The BJP can tom-tom as much as it wants its landslide victory in Gujarat Assembly elections 2022 as ‘Modi Magic’, but the fact is the party is well past its electoral heyday under Modi.
The three elections that took place in recent weeks started with the following equation: BJP + 3. BJP held the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), as well as Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh State Assemblies. On the other hand, Indian National Congress (INC) and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) – its principal opponents in these elections, started with 0.
But while BJP may have got an unprecedented landslide victory in Gujarat, all it really accomplished was to increase its tally and retain a state in which it has a deep-rooted communal hegemony anyways. It did not acquire any new state. Instead, it lost two of its strongholds. It got routed in the MCD and HP assembly which it earlier held, and importantly, unlike losing MCD, which was a City Corporation election, it lost an entire state – Himachal Pradesh – to its only national opposition, the INC, reducing its footprint to cover less than 38% of the land mass.
AAP, on the other hand, won MCD elections, but was an almost total damp squib in Gujarat and HP assembly elections which have national implications. On its part, INC was not expected to win either the MCD or Gujarat Assembly polls. Its campaign in Gujarat was particularly pathetic for reasons best known to the party, fully exploited by AAP as well as BJP.
However, contrary to the hype of Modi Magic having caused the Gujarat landslide victory, polling figures and other factors indicate quite the opposite.
To begin with, it was obvious that BJP was jittery about the outcome in Gujarat when it replaced the CM and had a cabinet reshuffle a year ago over fears of incumbency after 27 years of rule with very little to show for it. This jitteriness further multiplied by media hype in recent months about AAP’s prospects in Gujarat, causing Amit Shah, Nadda and company to micro-manage the elections for close to a month before polling.
Come counting day, INC lost a hefty 14% votes, down from 41.5% in 2017 when it won 77 seats. Of the INC’s 14% loss in vote share, 12% went to AAP which got a total of 13% of votes with mere 5 wins, and 2% went to BJP, causing the INC to totally lose 60 seats, most of them to BJP. This gave BJP unprecedented 156 seats, leading to the claim of Modi Magic at work because he campaigned extensively.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Take AAP out of the picture and the spent persona of Modi as a vote catcher becomes clear as daylight.
For instance, the 13% vote for AAP was a vote for change and also a vote against BJP. Assuming that AAP was not in the fray, that change would be the INC and it would still garner at least 40% vote as against the 27.3% it now got. As a result, if it can be attributed to him at all, Modi’s highly extensive and multi-pronged campaign increased its vote share by a meagre 3.5% from 49.1% in 2017 to 52.5%, of which only 2% came from the INC and 2% from others.
The extra 57 seats BJP got, however, did not come from the 3.5% increase in vote share. INC lost 60 seats following a reduction of 14% votes leading to loss of 4.28 seats per percentage point. This would add up to a maximum of 9 seats from the additional 2% vote share BJP got from the INC even as the average per percentage of vote in the election is 3 seats. Even if you liberally add another 9 seats from the 2% it got from others, it would still amount to only 18 seats. This is the maximum number of seats than can be attributed to Modi if the 3.5% increase is attributed to his extended and intensive campaigning this time. In 2017, even with Modi campaigning quite extensively, BJP got only 99 seats with 49.1% vote share.
Eighteen seats, however, don’t account for the landslide win. They account for only 11.5% of the total seats won.
Rather, the win came, firstly, from the dominant Patidars en bloc moving back to the BJP over a year ago. In 2017, Patidars had largely voted for the INC. This time they voted almost entirely for the BJP across regions in the state.
Secondly, and more importantly, it came from the splitting of anti-BJP votes. INC, for example, came second in 146 seats of which, BJP won 31 seats with approximately 500-15,000 vote margins, with an average margin of 8000 votes, while AAP got excess of average 8000 votes at 3rd place in these seats.
At the same time, AAP came second only in 34 seats and won 5 from a 13% vote share, with average loss margin of 48,322 votes in the 34 seats. In the rest of the seats, 128 AAP candidates lost their deposits, getting less than one-sixth of votes polled, yet good enough to enable BJP to win in many seats besides the above 31 seats, in which independents and other smaller parties contested.
Without AAP in the picture, BJP may still have retained power, even increased its tally, but it surely would not have got a landslide and it certainly was not Modi Magic that caused the landslide.
Similarly, in the MCD elections, which are considered minor elections though the electorate for the Delhi assembly is the same population, the BJP threw its entire might into campaigning, going as low as having a PM campaign on multiple occasions for a Corporation election! But AAP still routed BJP and the INC too.
Likewise, in Himachal Pradesh, Modi campaigned along with other senior party members, yet the BJP lost 16 seats to come down to 25 from 41 in 2017, while INC got a comfortable majority with 40 seats.
Few months preceding these elections, there were Assembly elections in Punjab, UP, Manipur and Goa in which Modi campaigned a lot. But BJP got routed in Punjab, got a bare majority in Assam and Goa, later buying 8 INC MLA’s in Goa, and got comfortable majority only in UP and Manipur, with Yogi’s extreme hindutva and machinations playing a greater role than Modi in winning UP.
Earlier too, after 2019 LS elections, despite crucial campaigning by Modi, BJP lost majority in Haryana and lost Maharashtra and Jharkhand, later getting Maharashtra back through Operation Lotus earlier this year to from a coalition government. It also lost Chattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh (MP), getting back MP again through Operation Lotus. No Modi Magic worked in these states despite being BJP’s stronghold core Hindi-heartland states. In fact, half of its current comfortable majorities– Karnataka, MP, Arunachal Pradesh, Goa – are Operation Lotus majorities, not Modi Magic, while BJP became the single largest party in Bihar by exploiting JDU in 2020, only to be subsequently dumped by JDU to form government with RJD.
Importantly, prior to 2024 LS elections, there are Assembly elections in 13 states. Of these, 3 are in the South, including BJP ruled Karnataka where there is a strong anti-BJP sentiment, while it has no significant presence in the other 2 – Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Two are strong INC ruled states – Rajasthan and Chattisgarh which won 2 by-elections in straight contests against the BJP on the same day as the Gujarat landslide, and there are only 3 solely BJP ruled states – MP, Karnataka and Arunachal. Odisha is firmly in the hands of the BJD and the rest are NDA coalition governments with BJP either having a simple majority (Tripura), or being the largest single party or a minority partner as, for example, in Nagaland and Sikkim.
With Modi Magic non-existent, that too at a time when everything under the regime is going from bad to worse in the country, the 13 ensuing Assembly elections before LS 2024 elections and LS 2024 elections itself are for the opposition to lose if it does not come together. Its not Modi Magic, but division of votes that brings BJP to power wherever it is a triangular or more contest in major states such as Karnataka, Bihar, UP, Gujarat, Assam and Maharashtra. Apart from that, it has nothing to bring it to power in the 13 states or in LS 2024. BJP is now a party struggling to stay in power unlike its peak in 2018 when it ruled over 70% of the land mass. With HP gone from its kitty, this is now reduced to less than 39%. All that the opposition needs to do to oust BJP from the Centre and in the states is to work together in alliances in the interests of the nation rather than their individual party’s political fortunes.
And no one yet knows the electoral impact of Bharat Jodo Yatra, which the BJP has to reckon with. The public response to it in the states it has passed through has been enormous and none of them have faced state-wide elections after the Yatra passed through them. The first one to do so would be Karnataka in May 2023, followed by MP in November 2023 and Rajasthan in December 2023. There are also reports that the INC plans a West to East Yatra sometime before LS 2024 elections.
Oliver D’Souza is an award winning author, editor and activist