The recent elections in Gujarat no doubt brought back BJP into power once again. But however, their influence has certainly declined. Going beyond the electoral results, a major development is the emergence of alternative voices which questioned a fake and make believe model called ‘Gujarat Model’. These alternative voices broke the dominant narrative which tried to project Gujarat as a flawless model, which others need to emulate. The emergence of trio – Mewani, Patel and Alpesh and grasroots protests did provide a space for alternative narrative.
While it is true that BJP still continues to be the dominant party that will rule, the gap both in terms of vote share and the seats has declined. From a seat share difference of 58 in 2012, it has reduced to about 19 in 2017 elections. While BJP seats reduced from 115 to 99, the seat share of Congress increased from 61 to 80. This will be a real test as to how the opposition is able to build on its current strength, mobilize and display a stronger verdict during 2019 lok sabha elections. The belief that fascist forces are only going to grow without being challenged goes haywire.
While for the BJP, the return to power was important for carrying forward their brand of Hindutva politics, for the opposition it was necessary to put a check on this continued growth. Alternative narrative, which emphasized on jobs & employment, education & health putting a break on the dominant narrative, was a welcome development. While the opposition did raise these issues, it also tried to play to a rightwing gallery by trying to imitate the BJP through temple visits and adopted a soft Hindutva approach. However, within the Congress, emergence of more radical voices such as Mevani (as independent) brought them back to focus on more genuine issues. The fact that he was a product of a social movement did push the party to adopt a more people centric approach.
The elections were closer than the vote share and seats may indicate. In terms of vote share, BJP was able to get 49.1% or a total of 14724427 votes. INC got 41.4% or a total of 12438937 votes. The share of seats turned out to be 99 for BJP and 77 for Congress. The seat distribution could have been different. The election commission data shows that in at-least 7 constituencies where BJP won – the difference in votes was less than 3,000 and in 11 constituencies less than 5,000 votes. Assuming that tampering of electronic voting machines (EVM) is real and if it had helped the party in power, even tampering with 0.5% of votes in closely contested seats could have changed the overall seat share positions.
The major reason for continuation of BJP was its continued hold over the urban voters. Out of a total of 42 urban seats, it won about 36 seats. This shows that urban middle class still continue to maintain the status quo through its support to Hindutva brand of politics. While Jobs & Employment may have emerged as major issues, it continues to bother more of rural voters than the urban voters. Despite the news of grievance of trading class in Surat, reduction of GST at a later phase seems to have brought them again into the fold of BJP.
The Modi factor though seems to have declined seems to continue to influence electoral results. The fact that multiple rallies and over forty speeches had to be conducted shows the dependence on M factor.
The real nature of BJP was at its peak during the campaign. Development mask went into the background. Hindutva brand of politics again came into the forefront. Social media messages which attempted to polarize voters communally through creation of fears about the majority being taken over by minority religion, potential rise of terrorist forces if opposition was voted became part of the debates.
In the process of retaining power, the ruling party in power displayed a low. While they were being raised questions on issues of development – jobs and employment, healthcare and education, they did not have answers for the same. On the contrary they had to resort to their favorite topics – pakistan, muslims, conspiracy against prime minister. Gujarati asmita was brought in from nowhere.
The results however do point out to the fact that emergence of alternative voices raising people’s issues are not sufficient to put a break on continuity of Hindutva forces. While these need to be put forward, the threats of Hindutva politics on daily lives of people and how the disharmony prevents constructive social development needs to be better articulated. People’s mass movements have a crucial role to play here by giving raise to people’s issues. While electoral politics can accommodate some of these agendas, the temptations of gaining votes may also deviate them from immediate concerns.
Author: T Navin is a Researcher and works with an NGO.