Winning a state election in Gujarat has become harder

With decreasing margins of victory, assembly elections in Gujarat are becoming a close contest.



Source: Election Commission of India (ECI)

Elections in Gujarat have become more competitive over the last sixty years, as indicated by a narrowing of the winners’ margins of victory, a Hindustan Times analysis of Gujarat election data shows.

The median margin of victory — that is, the difference between the votes received by the winner and the runner-up as a proportion of total valid votes polled — was 22.2% in 1962. In 1995, when the BJP first came to power in the state, the figure reduced by half to around 12.96%. In 2012, it further slipped by two percentage points to 10.72%.

The following chart shows how the winning margin percentage has shifted for each of the 182 assembly constituencies in Gujarat. Fewer candidates now win by a margin greater than 40%, and more are winning with a margin less than 20% — signifying increasing competitiveness of the state’s elections.

Fewer seats have a high margin of victory

Each block represents a constituency won by a particular party

Source: Election Commission of India (ECI)

In both the 2002 and 2012 assembly elections, 50 seats were decided by a margin of less than 5% of the vote. In 1962, just 16 seats saw such a close contest.

Further, eight seats in 2012 had a winning margin of less than 1% of the final vote. Of the eight, the Congress won six; the BJP and the NCP got one each.

One such seat was Kalol in the Gandhinagar district, where the Congress's Baldevji Thakor beat the BJP's Atulbhai Patel by just 343 votes. In 2007, Patel won the Kalol seat while Thakor won from another constituency—Kadi. This year, both names will appear on the ballot for Kalol again.

“It was a new area for me [in 2012]. This year we expect a margin of 10,000 to 15,000 votes,” Thakor said.

Even though the number of parties contesting elections in Gujarat has been increasing—41 parties participated in 2012 as compared to 27 in 1995— effectively, the state witnesses a two-party contest. Since 2002, more than 95% of the assembly seats were won by either the BJP or the Congress.

When the BJP wins in Gujarat, it does so more decisively as compared to the Congress, data shows. In 2012, for instance, among seats where the BJP candidates came first, the median margin of victory was 13.3%. For the Congress winners, the median margin was just 6.6%, almost half that of the BJP’s winners.

BJP wins seats with a higher victory margin

Median margin of victory (in %) in Gujarat assembly elections (1990-2012)

Source: Election Commission of India (ECI), HT Analysis

Two constituencies near Ahmedabad, Ellis Bridge and Naroda, and two near Surat, Chorasi and Surat City West, have been strongholds of the BJP for the last two decades. In all elections since 1995, these four are the only seats where the margin of victory has been among the top 20 victory margins statewide.

In Ellis Bridge, for instance, the BJP’s Rakesh Shah won the last election with over 70% of the vote share and a winning margin of over 50%.

BJP consistently has high margins in urban constituencies

As for the Chorasi seat, the BJP’s Narottambhai Patel won four times in a row from 1995 to 2007. In 2012, Rajabhai Patel, also of the BJP, contested from the seat and won. In 2015, he died, and the bye-poll held in 2016 was won by his daughter Zankhana Patel with a margin of 29%.

All are areas where the BJP performs well across elections, whether it is the Lok Sabha or Municipal council, says Mahasweta Jani, researcher at Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).

“These are seats in the Hindu heartland,” Jani said. These seats represent the “typical upper-caste Baniya areas” — comprising of the urban business class BJP supporters, she added.

In the Dehgam constituency, the fight has consistently been tough since 1995. The BJP won the seat in 1995 and 1998, but since then, the Congress took over. The last election from this seat was won by the Congress’s Kaminiben Rathore with a margin of just 1.8%.

Since Dehgam is a rural constituency, a close contest is not surprising, according to Jani. In rural areas of Gujarat, caste becomes really important. In the case of Dehgam, it is the Koli population that defines the vote.

Note: Constituency boundaries were redrawn in 2008, because of which 2012 elections were conducted under different boundaries.