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Gujarat election results 2017: Why the BJP win doesn’t have that usual aura of success

For all the talk of a Gujarat model of development, this election laid bare the economic faultlines that are emblematic of the rest of the country as well.

opinion Updated: Dec 19, 2017 01:36 IST
Gujarat election result,Gujarat,Bharatiya Janata Party
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah at a felicitation function in New Delhi on Monday after the party's win in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assembly elections. (PTI Photo)

The BJP’s electoral win in Gujarat for the sixth time doesn’t have that aura of success because of the troubling shadow of economic factors like the disruptive impact of demonetisation, GST, agrarian distress, and the the rural-urban divide, among others. The Congress relentlessly focused on these factors in its campaign and registered a vastly improved showing. This is bound to give a lot of confidence to its new president, Rahul Gandhi, to bolster the party’s showing in the national elections in 2019. For all the talk of a Gujarat model of development, this election laid bare the economic fault lines that are visible in the rest of the country as well.

Take the impact of GST. Although the BJP hails it as a transformative reform, it shut down small and medium enterprises such as powerlooms in places like Surat. Surat has more than 650,000 powerlooms, around 60% of which have shut down. The diamond jewellery trade, too, was adversely affected. Although just prior to the elections, the NDA government tried to make amends by tweaking teh GST rates, the Congress forcefully campaigned against this so-called Gabbar Singh Tax and managed to register gains in constituencies like Surat East that suffered because of this tax.

Unrest among farmers was another important economic issue that had a bearing on the electoral outcome in Gujarat. As in the rest of the country, demonetisation has had a serious impact on farming by shutting down the cash economy. Farmers experienced the full brunt of food deflation when their crops were sold in mandis for a pittance. Deflationary winds continue to blow in agrarian Gujarat, making farming increasingly unviable. With fewer job openings in the urban areas, was it any surprise the massive agitation among the Patidars (or Patels) robbed the BJP of a more emphatic and decisive victory at the hustings?

Clearly, the focus on economic factors worked to the advantage of the Congress and its allies. In the Saurashtra region, where the Patidars have most influence, the Congress has gained the most. It registered impressive leads in Patidar-dominated bastions like Amreli, Lathi and Savarkundla, to name a few. After many anxious moments of trailing in a Patidar- dominated constituency, the deputy CM of the state, Nitin Patel, managed to secure a lead in Mehsana. For such reasons, it was far from a cake walk for the BJP considering the oppositional forces ranged against it on largely economic grounds.

While the Gujarat model boasts of rapid growth and the presence of big industry, there are vast segments of Gujarati society that are outside. As indicated in a detailed story in the Hindustan Times, the districts with most number of tribals like Dang, Tapi, Narmada and Dahod rank among the poorest in the state. They have been pushed to the margins, thanks to failed development resettlement projects. Tribals constitute a significant voter base of 15%, a factor that is bound to have had electoral implications. In Dang and Dahod, for instance, the Congress registered an impressive showing at the expense of the ruling BJP.

Lastly, this election exposed the growing rural-urban divide in the state. The BJP triumphed as it largely retained its urban strongholds, while doing less spectacularly in rural constituencies. Gujarat has 39 urban seats, 100 rural seats and 43 seats that are classified as semi-urban. In the 182-member assembly, the BJP held on to its urban and semi-urban seats, but not so in the villages were unrest is brewing among the farming community.

N Chandra Mohan is an economics and business writer based in New Delhi.

The views expressed are personal.

First Published: Dec 18, 2017 16:23 IST