The voters of Gujarat will decide the fate of the state in the upcoming legislative assembly elections to be held in two phases on December 9 and December 14 for 182 seats. The Election Commission (EC) said the first phase of voting in Gujarat will cover 89 seats with 2.1 crore voters in 19 of the 33 districts in the state. This phase will see polling in Kutch, Rajkot, Jamnagar and Surat, among others. Remaining 93 seats in 14 districts including Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar and Vadodara will be covered in the second phase. The counting of votes will take place on December 18 along with those for Himachal Pradesh.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress (INC) have been the significant parties playing important roles in the Gujarat legislative assembly. From 1950-60, INC retained power and the BJP has been ruling since 1998. In the upcoming elections, out of 182 seats, 67 are urban and 20 are semi-urban. This year BJP has set its goal for 150 seats and Congress for 125. In the list of parties contesting elections, new names are being added. These include the Aam Admi Party (AAP), Janta Dal (United), Navin Bharat Nirman Manch (NBNM) and Jan Vikal (JV). The reason behind an increased exhilaration by these new names in these Gujarat elections is discussed in the later part of the article.
Allegations, debates and the war of words are the delicious ingredients of spicy Indian electoral politics. The 12-day hiatus between the announcement of the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh election dates resulted in allegations against chief election commissioner AK Joti for giving an ‘advantage’ to the ruling party. Although flood relief measures in Gujarat were the rational motives for the delay as per the EC but officials in charge of relief in all seven districts say that the relief work in most of the areas was completed several weeks ago. Detailing the magnitude of the problem, EC said, “It’s an unprecedented situation in which 229 people died.” The arguments from both sides are still being contested. However, the interesting part for the voters is the use of Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) with EVMs (Electronic Voting Machines) in all 50,128 polling booths in the Gujarat elections, and the EC, in order to familiarise voters with the VVPAT machines, will conduct an awareness drive.
As Gujarat has been ruled by the BJP since the last two decades, the upcoming elections hold strong significance for it. This is due to four reasons. First, out of the four state assembly elections in 2016 – Assam, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Kerala, BJP won only in Assam. However, keeping national politics in mind, Assam is not that important, unlike Gujarat. Secondly, Gujarat is the Prime Minister’s home state. The result will definitely impact the Lok Sabha elections in 2019. Thirdly, this election is much like a test of the two decades of Modi’s ‘Gujarat model’. On top of all this, a division of vote share along communal lines is expected.
This year, the politics of Gujrat revolves around the Patidar reservation issue. The BJP government has not been able to handle the Patidar agitation by the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) headed by Hardik Patel demanding reservation in government jobs and educational institutions. Patidars account for around 16% of the state’s population and have been traditional supporters of the BJP but they are at odds with the BJP this year. Taking the opportunity, the Congress has said that it would provide a favourable solution to the community, examine all constitutional aspects and find out the best solution regarding reservation. The Congress is believed to have agreed to all of Hardik Patel’s demands. The question still remains unanswered.
The opposition seems confident this time because of the public anger due to demonetisation and GST. An anti-BJP-sentiment has whipped up by young leaders like Alpesh Thakor, the OBC leader who joined Congress; Jignesh Mevani, who was one of the key leaders of the protest march called ‘Dalit Asmita Yatra‘ from Allahabad to Una, attended by many Dalits after an attack on Dalit men in Una taluka in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat by self-proclaimed cow protectors in 2016; and Hardik Patel with the Patidar reservation issue. With all the odds of the BJP government, Congress is trying to forge an alliance with Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mevani to join hands with the party to defeat the ruling BJP, but neither have joined the political party. Hardik Patel has given his support but Jignesh Mevani has not. The opposition is trying hard to generate an anti-Modi wave in Gujrat with issues of corruption, the recent cases of communal violence, etc.
AAP has also decided to contest the upcoming assembly elections in the state. They began their campaign sometime in the first week of October.
Despite all the allegations and agitation by the opposition, it appears that the BJP is assured of its victory on the basis of the ‘Gujarat model’ and development as the main agenda and the recent three events have been used by it to bolster its claims.
Firstly, PM Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe laid the foundation for India’s first bullet train between Ahmedabad and Mumbai on September 14. Secondly, the PM dedicated the Sardar Sarovar Dam to the nation on his birthday and thirdly, he flagged off the country’s third Mahamana Express between Vadodara and Varanasi. Moreover, BJP’s confidence sprang up with Shankersinh Vaghela quitting the Congress to join Jan Vikalp. Thirteen Congress party MLAs left the Congress as well and all of them ended up joining the BJP. Furthermore, the Sharad Pawar led NCP may also end up playing a spoiler in the state. NCP had been one of the significant allies during ten years of UPA rule at the Centre but are no more in the best of terms because at least one NCP MLA voted for the BJP in the recent Rajya Sabha elections.
Apart from these issues which political parties are using to continue with their formal war of words to hold power, the issues of common people in Gujarat include unemployment, poor education, poor export transportation, Patels’ reservation issue, workers’ demands and most importantly, continued atrocities against Gujarati Dalits.
An overeager battle among these political groups for the power in the land of legends and lions waits ahead. The Congress has improved its performance and anticipates coming back to power after two decades. The upcoming Gujarat assembly election is quite significant for Modi because any loss on his home turf could imperil his chances at the national level. The new incipient parties are also making an impact in the voter’s mind. The opposition is incessantly trying to form an anti-Modi wave. But at the end of the day, it’s more about people’s power and the right to elect. The results will definitely reflect the real issues. As of now, the current state of affairs demands better and a transubstantiated political convention.