With Gujarat voting the BJP back for the seventh straight time, this election has made history in the state: it gave the party over 50 per cent of the popular vote and the highest seat tally in the House at 150 plus minus a ‘Hindutva wave’ but at the same time making room for a new political party in the Opposition space.
The key takeaways of the 2022 election are the formidable, undiminished sway Prime Minister Narendra Modi holds over his home state; the readiness of a section of the voters to accept an “outsider,” and the rejection of the fatigued Congress.
Many leaders in the BJP, including Union Home Minister Amit Shah, had dismissed the Aam Aadmi Party arguing that Gujarat never made space for a third front and that the fight would be confined to BJP vs Congress.
On December 5, after the polls got over, state BJP president CR Paatil had told The Indian Express that the AAP “would not get a single seat.” But the AAP won five seats, two of them wrested from the BJP, two from Congress, all in rural Saurashtra, the peninsular belt that has determined the political trajectory of Gujarat. Its fifth seat came in central Gujarat where it defeated the incumbent Bharatiya Tribal Party candidate.
Modi remained the overarching figure in the 2017 and the 2022 campaigns. The last time, the Patidar quota agitation and disenchantment in the agrarian community had worked to the Congress’s advantage. This time, he linked the Assembly victory as a necessary vehicle for his return as Prime Minister in 2024 – and it struck many a chord.
That the AAP split the anti-BJP vote in 2022, can only be the Congress’s best alibi for shrinking so drastically to just 17 seats and vote share to 27.3% from 41%.
The election also is an indicator of the Gujarati voter being open to new, strong, and young leaders, notwithstanding their political affiliations. Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor, Jignesh Mevani — who were the face of the Congress victory in 2017 — won in spite of circumstances not favouring them within their respective parties.
As did Anant Patel who led the protests against the Par Tapi Narmada Yojana and Dhavalsinh Zala, a BJP rebel who won as an Independent, apart from the AAP nominees, who were all making a debut.
A top BJP leader from Ahmedabad while agreeing that “on many seats the BJP won because AAP split the Congress votes”, adds that the saffron party’s cadres were also “stirred up by the AAP’s aggressive campaign”, even if the party criticised it as “freebies”.
“They kept us watchful, or we could have become complacent, given that the Congress campaign was so feeble”, says this party veteran, crediting the “page committees.”
BJP leaders also say that although the party had dissidence within and sulking former ministers who were dropped from the contest, the party fixed all its pain points with “Modi’s 30 election rallies, and Shah’s micro management.”
For the Congress, even the fig leaf fell, with tribals rejecting it, its stalwarts losing and its voteshare falling to its lowest ever.
In the remotest tribal villages of south and northern Gujarat, “Kejriwal” and his promise of “free electricity, free healthcare and free education” was a talking point, where the Congress’s Rs 500-LPG bottle wasn’t.
On at least 30 seats, it was the AAP that ranked Number two, dislodging the Grand Old Party, although its four top leaders, including its state president Gopal Italia and its chief ministerial candidate Isudan Gadhvi, lost.
According to a Congress leader, “Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot who was put in charge of Gujarat could never replace leaders like the late Ahmed Patel, who was a master strategist”.