Lessons from Gujarat elections

Harihar Swarup

Gujarat election results may be a zabardast jhatka (severe jolt) to the BJP but it is, paradoxically, a victory in defeat for the Congress. Gujarat poll was the first test for Rahul and he has done reasonably well by putting a new life into his party. A resurgent Congress will have to face challenge after challenge in 2018. If fact, it will be apt to call the new year an election year in run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha poll. Within months, the Karnataka elections are due and they are not less important than Gujarat. The southern state ruled by the Congress faces a serious challenge from the rival BJP and Chief Minister Siddarammaiah faces anti-incumbency.
Both Rahul and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will again face each other in Karnataka. They are the star campaigners for their respective parties—the Congress and the BJP — but Karnataka is not Gujarat. One wonders if the waning Modi magic will work in this southern state. Rahul is up and coming Congress chief and he has picked up fast, learnt the art of electioneering well and perfected it in Gujarat. It is too early to talk about the poll scenario in Karnataka but it will be a big boost for the Congress if it retains the state.
Towards the end of 2018, elections are due in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan ruled by the BJP. Congress is trying hard to wrest these states from the BJP, having ended the infighting in the party. The central leadership, which is now Rahul Gandhi, has almost decided to project young Jyotiraditya Scindia as its chief ministerial candidate in Madhya Pradesh. The party should pick up the right type of PCC chief to conduct the election. The name of Chindwara MP, Kamal Nath, is doing the rounds. He is a senior leader and, if the rein of the state unit is given to him, he may show spectacular results.
Added to this, former chief minister and AICC general Secretary Digvijaya Singh’s five-month long Narmada Yatra has created good impact. The former CM in his march is meeting people and the myriad personal interactions may yield result at the time of election. According to reports, the Yatra is getting good response.
Advantage Congress is that CM Shivraj Singh Chauhan has lately become unpopular and there is heavy anti-incumbency against him. People, it appears, are in a mood for change. But still there is time. At this moment one can only say that the odds are against the BJP in MP.
In Chhattisgarh, the image of chief minister Raman Singh is not as bad as that of Shivraj   Singh but there is powerful anti-incumbency factor against him also. The Congress has yet to decide its chief ministerial candidate but if Rahul Gandhi acts wisely, the Congress may wrest this state. The threat of Maoist rebels is a major worry for the BJP in this tribal-dominated state.
In Rajasthan, Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, besides anti-incumbency, faces a tough challenge from the Congress. Most likely the Congress’s chief ministerial candidate will be the young Sachin Pilot. Another likely choice may be Ashok Gehlot, who has done well in Gujarat. The state unit, at present, is headed by Sachin Pilot but if he is projected as chief ministerial candidate, Gehlot may be given the rein of the party.
Unlike Gujarat, where Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah took electioneering in their hands, BJP will have their CMs—Shivraj Singh Chauhan in Madhya Pradesh, Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan and Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh — at the helm of affairs. Recent farmers’ protests in MP, infighting within BJP in Rajasthan and the threat of Maoist rebels in Chhattisgarh are major worries for the BJP.
The BJP has already swung into election mode, as these elections will essentially set the tone for the 2019 general elections. The BJP has been in power in MP and Chhattisgarh since 2003 while it won Rajasthan from the Congress in 2013. However, the election trend in Rajasthan in recent years, of not voting a party to power for consecutive terms, has been worrying the BJP high command.
According to a senior BJP leader, PM Modi will be the party’s trump card in these elections, but the party will also bank on the popularity of its CMs, which has lately slipped downwards. BJP’s central leadership that is Modi and Amit Shah believe CMs welfare schemes, the popularity of the PM, and a weak opposition (not so weak now) will help them achieve another victory.
A senior BJP leader involved with poll management in Gujarat has been quoted as saying: “BJP has many lessons to learn to from the Gujarat elections results. The leadership in MP, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan will have to strength party’s booth structure to increase its vote share. While BJP has predominantly been winning in the urban areas, focus has to be shifted to rural belts.” (IPA)

Friday, 29 December, 2017