Despite its near absolute domination of Gujarat politics for three decades now, the Bhartiya Janata Party has not been able to better Congress on one count.
Madhavsinh Solanki’s record of 149 seats in the house of 183 in 1985 polls remains un-broken to date. BJP has not been able to come close to this figure even at the peak of post-Godhra communal polarization.
Riding on KHAM (Kshatriya-Harijan-Aadiwasi-Muslim) combination, Solanki’s social engineering also led to counter polarisation with Patidar decisively shifting to the BJP in 1989.
The party has not looked back since despite a few hiccups in the interim like the revolt helmed by Shankarsinh Vaghela.
The larger Hindu mobilization has helped BJP consolidate its position in the state, but at the micro level, the party has also sought to balance out the interests of disparate social groups.
The 2017 scare with Congress winning 80 odd seats in the assembly polls was a wake-up call.
BJP over the next 5 years had to demolish an assiduously knit caste mobilization helmed by the then Congress in-charge of the state Ashok Gehlot.
Though the Patidar reservation movement was a major irritant for the BJP, Gehlot realized that major political re-alignment could be orchestrated within the OBC block.
BJP has since managed to engineer multiple defections in the Congress including that of Hardik Patel and Aplesh Thakor who is now contesting from Gandhinagar south on party symbol.
It has also tried to neutralize the quota protests by allocating 10 percent of seats for Economically Weaker Sections in the un-reserved category.
The party though was forced to bring about a change in the state leadership by handing over the reins of power to someone from the Patel community. Vijay Rupani had to pave the way for Bhupendra Patel as BJP decided to appoint a non-Patidar- CR Patil- as the state president.
BJP’s campaign as usual started on the usual note with the party underscoring development issues. Towards the end and closer to the voting, the speeches became shriller and attacks more direct. With Congress not joining issues, BJP leaders evoked 2002-post Godhra riots in elections speeches.
BJP was the first party to realize the power of social media and digital technology in moulding public opinion. It has been aggressively using online tools and micro-messaging to reach out to the voters. In Gujarat elections too, 50000 WhatsApp groups and 10000 volunteers worked overtime to control the pollical messaging.
BJP in Gujarat also has a massive demographic advantage over its opponents. Its near-total domination of urban and semi-urban seats helps the party romp home in five-dozen odd seats with considerable ease. Even with a strike rate of 33 percent in rural Gujarat, BJP has been comfortably placed to cross the halfway mark.
The other advantage which BJP enjoys in Gujarat is the party’s high acceptability among women voters. Empirical data shows there has been a steady rise in women voting percentage in India and the political party which has been able to tap this constituency has gained at the hustings.
Aam Admi Party’s entry in Gujarat has made the contest triangular in many places. This is a bit unusual for a state where polity has remained largely bipolar in the last four decades or so.
BJP’s numbers in the next state assembly would depend on how much AAP is able to undercut Congress, not so much in the urban centers but in rural areas where the BJP has found the going tough in the past.
The division in opposition votes might decide whether Madhavsinh Solanki’s record of 149 seats remains unbroken.
The author is an independent journalist who writes on politics and policy.
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