Gujarat CM Narendra Modi has denied tickets to sitting MLAs not only to deflect anti-incumbency but also to emphasise his authority over defiance. In the absence of an emotive issue, Modi needs to reiterate this more than ever before.
Replacing sitting MLAs has been a strategy efficiently used by other CMs in the past, Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh, YS Rajasekhar Reddy in Andhra Pradesh and Nitish Kumar in Bihar — all of them won a consecutive term. So what is it that makes this strategy complicated this time around in Gujarat?
First, the residual resentment within the BJP among those who were chucked out before the last two polls is considerable. “Usually those who have been ousted once do not stage a comeback. Replacements are usually fresh faces,” a BJP leader said. If the BJP does it again, denying tickets to 40 or 50 MLAs, the ranks of the disaffected will rise.
In 2002 and 2007, he denied tickets to 18 of 121 and 47 of 127 MLAs, respectively. Currently, the BJP has 120 MLAs.
Given the hype surrounding BJP, on average there are around 20 claimants for each seat —a case of the party becoming a victim of its own success. “Of those denied tickets, half will sit quietly, but the other half will either turn hostile or walk out of the party,” a state minister said.
Also, this time the disaffected have a platform to flock to - Keshubhai Patel's Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP). Patel's show of strength in Bapu Nagar, Ahmedabad — a BJP stronghold — last week was impressive.
While Modi's strategy has always been to lift the poll campaign above and beyond constituency-level issues by focusing on himself, Congress has hit some success in the last Lok Sabha polls by micro-management of constituencies. In 2009, the Congress played the OBC and tribal card, which helped it win Banaskantha, Patan, Jamnagar, Rajkot, Surendranagar, Anand (all OBC) and Dahod, Valsad and Bardoli (tribal-reserve seats). The party's two Patel candidates also won: Vithal Radadia and Dinsha Patel. If Lok Sabha results are broken up assembly-wise, Congress was ahead in 76 segments while BJP in 105 — 15 less than its current strength of 120.
With no strong leader to match Modi, the Congress will focus primarily on caste. Gujarat has 15 % Patels, 9% Muslims, and 15% tribals. Dalits comprise 7%; upper castes (Brahmin, Bania, Lohana) around 10 % and OBCs — mainly Kolis who alone are 20% — make around 40%.