Gujarat Assembly Election Result: Going by the early trends, the BJP is heading for a record win in Gujarat, one of its bastions where it had lost a few layers of its sheen in 2017.
With Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intense campaign and a meticulously planned organisation strategy, the party, which was limited to 99 five years ago, is on course to win more than 150 seats — more than its highest tally of 127 so far — and eclipse the Congress’s record of 149 seats in the 1985 Assembly polls that came on the back of a sympathy wave created by Indira Gandhi’s assassination.
Unlike in 2017, when the Congress launched a massive campaign and legwork to capitalise on a strong Patidar agitation and widespread anger among the farmer community against the then BJP government, the party did not have any major mass movement to deal with. But the anti-incumbency was strong and there has been complacency and fatigue among the cadre.
Concerned about surveys showing the fraying of its absolute dominance in the state, a yearning for change, as well as the nimbleness of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which has proved as adept as the BJP at the perception game, the BJP leadership had expedited its preparations a few months back. The leadership carried out an overhaul in the organisation, changing everyone right from the chief minister and state president to ministers and office-bearers.
The leadership assessed that the Gujarat results would be an indicator of the robustness of the organisation, so far an unbeatable election-winning machine, the effectiveness of its strategies, and the enduring popularity of its leadership.
Conceding that anti-incumbency had sharpened due to the “non-charismatic” state leadership, the party completely overhauled the Cabinet and made Bhupendra Patel the chief minister. Vijay Rupani who had taken over the reins from Anandiben Patel just ahead of the 2017 elections struggled to find his feet and could not rise to the expectations of the leadership. The leadership did not take pains to remove him. In an interview to The Indian Express, Rupani said he was in the dark till the last moment that he was being removed. CR Paatil was brought in as president of the state unit in July 2020 ahead of crucial local body elections, replacing Jitu Vaghani, a Patel by caste. There were key changes in the organisation such as Ratnakar replacing Bhikhubhai Dalsaniya as the general secretary for organisation. Dalsaniya was appointed the general secretary (organisation) of the Bihar unit.
In the candidate selection, too, the party was ruthless. The BJP replaced “uninspiring” legislators — it dropped 41 of its sitting MLAs — and introduced fresh faces to overcome anti-incumbency feelings.
While Prime Minister Modi engaged in direct outreach for renewing his connection with the electorate in the state, Union Home Minister Amit Shah was stationed in Gujarat weeks ahead of the elections to oversee the booth-level preparations. According to sources, he chaired meetings of booth-level workers almost every day, gave them instructions, and reviewed the progress of the campaign closely.
“He even wanted to know why one particular spot was chosen for election rallies, he reviewed the door-to-door campaign, publicity material — everything in detail. His meetings would go for hours till the wee hours,” said a party leader from Gujarat.
Specific community outreach was another strategy the BJP introduced more vigorously this time, said sources. It deployed all its top Union Ministers, Chief Ministers, and senior leaders to different parts of Gujarat. Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityananth and his Assam counterpart Himanta Biswa Sarma were top on the list. The party also launched a “carpet bombing” strategy, with all the leaders campaigning intensely on particular days simultaneously.
The trends indicate that the party’s strategies — targeting a record win — have worked. In 2017, the BJP tally came down from 115 in 2012 to 99 (it later won bypolls and got Congress turncoats to join, to take its MLA count up to 111). While 99 was the BJP’s lowest since 1995, its tally had been consistently falling in the state — having got 127 seats in 2002, and 117 in 2007. However, its vote share always hovered around the 50 per cent mark.