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How the pundits got Gujarat’s results wrong

This is not an instance of the Monday morning quarterback’s after-the-fact wisdom. I wrote, in these columns on March 21, ‘The 199...

Written by SHREEKANT SAMBRANI |
December 18, 2002

This is not an instance of the Monday morning quarterback’s after-the-fact wisdom. I wrote, in these columns on March 21, ‘The 1995 BJP victory in Gujarat was the harbinger of its national ascendancy.

So, wake up India, and look at Gujarat, not to condemn it, but to see your possible future face.’ This was the first-ever analysis of the Gujarat situation to foresee its electoral consequences, accurately as it turns out.

A consensus of informed and relatively apolitical opinion at the end of March was that BJP would have been hard put to win 60 seats in the assembly election if held in February; post-Godhra, only a miracle could stop it from claiming twice as many. This was widely discussed at that time and was most likely the basis of Modi’s decision for early elections.

Therefore, the remarkable feature of the elections is that voters having made up their minds six months ago, allowed nothing that happened subsequently to make a difference, as the results confirm the old prediction to a tee. Indeed, the two reliable polls, the first India Today exercise and the held-back NDTV one, also showed the unwavering nature of the voters’ preferences.

Several corollaries follow if this is accepted. One, the campaign, the most high-powered (and expensive) one for a state election yet, was entirely superfluous. People went to meetings and rallies, with their minds already made up.

For another, much of the reporting and analysis leading up to the elections missed the woods, concentrating on mere wayside shrubbery.

The Gujarati reactions to the carnage and anarchy could be classified in four groups: complete support, mild disapproval of the violence but a strong feeling that ‘they (the Muslims) need to learn a lesson’, overall disapproval and revulsion with a strong feeling that ‘the Congress is no better or is to blame equally’, and complete disaffection with all Sangh Parivar groups including the BJP.

The non-Muslim elements of the last group were a small minority. This classification should tell us why the nine-month hiatus post-Godhra made no difference to the outcome of the election. Excepting the third group, there was hardly any possibility of anyone having a second thought, and that group was possibly the smallest.

Unfortunately, most analysts ignored the first two groups altogether although they were quite vocal. They picked and chose opinions and comments that suited their perception, such as stray critical comments on Modi in the Gujarati press. Politicians who did so have paid the price; reporters and analysts who deviated from their responsibility to see the totality of evidence are now busy trying to dress up the situation: witness, for instance, the hair-splitting on regional differences in the results.

A plea yet again to understand the basic reasons why the modification of Gujarat was accomplished so swiftly and effectively should not be mistaken for its endorsement.

Even now, most informed comment is that ‘Gujarat is not India’. Will we say this when Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh go back to the BJP next year, possibly with their own home-grown Modis, and Maharashtra returns to the Sena-BJP fold even before elections? Gujarat and its cities less prominent than Ahmedabad — most particularly Vadodara — are the microcosm of emerging India. Do not forget India, Vadodara was the only district of the 25 in Gujarat that voted BJP for every single seat.

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