BJP juggernaut steamrolls Gujarat by-elections, wins all 8 seats
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which has won all eight assembly seats in Gujarat, termed its performance a trailer of sorts before the 2022 assembly polls whereas the Congress wondered how it could not convert the “palpable public anger” that it had claimed to have spotted, into votes.
The counting for votes in the by-election for eight assembly seats in Gujarat was held on Tuesday.
Right from 8 a.m. when counting began on Tuesday, BJP candidates maintained clear leads over their Congress rivals, except in Karjan in Vadodara district and Morbi in Morbi district where it expected to overtake the BJP. That hope too was short lived.
The Congress had been counting these two seats among the sure-shot victories that it could score. The BJP had maintained it would get all but one.
As the BJP broke into celebrations right in the afternoon when its candidates established formidable leads, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani told reporters, “This is only a trailer”. It was a reference to the upcoming elections to the local civic bodies and the 2022 assembly polls.
The by-elections, held for Abdasa (Kutch district), Karjan (Vadodara), Morbi (Morbi), Gadhada (Botad), Dhari (Amreli), Limbdi (Surendranagar), Kaprada (Valsad) and Dang (Dangs), were necessitated after the eight Congress MLAs resigned ahead of the Rajya Sabha elections. Five of them were given BJP tickets and all have won.
Leader of Opposition Paresh Dhanani appeared to be on the verge of breaking down when he conceded his shock and surprise at the poll outcome. “This was not expected. One doesn’t know whatever happened to the people’s anger. Perhaps we were lacking somewhere. Well, we will start afresh,” he said.
Gujarat Congress chief spokesperson Manish Doshi said, “We were up against the police and money muscle of a ruling party which had made even a by-election a prestige issue. We will need to figure out how to face this unequal challenge.”
Claims and rebuttals aside, the turncoat BJP candidates on five seats deployed a campaign that effectively dismantled the Congress charge of “gaddaars (traitors)”. They harped on the theme that they had crossed over since they were not able to meet the public’s development aspirations as long as they stayed in the Congress and their shift to the ruling party would obliterate this disadvantage.
Political scientist and veteran journalist Hari Desai believes this pitch tipped the campaign. “People are no longer bothered about political affiliations or loyalties, but more about who delivers for them in the immediate context. Congress tried to corner them (its ex-MLAs) on this (party loyalty), but couldn’t do much because of this,” he said.
The BJP candidates, who had crossed over from the Congress, didn’t mince words. BJP’s Karjan candidate Akshay Patel had cited various examples how his shift from the Congress to the BJP had helped people. “About Rs 25 crore of our Karjan sugar factory was stuck in the State Government and I couldn’t do much. Soon after I joined the BJP, this work was instantly done.”
In the Adivasi constituency of Kaprada in south Gujarat, Jitubhai Chaudhary spoke about how he couldn’t get government approvals for grants as long as he was in the BJP. “But now things would be easy after my joining the BJP.” All the five former Congress MLAs turned BJP candidates made this a key point.
Veteran political and social scientist Vidyut Joshi said the Congress needs to address the “larger malaise.”
“The Congress in Gujarat today has a few leaders and an almost absent grassroots network. You bring in Hardik Patel as the working president or replace any leader, it won’t serve any purpose till you have a force that mobilises the voters to the polling station on the D-day,” he said.
Newly-appointed state BJP president CR Paatil’s entire focus, like in his own Navsari Lok Sabha constituency where he won in 2019 with the country’s highest margin of 6.89 lakh votes, was on the “Page Pramukhs (key coordinator of every page on the electoral rolls)” and making them accountable. This is the BJP’s - and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s - time-tested strategy. “You need a match to this strategy, but there are no traditional Congress wings like Seva Dal and Youth Congress working in tandem,” Joshi pointed out.
Congress brought in maverick Patidar leader Hardik Patel, who, to his credit, has continuously been on the move even after the 2017 assembly elections, but he could not do much either in front of the BJP’s juggernaut. For the same reason, absence of a well-oiled machinery down to the last man.