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Why BJP thinks it can win Gujarat elections 2017

The BJP confronts a set of challenges in Gujarat but is confident that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and its organisational strength will see it through.

opinion Updated: Oct 26, 2017 08:06 IST
Prashant Jha
Prashant Jha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi,Gujarat,Assembly elections
Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a public meeting in Ghogha, Gujarat on October 22. Gujarat will vote for a new assembly into two phases, on December 9 and 14.(PTI file photo)

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi spent three days in Varanasi before the final phase of the Uttar Pradesh election earlier this year, many saw it as a sign of desperation. He, however, told a party leader, “Chunav jang hai, aur main senapati hoon (Election is a battle, and I am the commander).”

The results showed it was not anxiety but the willingness to give it all and leave nothing to chance that drove Modi to campaign with vigour.

His frequent travels to Gujarat in the run-up to the assembly election, which will be held on December 9 and 14, have spun a similar narrative -- of BJP’s nervousness.

It is indeed true that the party confronts a set of challenges in Gujarat, the home state of Modi and party chief Amit Shah.

There is a discontent among traders and BJP’s traditional constituents over the goods and services tax. This is also the first election in more than 15 years when Modi is not the chief minister.

The party’s broad social coalition has suffered a deep fracture, with the influential Patidar community moving away, upset that its demand for a quota in government jobs and education has not been met.

The opposition is displaying energy and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is trying to stitch together a broad coalition of disaffected leaders and communities.

Yet, BJP leaders argue they are comfortably placed and Modi’s visits must be seen in the wider context of the party taking each election -- including municipal polls -- with seriousness and without complacency.

Given it is his home state and he remains the party’s most potent weapon, it is little surprise then that Modi will invest all his political capital to retain Gandhinagar.

He represents Gujarati asmita (pride) and his presence is a constant reminder to the electorate that they have to vote for their leader who has made it to Delhi.

If the party is relying first and foremost on the PM, its second source of strength is the sangathan, or the organisation. The BJP, under Modi and Shah, has consistently used power to expand power.

And remember, being in power for more than two decades has meant that the BJP has been able to create a network of patronage in every sphere of society.

It controls dairy cooperatives, self-help groups, rural banks. The party structure is both wide and deep; Shah has focused on ensuring booth committees are operational and active.

The party claims it has 700,000 panna pramukhs (in-charge of each page of electoral rolls) who are tasked with ensuring that potential voters turn up at polls booths on the voting day.

The BJP also thinks it can stitch together a wide caste coalition -- of upper castes (Brahmins and Banias in particular), a large section of other backward classes (especially Kolis), tribals, who constitute 15% of the state’s population, and a section of the older, more loyal Patels. It also hopes to continue its dominance of more than 60 urban and semi-urban seats.

And finally, while they acknowledge a sense of disillusionment among a section of their own voters, BJP leaders claim that the Congress, with no credible local face, is still in no position to wrest the state from them.

The last the Congress won the assembly election in Gujarat was in 1985. The BJP’s last loss came in 1990. From 1995, over five elections, the BJP got a majority on its own. This history of dominance - the BJP hopes - will push it past the finish line yet again.

First Published: Oct 25, 2017 15:19 IST