The home turf of BJP’s prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi has a saffron government since 1998. But since the results during the last two general elections were not as impressive as it should have been, the party will have to make extra efforts this time to match up to its ‘Modi only in Modiland’ campaign.
BJP's PM candidate Narendra Modi speaks with party president Rajnath Singh during the party’s two-day long national council meeting in New Delhi.(AP photo)
Now, the BJP’s hopes are tied to the popularity of CM Modi, who is seeking a national mandate. “This time, we will put up our best performance in the state and win all the 26 seats,” said Vijay Rupani, BJP general secretary.
Rupani’s optimism may have been triggered by surveys conducted so far, predicting that the BJP is likely to register a landmark victory with at least 22 seats, while some even give it 25.
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In the 1990s, the BJP won most of Gujarat’s 26 Lok Sabha seats. But in 2004, the saffron party’s tally came down from 20 to 14 despite having a landslide victory in the December 2002 assembly polls. Modi-led BJP won 127 of the 182 seats in a communally charged atmosphere following the post-Godhra riots.
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Similarly in 2009, the BJP’s performance was below expectations. It managed to bag 15 seats despite the fact that its PM nominee L K Advani was the sitting MP and won again from the state capital, Gandhinagar.
In the politically bipolar state, first the Congress and then the BJP dominated the Lok Sabha poll scene, as efforts to prop up a third front have failed repeatedly.
Former chief minister Chimanbhai Patel (1973-74 and 1990-94) tried out the concept of a third force by creating the Janata Dal (Gujarat), but it later merged with the Congress.
Another former CM, Shankersinh Vaghela (1996-97), set up the Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP) after splitting the BJP in the mid-1990s. But that also later merged with the Congress.
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Also, yet another CM Keshubhai Patel’s (1995 and 1998-2001) third front experiment — by setting up the Gujarat Parivartan Party ahead of the 2012 assembly polls — failed to take off. He retired from active politics and his son, Bharat Patel, recently re-joined the BJP.
But why has the Congress steadily lost clout in Gujarat? The old equations have changed drastically during the past three decades. In the 1980s, the Congress’ success came from its social engineering formula, the KHAM — Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslims. The segment made up for over 60% of the electorate.
Led by CM Madhavsinh Solanki, the Congress swept the 1980 and 1985 assembly and parliamentary polls with the KHAM card. In fact, the Congress won 25 of the 26 LS seats and 147 of the 182 assembly seats in 1985, which remains a record performance in the state’s electoral history.
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But the disintegration of the KHAM with the emergence of Hindutva forces pushed the Congress to the margins in the mid-1990s.
Observers say the BJP first used Hindutva to gain entry into the voter’s mind-space and then used the development agenda to bring the OBCs and backward communities on board.
Geographically, the state is divided into four regions – Saurashtra, north, south and central Gujarat. Saurashtra has eight parliamentary seats — Kutch, Junagadh, Jamnagar, Porbandar, Rajkot, Surendranagar, Amreli and Bhavnagar. In 2009, the Congress won Surendranagar, Jamnagar, Porbandar and Rajkot, while the remaining four went to the BJP.
In north Gujarat, comprising Banaskantha, Sabarkantha, Mehsana, Patan, Gandhinagar, Ahmedabad-East and West, the BJP won both seats of Ahmedabad, besides Gandhinagar, Sabarkantha and Mehsana in 2009, while the other two seats went to the Congress.
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In south Gujarat, the two tribal-reserved seats, Mandvi and Valsad, went to the Congress, while the BJP bagged the other three seats — Surat, Nansari and Bharuch. Both parties won three seats each in 2009 in central Gujarat, consisting of Vadodara, Chhota Udeipur, Dahod, Panchmahal, Kheda and Anand.
And now, Modi has added his third card — the top job for a Gujarati — and is hoping for the best.
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