congress failed to hold its ground in its traditional constituencies in central Gujarat.

The changing times

In the past, Gujarat’s electoral decisions were primarily driven by a Hindutva motive. However, the 2017 results have shed a new light on the various economic aspects and social identities which form the crux of the state. Since the 1990s, the geographic imprint of the BJP vote base has been constantly evolving. The repetitive election wins are a testament to the party being both tactical and insightful in its methodology.

Although the Congress may have fallen short of breaching the BJP fortress, they have gained significant ground with an immense support and a significant lead over the BJP in the Saurashtra region and the areas in north Gujarat. Also evident from these elections was that the charge led by the new candidates of the Congress proved successful, while those of the older members fell short. This was an indication that with proper time and nurturing, the Congress domination could be far more widespread.

Featured Image Source: By Own work (Image drawn by me, Nichalp using Inkscape.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons