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Gujarat election results 2017: The first tremors of a youthquake

A clear message from Monday’s verdict has been that if the BJP could be given a tough fight on the home turf of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah, it could be challenged anywhere else. The Opposition has finally found a leader to rally behind — Rahul Gandhi

opinion Updated: Dec 18, 2017 18:07 IST
Rajesh Mahapatra
The improved tally for the Congress in North Gujarat showed that the coming together of Hardik Patel (with the mic), OBC leader Alpesh Thakor and Dalit activist Jignesh Mevani helped in moving youth votes away from the BJP.
The improved tally for the Congress in North Gujarat showed that the coming together of Hardik Patel (with the mic), OBC leader Alpesh Thakor and Dalit activist Jignesh Mevani helped in moving youth votes away from the BJP.(PTI Photo)

The results of the 2017 Gujarat elections, cut both ways. While the BJP has won, it has most certainly lost some of its shine in terms of both seats and political standing. The Congress, which has lost, however, has gained in terms of seats and, interestingly enough, comes out politically stronger. We have, therefore, to ask: What really happened, and, more important, what is the message?

For one, the central issues were not really about Prime Minister Narendra Modi or who insulted him or whether Pakistan tried to fix the Gujarat election. These electioneering dramas, it would seem, had little or no bearing on the state’s 43 million voters. In fact, if compared to the national election numbers for 2014, the BJP has been statistically pummelled. One can even add that Congress president Rahul Gandhi has indeed made a difference, though not enough to sink the BJP ship.

Time to introspect

Earlier this year, BJP president Amit Shah had confidently declared that the party would win no less than 150 of the 182 seats in the assembly. Until the close of polling, most leaders had hoped that Modi’s charisma and Gujarati asmita (pride) will help the party better its tally from the last election, when it had won 115 seats. Several exit polls made similar forecasts.

But Monday’s vote counting showed the BJP has more reasons to worry than celebrate. The party barely managed to get past the majority mark, winning 99 seats, while the Congress, riding on the back of new alliances, bagged 80 seats. In several assembly constituencies, the BJP won with a slender margin, which some analysts believe could have gone to the Congress if it was as good as the former in managing elections on the ground. Also, a lower voter turnout would seem to have helped the BJP in the sense a section of its traditional supporters who were aggrieved chose to stay away from voting instead of opting to side with the Opposition.

The losses in Saurashtra are an indication that the distress among farmers and the unrest among the Patidars have cost the BJP. The improved tally for the Congress in North Gujarat showed that the coming together of Hardik Patel, OBC leader Alpesh Thakor and Dalit activist Jignesh Mevani helped in moving youth votes away from the BJP.

The BJP succeeded, however, in not letting its vote share drop. In fact, its vote share went up marginally, as it retained its influence in urban centres, especially in central and south Gujarat and made inroads in tribal constituencies, which helped cut some of the losses in the Saurashtra region.

A level playing field

A clear message from Monday’s verdict has been that if the BJP could be given a tough fight on the home turf of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah, it could be challenged anywhere else. That message will begin to play out in the national arena. The Opposition has finally found a leader to rally behind — Rahul Gandhi.

A bigger message is that voters will stand by a party that chooses to take up real issues. If one shines a more searching light on the 2017 campaign, there are new revelations as well. New enough to allow us to claim that some part of this round in the Gujarat elections is possibly the first tremor of India’s potential ‘youthquake’.

The word youthquake, incidentally, has just been voted by the Oxford English Dictionary as the word of the year 2017. It refers to “A significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people”.

Gujarat appears to have been the first in India to have experienced this electoral rumbling, with a generation of young leaders dominating, shaping and influencing the campaign. Even if they have not succeeded in helping the Congress win, they have made sure the BJP’s saffron sheen has dimmed.

The issues of education, unemployment, agrarian distress and youth anger has just announced itself on the stage of Gujarat politics. These voices perhaps were even louder than the general complaining over demonetisation and the GST. While a deeper analysis is awaited as to why these pressing concerns did not rout the BJP in Gujarat, there is nonetheless enough to wonder whether this generational disquiet is just beginning to gain momentum.

If elections are won or lost over issues, then 2019 is sitting atop a potential youthquake eruption.

rajesh.mahapatra@hindustantimes.com