Dr. Prashanta C Panda / Dr. Anurag Srivastava / Ms. Chaitra Pradeep in Gandhinagar, November 2, 2017The term of the ruling party of Gujarat is coming to an end on 22nd of January, 2018. The Gujarat assembly elections would take place in two phases on 9th and 14th December 2017. The state has been known to have been a strong footing for the ruling BJP. The BJP received the most votes in a snap poll conducted by INDIATRENDINGNOW with the congress holding the second lead.

It may sound convincing that the BJP may once emerge victorious in Gujarat polls. Notwithstanding the personality cult of the Prime Minister (who is a native to Gujarat) and a plethora of populist development schemes launched recently, the electorate may turn the tables on the saffron party. Traditional voter base from the state have shown emotional political attachment to the ruling party.

However it may be about time that a significant number of people would favour the major opposition party i.e Congress. Over the years, BJP has done exceptionally well in terms of capitalising on Gujarati Asmita through catchy electoral slogan of Garje Gujarat. But of late, Congress has gained momentum and could emerge as a viable alternative to BJP in the state.

Dimensions of Growth Strategy, Re-emergence of Caste, Unemployment

The rising unemployment and protests for reservation for dominant castes in Gujarat is testimonial to the fact all is not well for this state. The Centre-led demonetisation and GST has further accentuated the problem on the economic and financial front in this land of businessmen. The most important of all which adds to the misery of the ruling party is the policy interventions and reforms of the Modi led NDA government at the centre.

This is stoking the sentiments of anti-incumbency. Both Congress and BJP are expected to avoid any deliberate attempt to polarise the elections and consolidate the Hindu or Muslim voters. This seems to be a bleak opportunity as parties are going for image makeover. Gujarat mostly relegates any 3rd front to insignia and firmly showing concentration on party lines. Polarising figure like Yogi Adityanath may find it difficult to counter the major concerns here. Kerala has shown glimpses of its apathy to such stands.

Most importantly the history of recent twenty years was riding on Vikas and Hindutwa. The wave of change seen recently is mostly on the demand for power, opportunities and employment to other backward classes, more representation to dominant classes and dignity of work and fundamental respect to traditional Dalit professional earnings. This all arise as development model seems to have lost its track towards backward linkages. The forward linkages are aiming at power centre and consolidating the relationship. Everything on larger scale is making selected beneficiaries greedy, making it easier for power corridor to leverage first from state induced investment pattern as dictated and designed by the private sector.

Opposition front has been strengthened by youth leaders from Patidars, OBC Khsatriyas and dalit communities. The leadership void at the state level created by Modiless Gujarat, Amit Shah Involvement at national level, Anindita Ben opting out of active politics and lesser assertive role by Mr. Vijay Rupani is definitely affecting the morals of BJP. Emergence of young leaders representing definite interest groups in Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakore is changing the equations. So far there are indications that they are maintaining a distance from BJP and may not contest independently; though some of their close confidants have joined BJP. This has resurrected the hopes of the Congress party and giving sleepless nights to BJP.

The major obstacles of the ruling party are following issues.

1. Caste division and failure of Hindu consolidation in favour of BJP.
2. Development model of Gujarat being superficial and parochial.
3. Demonetisation and GST nearly crippled the small and medium scale industries of the state leaving negative impact on formal economy and employment condition.
4. Agrarian distress.

BJP to Come Out Clean and as Peoples’ Choice

The case of BJP allegedly bribing people from various opposition parties to join the party has created a doubt among the youth regarding the transparency of the ruling party. The Patidar community accounts for 16% of the electorate. Their agitation for reservation has received growing attention for they have a decisive role to play in overpowering the BJP.

The problem of farmers is not only concentrated in Gujarat but also throughout the country. Majority of the small and marginalised farmers earnings do not soar above an average of Rs 1000 per month. The agricultural infrastructure is slow to react to the distress of the farmers. Hind Mazdoor Sabha does not have complete trust on BJP. Rising anguish among the backward and marginalised castes is resulting in consolidation of feelings into a strong anti-government or anti-BJP sentiment in Gujarat. Una Dalit atrocity has not faded from the public memory and Dalits have since been in deep anguish against the government. The growing agitation by the Patidar community for reservation has been supported by the major opposition party.

