The Gujarat 2017 election, which has gripped the nation’s attention, is headed for a dramatic finish between the ruling BJP and the resurgent Congress.
Peoples Pulse, a political research organisation, conducted a pre-poll survey between November 15 and December 5, 2017. The survey showed that the BJP would get a 44.8% vote-share, while the Congress would secure 43.2% of the votes. The other parties got a share of 12%, as per the survey. These were in response to a question about who the respondent would be voting for, if the elections were held, back then.
The BJP is leading by a wafer-thin 1.6% margin. Peoples Pulse operates on the premise of a +3% or -3% in any survey. Therefore, it is not calling the BJP, nor is it giving any projection of the number of seats that the respective parties may win.
In all major parameters, the BJP’s lead is slender. The responses to a question on whether the BJP deserved another chance revealed that the margin in favour of the BJP was just 1.8%. For this question, 45.9% of the responses went in favour of the BJP, while the Congress secured 44.1% of the responses. Regarding the issue of who’s best-suited to rule Gujarat, the margin in favour of the BJP was just 1.7%. Here, the BJP and the Congress secured 45.3% and 43.6% of the responses, respectively.
The Congress is badly hamstrung by the lack of an organisational structure through which it could effectively complete its electioneering. Furthermore, there is no state-level leadership. Other than Rahul Gandhi, there was no one else who could shoulder the responsibility of the campaign.The Congress also did not focus as adequately in the urban areas, as it did in rural areas.
On the other hand, the BJP has enjoyed 22 uninterrupted years of power in the state. This brings with it the baggage of anti-incumbency. Adding to all this is the social unrest – the Patidar agitation, the disillusionment of the Dalits after the Una incident, the feeling of being ignored and neglected (among people from tribal communities) and the party’s anti-Muslim ‘image’.
Furthermore, the farmers are also unhappy with the minimum support prices for cotton and groundnut. They join their urban brethren in sharing their angst over rising prices. The urban voter has also had to contend with GST, unemployment and demonetisation.
This has led to a situation where the Congress, instead of garnering ‘positive votes’, is ending up gathering ‘negative votes’ – in a contest, which is literally a two-horse race. In other words, the Congress is gaining because of the ‘there is no alternative (TINA)’ factor.
The other issues which are troubling the BJP is the perception that corruption in the state has shot up beyond limits, after Narendra Modi left for Delhi to become the Prime Minister. The anti-incumbency is not just against the elected representatives, but against the local BJP leaders too.
This is strongly reflected in the people’s perceptions of the chief minister Vijay Rupani’s performance. 59.2% of the people surveyed rated it as bad, and only 18.6% found it good. It’s a different matter that he leads the pack when it comes to the question of ‘preferred chief ministers’ with 22.9% votes.
What is making this cocktail truly bitter for the BJP leadership is that their core base of traders and the middle-class people seem to have deserted the party. And this loss has translated into a gain for the Congress, with the Patidars, traders and the people from the middle class adding to its existing base of Dalits and people from tribal and minority communities.
Though Rahul Gandhi seems to be the face of their contest (particularly with people finding him to be ready for a fight), those who soaked themselves in the campaign heat were the three Gujarat youngsters – Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mewani.
However, the survey also found that Modi still has an impressive image in the state. Despite this, it doesn’t appear that the BJP has gained much mileage from Modi’s allegations that Pakistan is interfering with these elections, or from the ‘neech’ comment by Congress leader, Mani Shankar Aiyer.
What continues to be the BJP’s formidable weapons are its polling machinery and its booth-level management. These are the BJP’s largest advantages. Furthering this advantage is the fact that the Koli community is backing them, along with a section of people from the other backward castes (OBCs).
The Muslims, who have always been uncomfortable with the BJP, are not too happy with the Congress either, because they feel their issues have not been adequately addressed by the Congress or Rahul Gandhi. As has happened in the past, the Congress is also working with the Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims (KHAM). And they could draw comfort from the fact that the Patidars have also extended their support to make it KHAMP.
Research scholars from Gujarat Vidyapeet and the Central University, Gandhinagar, conducted the pre-poll survey in all 182 constituencies. It consisted of a qualitative and quantitative study with a structured questionnaire. Based on this, we categorised constituencies as ‘Sure Win’, ‘Edge’, ‘Keen Contest’.
Due to practical and logistical reasons the survey could not factor the last minute thrust of campaign or the poll management of respective parties.