After sweeping victories in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand on Saturday, BJP president Amit Shah has his task cut out– delivering Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat and Congress-ruled Himachal Pradesh to the saffron party.
The UP victory has given the BJP the headstart it needed before moving to these two states that go to polls in November-December this year.
Gujarat has been under the BJP rule for last 19 years, including Modi’s 12 year-long tenure. Last year, however, the saffron fortress appeared partially breached in the panchayat elections when the BJP lost its dominance in rural areas.
The BJP had bagged over 50% of the vote share to wrest 30 of the 31 district panchayats in 2010. It could win just six district panchayats in 2015 and its vote share dipped by 7 %. The Congress increased its tally from one to 24 district panchayats. The results of elections to the taluka panchayats were equally distressing for the BJP - from 150 (with 48.51% votes) in 2010 to just 67 (with 42.32% votes) in 2015.
The BJP leadership was quick to read the warning signs. Modi approved a change of guard in Gujarat, removing chief minister Anandiben Patel in August last year. It followed a tug-of-war between her and BJP chief Amit Shah. Both had been trusted lieutenants of Modi during his Gujarat days. Shah has got his aide, Vijay Rupani, to replace Anandiben Patel and remains in control of the party and government in the western state.
Gujarat has always been a bipolar contest between the BJP and the Congress but a new entrant, the Aam Aadmi Party, is trying to make it a three-way fight.
Modi’s bête noire and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, too, plans to take the electoral plunge. Hardik Patel, a 23-year-old patidar leader who spearheaded a mass agitation in Gujarat demanding reservation for the community, is also in the fray. The agitation is believed to have loosened BJP’s grip over the patidars, an influential community that has largely supported the BJP in the past.
Modi, and BJP, cannot afford to lose Gujarat this year. The impact of any adverse result in Gujarat will resonate beyond the boundaries of the saffron fortress. It was the “Gujarat model of governance” that Modi showcased between 2002 and 2013 and won him the prime ministership in 2014.
Smaller in size than Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, too, will elect a new government. Congress dislodged the BJP five years ago and the Modi-Shah duo will desperately want to win the hill state to move a step closer to their dream of a ‘Congress Mukt Bharat’. Himachal Pradesh is one of the seven states in which the Congress has its government and the second-largest after Karnataka.
The BJP will like to close 2017 with a victory in Gujarat and in the hill state, in the run up to a clutch of assembly polls in 2018 and general elections the next year.