The gains made by the Congress in rural areas during the Assembly election got eroded
The BJP not only won all 26 Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat for the second straight election but won them also with mammoth margins bigger than those in 2014. So enormous was the party’s victory in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s State this time that no BJP candidate won by fewer than one lakh votes. Four candidates registered victories with over a five lakh margin, three by margins between four lakh and five lakh, nine between three lakh and four lakh, seven between two lakh and three lakh and four between one lakh and two lakh. Only in Dahod and Porbandar were the margins lower than those in 2014.
The BJP’s complete sweep yet again has meant that the gains made by the Congress in rural areas during the Assembly election in 2017 got eroded within a year and a half. The ruling party increased its vote share by 15 percentage points in rural areas, which is higher than its gains in semi-urban and urban areas.
The single biggest factor in the BJP’s crushing victory is undoubtedly Narendra Modi and the desire among voters to bring a Gujarati Prime Minister back in power. The survey data found close to two of every three (63%) voters wanting Mr. Modi as the next Prime Minister, whereas Rahul Gandhi was preferred by only one-fourth (24%). In the 2014 election, the proportion of those wanting Mr. Modi to be Prime Minister had been 48%. This fifteen percentage point rise is greater than the rise of 11 points nationally.
Furthermore, on being asked what mattered more to them — the party or the candidate while voting — 25%, or one in every four respondents, spontaneously said that it was the prime ministerial candidate (nationally, this was 17%). Only 25% gave importance to the “candidate” and 40% said the “party” had mattered.
Table 1: Locality wise vote shares
Moreover, the proportion of BJP voters who said that they would not have voted for the BJP had Mr. Modi not been the PM candidate went up from 22% in 2014 to 27% this time. This increase of five percentage points is, however, the same as the increase at the national level.
During the final days of campaigning in the State, Mr. Modi told voters at a rally in Patan that even a single loss in the State would dent his prestige and make him vulnerable to taunts. While we cannot be sure, but this last-minute emotional appeal may have something to do with the sheer size of the BJP’s victory (in terms of the victory margins), given that the survey also found close to three-fifths of the respondents to be extremely fond of Mr. Modi (that is, those who said they “strongly like” him) thus being susceptible to an appeal such as this.
The caste dynamic also seems to have worked extremely well in the BJP’s favour this time owing to strategies that the party deployed after its poor showing in the Assembly election. In that election, the BJP faced its biggest setbacks in the districts of Junagadh and Surendranagar. In Junagadh, the party lost all seven Assembly constituencies and in Surendranagar, six out of seven. Both the districts are dominated by the Koli community, the biggest voter segment by caste in these areas.
Table 2: Prime Ministerial preference in Gujarat
The BJP immediately corrected this loss of support among Kolis by bringing into their fold Kunvarji Bavaliya, who was the biggest Koli community leader in the Congress. He was made a Cabinet Minister.
A comparative analysis of how various castes and communities voted in the 2017 Assembly and 2019 Lok Sabha elections reveals that the Congress’s biggest losses in this election happened among the Kolis and other OBCs. The party’s share among them got halved (from 38% to 19%) as nearly fourth-fifths voted for the BJP.
A similar downward slide could be seen in the Thakor community among which the Congress made major gains in 2017. Thakors are the dominant community in north Gujarat and the BJP lost considerably in the Banaskantha, Patan and Sabarkantha areas in the Assembly election. The departure of Alpesh Thakor, a popular Thakor leader in North Gujarat, from the Congress on the eve of election, however, seems to have hurt the Congress’s chances among this segment. The survey suggests three-fifths of the Kshatriya and Thakor community to have voted for the BJP.
Table 3: How communities voted in Gujarat
The Congress could also not retain the gains made by it among the Patidar vote bank of the BJP. Despite Hardik Patel joining the party and campaigning for it, the Congress managed to win only one-fourth of the Patel vote, the survey shows. The only communities among which the Congress seems to have been ahead of the BJP are Dalits and Muslims. Not even the Adivasis in the central and southern parts of Gujarat, who have traditionally voted for the Congress, voted much for it this time.
Apart from the caste dynamics, issues such as nationalism and the Balakot air strikes may have also increased the BJP’s popularity. Nearly four of every five respondents had heard of the Balakot strikes and Mr. Modi was the prime ministerial choice of 68% among them.
However among the 20% who had not heard of the air strikes, Mr. Modi’s popularity dropped to 52%. This is to say that the BJP may well have won comfortably in Gujarat even if Balakot had not happened.
(Mahashweta Jani is an Ahmedabad-based researcher and Bhanu Parmar teaches at Nalini Arts College, Vallabh Vidyanagar, Anand)
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