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Gujarat elections: BJP has lot at stake in its citadel, Congress eyes revival

The BJP can ill-afford a poor performance in Modi’s home state as it could put a spanner in saffron surge and provide the elixir Congress needs to revive itself before the 2019 general elections.

assembly elections Updated: Oct 26, 2017 09:42 IST
DK Singh
DK Singh
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Gujarat polls,Bharatiya Janata Party,Saffron surge
Prime Minister Narendra Modi being welcomed on stage at the public meeting in Ghogha, Gujarat on October 22. Chief minister Vijay Rupani and deputy chief minister Nitinbhai Patel are also seen.(PTI Photo)

What Gujarat does, India will have to do tomorrow….” This was the blurb of a cover story of Vishwa Hindu Samachar, a mouthpiece of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, after the BJP’s victory in 2012 assembly elections.

The blurb aptly contextualises the hopes and trepidation in the Congress camp. Already battered in a string of elections over the past four years, the Congress’ hopes of revival at the national level hinge much on Gujarat.

But as Professor Sanjay Kumar, director at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, a Delhi-based think tank, says, the stakes are “much bigger” for the BJP. “Imagine for a second that the BJP loses or its seats go down in Narendra Modi’s and Amit Shah’s home state, it will be a huge blow. This would be a moment when the road to 2019 (general election) will change.”

December 18, the day election results will be out, could be crucial for national politics and the BJP’s preferred governance model, too. If the BJP, as indicated by an India Today-Axis survey of voters, maintains its 2012 voteshare and seats— 47.9 % and 115 MLAs in 182-member assembly— it would come as another vindication of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s decisions to demonetise high-value banknotes and roll out the goods and services tax (GST).

A renewed mandate in Gujarat, where the opposition party has made the Centre’s handling of the economy one of its main poll planks, would be seen as an endorsement by the people of the government’s policies and even embolden it to bite the bullet on reforming labour laws, a lingering drag on India’s manufacturing sector.

“If the BJP wins but with a reduced voteshare — by 5-10 % — and seatshare, it will have a major impact. It will bring the central government down from its high horse or what you see as I-know-it-all approach,” says Professor Sebastian Morris of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.

“The BJP will then also realise that there are limits to jingoism.” The other fallout, Morris said, could be decentralisation of power at the Centre. But the BJP’s loss in voteshare might not necessarily be the Congress’ gain, he said.

On Tuesday, a day before the Election Commission sounded the poll bugle in Gujarat, the government unveiled a Rs 9 lakh crore plan to shore up the economy.

CSDS’ Kumar believes that regardless of the outcome of the polls, the government will continue to pursue the same economic path. Losing or winning one state should ordinarily not have a significant bearing on the political suzerainty of a party that is in power in 18 states.

But it’s Modi’s Gujarat and symbolism matters in politics. The BJP can ill-afford to lose in the Prime Minister’s den because it could provide the elixir the principal opposition party needs to revive itself before the 2019 general elections.

First Published: Oct 26, 2017 09:41 IST