For inveterate observers of the Gujarat poll scene, the big question always has been whether Narendra Modi would lose seats or power in the new assembly.
With a strength of 130 in the 182-strong outgoing House, the BJP’s sole campaigner started from a position of advantage. Even a loss of 30 seats would leave him with a simple majority of 100 seats, argued a local journalist. But Sunday’s high (63-65 per cent) polling in north and central Gujarat — the regions he swept after the 2002 communal carnage - could be good news for Modi. He is understood to have confided in friends that he’d win anything between 110-115 seats.
The Congress too has a 110-seat projection. That means a 59-seat loss for the BJP. In the absence of a palpable wave, not many observers were willing to speculate openly on that kind of erosion in Modi’s hold.
Some observers felt the high voter turnout in the north and central regions with 95 seats, afforded the CM a fair chance of making up the losses he presumably suffered in the December 11 round in Saurashtra, Kutch and South Gujarat on account of the Patel-Koli rebellion buttressed by distraught farmers.
“What does it signify when people vote with their feet? Modi is winning,” insisted Sushil Pandit, a key BJP campaign manager.
AICC general secretary incharge of Gujarat B.K. Hariprasad had his own take on the turnout: 55-58 per cent polling in Banaskantha and Sabarkantha in North Gujarat and the party’s penetration in Dahod and Panchmahals in the middle region will ensure a 110 seats aggregate for the Congress.
“The urban turnout was nearly 60 per cent which isn’t exceptionally high. Our caste alignments in central Gujarat are perfect and will fetch us substantial gains,” argued Hariprasad.
If Modi wins Gujarat, it will be in spite of the traditional BJP-RSS hierarchy whose services he consciously discarded. His was a one-man show that brought him face to face with at least 17 lakh people (if one were to take an average of 10,000-strong crowd at each of the 170 meetings he addressed across 155 constituencies).
A majority of Modi’s audience comprised middle-class Hindu women and youth from urban and semi-urban constituencies for whom he dished out an admix of development promises, his track record in fighting terror and protecting the Gujarati pride. In contrast, Sonia Gandhi addressed ten 100,000-plus rallies that drew people with humbler backgrounds from among the urban poor, the adivasis, the minorities and castes alienated by Modi in his battles with regional satraps of the Patel and Koli communities.
The Congress campaign rested on two pods: local canvassing and the Gandhi family rallies and roadshows that saw Rahul Gandhi hitting the streets in Surat and Vadodara.
From the content of the campaign, it was obvious that Gujarat now has three brands of Hindutva: the soft variety often identified with the Congress, Modi’s version of it and the one represented by fringe elements like Babu Bajrangi.
Certain formulations the Congress used to paint the Modi bandwagon as “maut ke saudagar” changed the tenor of the electoral debate to the BJP leader’s advantage. Or so it seemed from the rousing response he got from the city dwellers. But his detractors are convinced that the silent majority in the countryside will throttle the “communal” middle-class cacophony.