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BJP could have taken its dominance in Gujarat for granted. It didn’t — and scripted the latest win

Its victory owes not just to its opponents' lack of imagination and sloth, but far more, to the party's willingness and ability to stay focused and think on its feet

The BJP gave this election all it had. Its top leaders from Prime Minister Modi to central ministers, including Union Home Minister Amit Shah, campaigned in the state extensively.
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From the BJP’s point of view, for all the political dust and noise stirred up around it, this election in Gujarat could have looked like a done deal. The party could have, quite reasonably, approached it with a touch of complacence, if not entitlement — the suspense, it was being widely foretold, was only about the margin of its victory. After all, Gujarat is the state where a whole generation of voters has grown up seeing only the BJP win, and where after 27 years in power, it was fighting for a seventh term. The “Gujarat model”, real and imagined, that contributed to the electoral successes of the Modi-BJP elsewhere in the country, was put together here. This state is said to be the laboratory of Hindutva, with the 2002 riots taking their place in a larger and longer narrative that works to the BJP’s political advantage, and continues to put its political opponents – traditional rival Congress and new Gujarat player, AAP – visibly on the defensive. Here, the BJP’s organisational presence and infrastructure is most deeply entrenched – from the panchayat and urban body to the legislative assembly, from the low-lying hum of the RSS network to the leader in the national spotlight, former chief minister and now prime minister in his second term, Narendra Modi. As CM, Modi first addressed a national audience from the Gujarat stage before throwing his hat in the prime ministerial ring. And in this election if anything seemed more certain than a BJP victory, it was PM Modi’s undimmed popularity. So yes, the BJP could have been forgiven for taking its winning streak, and Gujarat and the Gujarati voter, for granted in this election. It didn’t – on the day after, its rivals would do well to pay attention to that story.

The BJP gave this election all it had. Its top leaders from Prime Minister Modi to central ministers, including Union Home Minister Amit Shah, campaigned in the state extensively. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and star campaigner came calling too — in stark contrast to a listless Congress campaign that had shrunk and splintered into its local candidates and constituencies. In fact, the BJP was at work long before the campaign began – in the state’s tribal belt, where the Congress has dominated traditionally, its push was visible, for instance, in the installation in district headquarters of Birsa Munda statues. In Saurashtra, where the Patidar quota agitation had contributed to the Congress’s good showing in 2017, the BJP weaned away several Congress MLAs – of the Congress MLAs who crossed over to the BJP, raising its tally from 99 to 112, 9 belonged to Saurashtra. Congress complaints about money and muscle power sound much too plaintive – if even elected MLAs leave, not just those in search of a ticket, then it is a signal that the party must turn the mirror inwards. In 2021, in a sudden decision, the BJP’s high command removed Vijay Rupani as chief minister, along with his entire cabinet, to blunt anti-incumbency — one of the party’s many moves that showed that, a year before elections, even in its bastion, Modi’s party was not banking on traditional formulas, but experimenting and thinking on its feet.

Of course, there was anti-incumbency in Gujarat. Distress had gathered at the lower ends of the class ladder, on issues like price rise, unemployment and the state’s perceived retreat from education. There was discontent, as well, against a government that was seen to have become inattentive to the people because of long years of power. But in the end, if that restiveness did not show up at all on the final scoreboard, it owes not just to its opponents’ lack of imagination and sloth, but also, and far more, to the BJP’s own willingness and ability to keep working at it.

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First published on: 08-12-2022 at 17:45 IST
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