Breaking down the Gujarat verdict: How regional pride, nationalism made Modi-Shah even stronger on home turfhttps://indianexpress.com/article/explained/how-regional-pride-nationalism-made-modi-shah-even-stronger-on-home-turf-5753418/

Breaking down the Gujarat verdict: How regional pride, nationalism made Modi-Shah even stronger on home turf

Post-Pulwama air strikes and the pride of having a Gujarati PM and his trusted aide Shah in Parliament, coupled with nationalistic sentiments mattered more in this election than local concerns over drinking and irrigation water, as well as job crisis.

An Expert Explains: How regional pride, nationalism made Modi-Shah even stronger on home turf
Narendra Modi and Amit Shah at BJP office in New Delhi on Thursday.

The home state of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, Gujarat, has not disappointed them: like the 2014 Lok Sabha election, this time too, the BJP has won all 26 seats in Gujarat. In fact, the party has increased its vote share in 2019 to 62.2% vis-à-vis 59.1% in 2014.

The BJP’s victory margins, too, have improved in all but two seats. Party president Shah, who contested from the VIP seat of Gandhinagar — earlier represented by L K Advani, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Shankarsinh Vaghela and Purushottam Mavalankar — has secured one of the highest victory margins of over 5.5 lakh votes.

The water crisis, coupled with the low prices of the rabi crop, was expected to weigh heavily on the Saurashtra-Kutch region — where the Congress swept the rural constituencies in the 2017 Vidhan Sabha elections — and in parts of North Gujarat such as the Patan, Banaskantha, and Sabarkantha districts. In early 2018, the Gujarat government had advised farmers to not sow summer crops, as the state could not provide water for irrigation.

This predicament only worsened as 2018 came to an end — by December, over 50 talukas had been declared drought-affected. Just before the voting for the Lok Sabha election in late April 2019, Saurashtra’s 138 dams had water just over 10% of the reservoir capacity.

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But these issues had little effect on the electoral outcome. In fact, the BJP has increased its vote share in the severely drought-affected Saurashtra-Kutch region from 57.79% in 2014 to 59.8% in 2019. In a sense, this reflects a growing awareness among the electorate to treat Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections differently. The post-Pulwama air strikes and the asmita (pride) of having a Gujarati Prime Minister and his trusted aide Shah in Parliament, coupled with nationalistic sentiments (especially in a state bordering Pakistan) mattered more in this election than local concerns over drinking and irrigation water, as well as the crisis of jobs.

An Expert Explains: How regional pride, nationalism made Modi-Shah even stronger on home turf
In this election, the Congress trailed in 29 of these 30 Vidhan Sabha constituencies.

The Congress has been surprised by the scale of its defeat, especially in Saurashtra-Kutch. Extrapolating 2017 Assembly election data to the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the Congress was expected to win as many as eight Lok Sabha seats. In 2017, the Congress had won 30 out of 54 Assembly segments in the Saurashtra-Kutch region, doubling its tally from the 16 seats it won in 2012 on the back of an urban-rural divide registered due to agrarian distress and the Patidar movement, supported primarily by the Leuva Patels of Saurashtra.

In this election, the Congress trailed in 29 of these 30 Vidhan Sabha constituencies. The BJP has also snatched from the Congress the four Vidhan Sabha constituencies — three in Saurashtra — where bypolls took place.

Gujarat is seeing an increase in the representation of OBCs and intermediate castes (mainly Patels) over the last three Lok Sabha elections despite an absence of a backward caste-oriented regional political actor. For example, Gujarat is sending 10 OBC and seven intermediate caste legislators (out of the total 26) to this Lok Sabha — more or less similar to 2014, when it had 11 OBC and six intermediate caste MPs.

Out of the seven intermediate caste representatives this year, six are Patels. The BJP’s drive to attract the OBC communities has been ongoing from quite some time in Gujarat now. Post the 2017 elections, the BJP began to capture MLAs from the Congress, mainly those belonging to the Koli Patel community, an OBC caste of tillers and fisherfolk. This time, like in 2014, the BJP put up three Koli Patel candidates. This increasing focus on OBCs and Patels has come at the expense of upper castes in Gujarat, who now have only two legislators — the same as in 2014, and half their numbers of 2009 and 2004.

Gujarat has sent six women MPs to Lok Sabha in 2019 — the most since the state was created. Three of these six MPs (50%) belong to political families; a figure higher than the number of dynasts among men, which stands at two (10%). The reliance on women politicians coming from political families reinforces the notion that women serve as proxy figures for other political members of the family.