The problems encountered by marginalised sections and the small scale and textile industries are due to demonetisation and the GST taxation. Small and medium entrepreneurs find it difficult to file tax returns under the new tax regime. This would create agitation among these sections of businessmen. The people are starting to compare the human development index of the state to those of others like Kerala and Himachal Pradesh. In these states the rate of modernisation and industrialisation is low as compared to Gujarat. However their human development index lies at the top in the country in terms of nutrition, literacy etc. AS per SDI HDI ranking of 2015 Gujarat ranks 11th slot in comparison to other large industrialised states like Maharashtra which enjoys 7th position and Kerala and Himachal Pradesh bag the top three positions.

Time for More to Social Sectors

Despite many schemes put forth by the PM in the state the there is a question whether these schemes are just effectively formulated rather than effectively implemented to reach the desired target. Though schemes are well formulated and implemented but are slow in meeting the desired targets. Yet some of the schemes put forth by the PM have benefited the people. For example, the Doodh Sanjeevani Yojana (DSY) scheme was started in 2006-07 to improve the overall nutritional status of the primary school going tribal children in 26 taluks of the state. The scheme successfully reduced issue of malnutrition concerning around 7 lakh tribal students from its year of initiation till the year 2013-2014.

Many people of Gujarat are not just looking at the performance of the ruling party in their state but also throughout the country. Little uneasiness in outcome of BJP government interventions at centre coupled with anti incumbency at state level might impact the poll prospects for the BJP in the assembly elections. No doubt Gujarat election is billed as a prestige election for BJP while the Congress has been gaining steadily in the state with their number of seats swelling in recent Panchayats and Naga Palika elections.

The major issues that still prevail in the state based on the opinions of the people conducted by the Axis My India (October, 24, 2017) opinion poll of the state are: Inflation (34%), Unemployment (24%), Development (16%) and Roads and water (10%). Based on a survey conducted in the state regarding whether the respondents were satisfied with the GST a significant 51% gave negative responses. Only 38 % backed the newly introduced tax regime. In the case of whether the demonetisation benefitted those 53% of the respondents responded that it had not with 44% of the respondents saying it had.

Opinion poll conducted by Axis My India states 66% of the people were pleased with current PM ruling. The Axis My India Opinion poll has opined that the BJP may retain its status in the state. According to the opinion poll conducted in 182 constituencies between September 15th and October 15ththe BJP is projected to bag about 115 to 125 seats. The Congress is projected to bag between 57 and 65 seats. The Axis My India sampled 18243 respondents. 48 percent of these respondents said they would vote for the BJP while 38 percent said that they would vote for the Congress. The Congress could source benefit from among 32 percent of the electorate (10% Muslims, 6% Dalit, 16 % Patidar).

Time for Rahul to Perfect his Acts

Though made a late entry Rahul Gandhi’s repeated attack on demonetisation and the GST tax regime and their affect on the economy are making an impact on the decision making among the electorate. The party has the potential to cross 75 seats or more this time, given that new youth leaders drafted able to put their agendas more clear. At present they seem to be uniting on common hatreds towards BJP. The Congress can wrest advantages from stagnancy in urban growth as well as despairs at rural pockets. It is more important to see how the party unveils its campaigns and the visibility given to the local issues and faces.

Whether the Patidar leader gives his full support to the congress or not, it would still appear that the BJP may one once again regain its status in the state but by a reduced margin. This could be the first time that the ruling party might have a fading popularity in the coming years and even in the assembly elections. Definitely more learning and critical local policy inputs and governance is stored for BJP, to take forward in their 2019 campaign.

*Prashanta C Panda and Anurag Srivastava are faculty: Ms. Chaitra Pradeep is pursuing her MA in Public Administration at Pandit Deendayal Petroleum University, Gandhinagar, Gujarat

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