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Gujarat exit polls analysis: BJP firm favourite, but AAP gains may herald momentous shift

Even if the seat count of Arvind Kejriwal’s party ends up being in single digits, it will be making its first dent in a BJP bastion. If that happens, in many ways, Gujarat will stand on the cusp of a change similar to the one in 1990 that marked the ruling party’s rise.

Supporters wait to get a glimpse of Prime Minister Narendra Modi outside polling booth at Ranip on Monday during Gujarat state elections 2022. (Express photo by Nirmal Harindran)

Going by the exit polls, the BJP is set to be back in the saddle in Gujarat, ostensibly riding on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity, even as the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) seems set to make inroads that may be historic for the party and Gujarat’s electoral politics as a third front that has not had roots in the state’s politics till now.

So far, the Arvind Kejriwal-led party has wrested Delhi and Punjab from the Congress. If the exit polls are to be believed, and the AAP gets seats even in single digits, it will mean the party making its first dent in a BJP bastion. And then the fears of the BJP, which tried to stonewall its rise in Gujarat, will become real.

In many ways, if that happens, then Gujarat will stand on the cusp of a shift in its electoral politics almost the same as in 1990, when a triangular contest between the Congress, then a behemoth in Gujarat, the Janata Dal, and the BJP resulted in the rise of the BJP. The saffron party won 67 of the 143 seats it contested, the Congress fell from 149 seats in 1985 to 33, and the Janata Dal bagged 70 of 147 seats and went on to form the government under Chimanbhai Patel’s chief ministership.

For the Congress, the exit polls confirm the party’s status-quoist position, its reluctance to take on the BJP head-on, and its contentment with its assured votes from the “poor and underprivileged sections”.

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While the BJP may end up breaking its 2002 record of winning 127 of the 182 Assembly seats — that victory was the result of a Hindutva wave after the communal riots that followed the Godhra train burning — it still could not beat the Congress’s 1985 record of 149 seats, credited to the sympathy wave created by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination. The BJP may not even end up beating the Congress’s 1980 record of 141 seats, which was credited to the consolidation of the Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, and Muslim (KHAM) votes.

The exit polls for Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh

Gujarat BJP chief CR Paatil said any victory for the BJP would be down to “the voter, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the meticulous planning by Union Home minister Amit Shah, and the BJP karyakarta”.

Paatil told The Indian Express, “The Prime Minister not only took care of Gujarat but also secured it.” On what it means to rely so much on a PM to lead the campaign, the BJP leader said, “Gujarat is his home, people invited him, and he came because they have a bond with him. The 50-km roadshow that Narendrabhai did, is the biggest in the world. No leader in the world has done such a big roadshow.”

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Paatil said that “the AAP won’t get a single seat” and avoided commenting on the Congress.

Former Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) president Arjun Modhwadia, who also contested from the Porbandar seat that went to polls in Phase 1, rejected the exit poll predictions and said the “results would be contrary”. He compared the scenario to 1990. “The arrogance of the Congress (back then), the scattered position of the Opposition, where the BJP and Janata Dal had problems even finding candidates, and our seats came down from 149 to 33. What the position of the Congress was in 1990 is the position of the BJP in 2022 and thus the AAP may get a toehold. It may turn out to be a vote katao (party that splits votes) party in some seats.”

Modhwadia said the strategy of the Congress to not swamp the campaign with big leaders “helped the candidates focus on the real issues of price rise, unemployment, on which the BJP avoided a debate”.

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Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi rejected the exit polls, saying, “These survey outcomes are all a face-saving device so that people can digest the actual results.” Like Modhwadia, he said the AAP would only end up cutting votes in a few constituencies.

The AAP, which put as much effort into its campaign in Gujarat as the BJP — its leader and Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal and Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann did as many rallies a day as Modi — the takeaway may be that Gujarat is perhaps ready for change, but not yet. The poll outcome, if they are in the BJP’s favour as the exit polls predict, may illustrate that the negatives of dissidence and anti-incumbency can be overcome by the popularity of a mass leader — a “Brahmastra” as Paatil referred to Modi during campaigning.

While the BJP tried some experiments by changing the entire government a year before the elections, dropping veterans, and fielding at least 19 candidates who were originally from the Congress — it led to some dissidence in its ranks — in the end, it relied on “winnability”. This may have translated into getting the caste and regional equations right or deflecting the theme of its campaign from development to national security, the 2002 riots, “love jihad” and Congress bashing.

Both the AAP and the Congress rested their campaigns on the word “Parivartan” or “Badlav” (change) — the former stirring up the freebies debate with its guarantees — which is a new feature in Gujarat’s electoral narrative. This was contrary to the BJP’s campaign slogan of “Phir ek baar, Modi Sarkar (Once again, Modi government)”.

First published on: 05-12-2022 at 22:31 IST
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