A file photo of Congress workers in Mumbai protesting against Narendra Modi for his comments on Sonia Gandhi. PTI
The Narendra Modi-led Bhartiya Janata Party is all set for another innings in Gujarat. Even a miracle can't result in the defeat of Narendra Modi in the forthcoming assembly election. The Congress is still not a viable alternative in Gujarat and Keshubhai Patel's newly launched Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) can hardly pose any serious threat to the ruling BJP. There are few other parties, but they only have notional presence in the state politics. The limited interest about Gujarat assembly election is: can BJP mange to improve its tally or will BJP lose a few seats compared to its present tally of 127 assembly seats? The question is what makes BJP such a strong political force in Gujarat and why one could be sure of the victory of Narendra Modi?
The BJP has not only won four assembly elections in a row in 1995, 1998, 2002 and 2007, it is important to note that in terms of vote it enjoys a lead of more than 10% over its nearest rival the Congress. It is also important to note that during these elections, the BJP has won almost double the number of assembly seats won by the Congress. It may be difficult for the Congress, the main opposition party in the state, to bridge this gap, more so when the performance of the government is rated reasonably well. What makes the BJP a formidable force in Gujarat is that it not only managed to poll nearly 50% votes in the state, its support base is more or less evenly spread in all the four regions of Gujarat: Saurashtra, North Gujarat, Central Gujarat and South Gujarat. Except for Central Gujarat, where the lead of the BJP over the Congress is as narrow as 4%, the BJP leaves behind the Congress by a huge margin of votes. This is not just for the 2007 assembly election, but this trend could be seen even during previous assembly elections in the state.
There is another reason which makes BJP almost an invincible party in the state, at least during the forthcoming assembly election. A careful analysis of result of last four assembly elections suggests there are 58 assembly constituencies spread across four regions (Saurashtra 19, North Gujarat 22, Central Gujarat 8 and South Gujarat 8 assembly constituencies) where BJP has never lost since the 1995 assembly elections. In these BJP strongholds, the Congress trailed behind the BJP, by nearly 25% votes, almost an invincible lead for the BJP. On the contrary, there are only six Assembly constituencies which Congress has never lost during the last four assembly elections. After delimitation boundaries of assembly constituencies have changed but even this seems to have benefitted the BJP. If BJP seems so strong in 58 assembly constituencies, the electoral battle in Gujarat is practically reduced to the remaining 124 assembly constituencies. Even if BJP manages to win half of these 124 assembly constituencies, the tally for the BJP may be well above the magic figure needed to form the government in the state.
Let us look at one more factor which puts BJP ahead of the Congress in the electoral race in Gujarat. Like in many other states, the BJP gets more votes in urban constituencies compared to rural and it in a much stronger position to win urban constituencies. Estimates from a post-poll survey conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) during the 2007 assembly elections indicate the BJP's vote share in urban constituencies was about 10% higher compared to its average vote share in the state and it managed to win most of the urban states. It must be noted that Gujarat is a state which has witnessed rapid urbanisation (as per 2011 census Gujarat is 42.6% urban) and after new delimitation there are 36 assembly constituencies which are fully urban, and another 22 assembly constituencies where urban voters constitute more than 60% of total voters. The BJP also enjoys this demographic advantage in Gujarat. Compared to the Congress, it also draws more support amongst communities which matter in electoral contest in Gujarat: the Patels, Rajputs and other upper castes, Adivasis and various Other OBC castes. The Congress only has an advantage over the BJP amongst Dalits and Muslims in Gujarat but due to their small numbers (Dalits 7%, Muslims 9%) they can find it difficult to tilt the balance in favour of the Congress.
But there is some solace for the Congress. If by a miracle Congress manages to win (a distant dream), it would be a major upset for the BJP. But the Congress can hope to benefit even if BJP manages to register a sounding victory. A victory for the BJP would certainly mean stronger claim for Narendra Modi being made the BJP's prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections but this may create difficulty for the BJP and its allies too may find it difficult to digest. Under such a situation, by default, many secular parties may be willing to form an alliance with the Congress during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections or form another front or remain independent. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance would certainly be much weaker under the changed political equations and Congress might benefit from that.
(Political analyst Sanjay Kumar is a fellow at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, New Delhi.)