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Cong narrows vote-share gap with BJP in Gujarat, but will it be enough?

While the BJP has made significant gains in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, decimating political rivals by doubling its vote-share in a short span of time, Gujarat happens to be a different ball game.

india Updated: Oct 16, 2017 17:49 IST
Chetan Chauhan
Chetan Chauhan
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Congress,BJP,Narendra Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets people during a public rally at Vadnagar in Gujarat recently. (AFP/ PIB handout)

The BJP was way ahead of the Congress in the 2002 Gujarat assembly polls, but election commission data shows that the gap in vote share between the two national parties has narrowed in the last decade.

While the BJP has made significant gains in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, decimating political rivals by doubling its vote-share in a short span of time, Gujarat happens to be a different ball game. The state is witnessing a Congress resurgence after spending 22 years under the BJP’s yoke, and this phenomenon has found apt reflection in several electoral contests held in recent times. For instance, the grand old party won 23 of 31 zila panchayats and 113 of 193 taluka panchayats in local body polls held through December 2015.

The Congress was aided by a protest for reservations in government jobs and education by Patidars, an influential social group that has traditionally backed the BJP. A Kshatriya counter-protest against this demand was then launched under the banner of the OSS (Other Backward Classes, Scheduled Tribe and Scheduled Caste) Ekta Manch. Both Patidar chief Hardik Patel and Manch leader Alpesh Thakor criticised the state BJP government, following which the BJP leadership replaced Anandiben Patel with Vijay Rupani as the Gujarat chief minister in December 2016.

“Recent political developments in the state suggest that the BJP is on the backfoot. However, a survey we conducted in August has showed that the party still has what it takes to sweep the upcoming polls,” said Sanjay Kumar of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), a Delhi-based advocacy group.

A long-term vote-share analysis suggests that electoral contests in the state have been turning increasingly bipolar since the 1990s, mostly at the cost of smaller political parties and independents. The sole exception was in 2012, when the performance of both the national parties suffered. Ironically, the slump in the BJP’s vote share was nearly four times that of the Congress in terms of percentage.

Election Commission data shows that the Gujarat Parivartan Party, belonging to BJP rebel and former chief minister Keshubhai Patel, got 4% votes despite winning just two seats. “Keshubhai ate into BJP votes, but people ensured its victory by notching the highest-ever voting percentage (at 71.32%),” said political analyst Achyut Yagnik.

Patel isn’t around this time, but the Congress has upped the ante against a Modi-less Gujarat BJP. However, it still remains to be seen if Rahul Gandhi and his strategists will be able to bridge the nine percentage-point gap that existed between the two parties in the 2002 polls.

A similar vote-share jump had occurred in 1995, when the BJP came to power in the state after 391 days of Congress rule. Twenty-two years down the line, the grand old party has its task cut out in the light of the BJP pumping all its energy into the December polls.

First Published: Oct 16, 2017 17:48 IST