BJP’s true assessment of its Gujarat victory was best surmised by Dr Shashi Tharoor while talking to India Today. Commenting on the victory speech of PM Modi, he said, “The speech was not celebratory but defensive” – a sharp departure from past victory celebrations. The PM has no particular reason to celebrate. Although BJP won the election, his party got beaten in his own home town, the BJP tally came down to 99 not just from its previous 115 but also its boastfully projected 150; five cabinet ministers lost; the Congress gained 19 more seats than in 2012 and its vote share jumped by 3%, while the BJP gained 1% yet as compared to the votes received during Lok Sabha 2014 elections, the BJP vote loss translates to 11%, amounting to a loss of 66 assembly seats.
Worse, seeing the resentment against his government’s policies at the centre and the functioning of its government in the state, Modi had to abandon ‘Vikas’ as the thrust of campaigning and reverted to his tested communal polarization formula, with help of course from Mani Shankar Aiyer. He was also reduced to begging for votes in the name of Gujarati ‘asmitha’. Moreover, this was also an election where he lied as never before and made the most bizarre analogies and statements to communalize the voters – something that will come back with a vengeance to haunt him.
Therefore, it is not surprising that the PM was not particularly celebratory over the Gujarat victory and was defensive in his speech. PM Modi, shrewd politician that he is, knows that the Gujarat elections, as Mamta Bannerjee has put it, ‘belled the cat for 2019’ in a major way, and the done same for the ensuing assembly elections in 4 crucial states.
The Gujarat 2017 elections always began with the presupposition that the BJP, in the face of perceived entrenchment of Hindutva in Gujarat, of the PM being a Gujarati, of the strong support of the RSS and its allied organizations, of the party’s control over government machinery and the complicity of big media, would have no difficulty in not only handsomely retaining power for the sixth consecutive time, but also possibly reaching its goal of 150 seats. Under the circumstances, an invigorated Congress, empowered by the patedar agitation, Dalit revolt and farmer distress considered even an addition of 10 seats to its 2012 tally a big victory. That it eventually won nearly twice that many seats, reducing the BJP to the double digit tally of 99, dealt a severe psychological blow to the BJP, simultaneously also sending a number of negative messages to the nation about BJP, Modi and Hindutva, putting both the party and the PM on the defense.
Modi and the BJP essentially came to power in various states and the centre because of Congress incumbency worsened by scams and by presenting the so-called ‘Gujarat Development Model’ as an alternative political and development model. The fact, however, was that this model was nothing but a narrow Hindutva development model in which the creation, ownership and control of wealth and the economy rest in the hands of the upper castes. This also implies that development that takes place under BJP would largely be urban as this model rests on using the money and resources of and enriching the already rich, most of whom are either based or operate in urban areas and who dominate Gujarat.
Gujarat, though, has a diverse population of castes, with Dalits, SCs, STs and OBCs covering 102 assembly seats, besides a 11.5% minority population most of which is Dalit, ST and other low caste, who mostly live in rural areas and account for several other assembly segments. Except most minorities, large tracts of these sections were BJP voters in the last assembly elections and in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. But the Hindutva developmental model only gave them crumbs from the development table and after 22 years of BJP rule, rural development in Gujarat is as marginal as in the rest of the country. This is the principal reason for the larger discontent in the state, denoted by the patedar agitation, Dalit uprising and farmer distress and agitation and this discontent in the rural areas is clearly reflected by the fact that most BJP seats came from the urban areas where relative development has indeed taken place. This is why BJP won 44 of 55 urban seats while congress won 71 of 127 rural seats, where rural OBCs favored the BJP due to Congress’ proximity with the Patedars. Even in the urban areas, BJP lost 6 seats contested by sitting BJP heavy hitters, while its urban vote share as compared to 2014 elections came down by 11%.
More importantly, it was because it could not match its claims of vikas for all with visible proof of it that the BJP completely stopped talking about vikas during campaigning. It is one thing, as it did in 2014, to sell Gujarat model to a nation-wide electorate that has no way of confirming the claim, and quite another to try to sell it to Gujaratis living in Gujarat and have seen development unfold the way it did. Additionally haunted by Demonetization and GST woes, the BJP found itself on the back foot as the opposition made lack of vikas and economic disruption their main election plank, leaving the BJP defenseless. In effect, the farcical Gujarat Model has been exposed to the rest of the country as nothing but unsubstantiated claims. This now poses a major drawback for BJP in the ensuing state elections and the general elections in 2019 because it cannot boast of any all inclusive development model while asking for votes, even as the BJP finds itself beleaguered by the negative effects of demonetization and GST that will take a couple of years to stabilize, and by the general disapproval of civilized society across the country to BJP patronized social disturbances.
Halfway through the campaign, it was obvious that there was a back-lash against the BJP. Unable to talk about vikas, PM Modi and the BJP were reduced to falling back on their tested communal polarization formula to consolidate Hindu votes. But the results show that here have not been as many takers for communalism in the state as earlier because despite winning elections, it has actually lost a total of 19 seats and 11% vote share since 2014. In the process, though, PM Modi indulged in some of the worst communal utterances, analogies and tactics to polarize voters, putting himself and the BJP in poor light because voters now know that the Gujarat Model is a lie and that when false claims of achievement fail to garner votes, they indulge in the worst kind of tactics to deceive people in order to get votes. It is in this sense that Mamata Bannerjee said the cat was belled. The message has gone across that the BJP does not any have fixed developmental solution for the nation and also cannot be trusted.
Every politician goes through a period which makes him or breaks him. The Gujarat elections have made Rahul Gandhi as the RaGa seen in the elections was a completely different person compared to earlier times. Ever since his visit to the US and appearances at Berkeley and Harvard Universities, Rahul Gandhi has transformed into an aggressive, battle-ready yet sober politician. His factual approach, humility in accepting Congress’ failures, his refusal to match the BJP’s cheap mudslinging, instead choosing to stay with facts, established a higher moral ground for the Congress. His insistence that Hinduism is not the ward of BJP alone; his honesty in assuring the people to do the best he can rather than make false promises; his promise to uplift the subalterns through inclusive development and proving that he means business by having Manishankar Aiyer suspended for using a derogatory word against the PM even though the PM has said worse about the Gandhi family, contrasted the gory sides of BJP and Hindutva as seen in the utterances of Modi, thereby also creating a higher political narrative for the Congress. This puritan approach –which civilized people generally subscribe to – is a sharp contrast to the extreme communal and ‘any-thing goes to stay in power’ style of BJP politics that Gujarat voters had seen for too long.
With RaGa beginning to go great guns, and having no asmitha’ to fall back on in ensuing state and general elections, the BJP now faces a Congress that is on a higher moral ground and a higher political narrative. The surge in sup-port for the Congress in Gujarat also indicates that people have begun forgiving the Congress for past failures. Future elections will be decided primarily on present state of actual development, economic and social welfare issues, vs the BJP’s promises and its extreme communal ideology and practices.
As the BJP MP Sanjay Kakade told Rediff, “This is definitely not the BJP’s victory, This is PM Modi’s victory 100 per cent.” – a reference to Modi’s aggressive campaigning focused on communalism and on Gujarati pride – both of which will not get the BJP much mileage in all future elections after poor results in its stronghold- Gujarat. The BJP may have managed to retain Gujarat, but in the process, it has set itself up for highly likely defeat in oncoming state and general elections. This is a big time and larger loss that cannot be offset by its victory in Gujarat. It is now up to the opposition to capitalize on this loss.
[Oliver D’Souza is an award winning author and editor of Dalit Post. The article was first published by Countercurrents.org.]