It will not be an exaggeration to say that Gujarat elections are the most significant before 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The prestige of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is at stake. The ruling BJP faces anti-incumbency where it has been in power for the last 22 years. Various communities, including Patel, Dalit, OBCs are on the streets for more than two years now, demanding justice for their communities. Their contention is ‘Gujarat model of development’ has hardly changed their lives. Small and medium traders are agitating, as they have suffered heavily due to demonetisation last year and now because of GST. No community is openly coming forward to support the BJP.
What does this mean? BJP leaders are not getting the spontaneous support of the common people, which they used to get earlier. Even people can be seen leaving from the meetings addressed by Prime Minister Modi. BJP President Amit Shah is also not attracting a huge crowd. The rallies of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath attracts only a couple of hundreds. The BJP leadership is shocked with changed peoples’ attitude. On the other side, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi is getting a huge response. This surprised the BJP leaders more. Rahul along with his comrades Shaktisinh Gohil and Arjun Modhwadia is campaigning extensively in the state. BJP leaders are now taking Rahul seriously and not ridiculing him. BJP has given the responsibility of various districts to few central ministers also.
The most important question is will BJP lose or whether their strength will reduce? The possibility of it cannot be denied. Indian voters are intelligent, and they can do magic. All powerful Indira Gandhi lost after the emergency in 1977. CPI(M) ruled West Bengal for 34 years from 1977 to 2011. Nobody thought that they could be defeated. But Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress defeated them. So, anything can happen in politics. The fact is BJP is worried and is in a state of panic.
They are not confident and that is the reason why the Prime Minister is going to address more than 50 rallies in Gujarat. No Prime Minister has ever addressed so many meetings in one state elections.
The Gujarat election is a matter of prestige for Prime Minister Modi and BJP Chief Amit Shah. When Modi was Chief Minister of the state, he never faced such difficult times. Though BJP’s strength has reduced with each election. In 2012 elections, BJP under Modi won 115 seats, two less than in 2007 while Congress had won 61, two more than in the 2007 elections. In 2002, BJP had bagged 127 seats and Congress 51 seats. Gujarat has a total of 182 seats. Congress, under the leadership of Madhavsinh Solanki, had won maximum seats - 149, in 1985 elections. It was made possible only because of consolidation of Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims (KHAM). To beat that record, BJP’s mission is 150+.
Apart from this, three young leaders have emerged in the last 2-3 years in Gujarat. Hardik Patel voices the sufferings of the Patel (Patidar) or land-owning class. He has emerged as the tallest leader of the community. He was arrested and put behind bars under ‘ridiculous’ sedition charges. The community faced brutal atrocities in 2015 and it was also a reason why Congress won maximum district panchayat elections held in the same year. A couple of Hardik’s colleagues have deserted him and joined BJP. But still, Hardik has a huge following. The Patel community constitutes around 14 per cent of the population. Young Alpesh Thakor has emerged as the most influential OBC leader. He is now with the Congress and will also contest elections. OBCs are around 40 per cent. Jignesh Mewani is an influential Dalit leader and he will be backing Congress.
Gujarati community is generally seen as an enterprising community. The small and medium traders of Surat, Ahmedabad and other cities are agitating against GST. Their contention is that GST and demonetisation has completely ruined them. Traditionally, they are BJP supporters, but they are now a disillusioned lot. The fishing community, especially Kharvas, have voted for BJP in the last few elections. But, they are also no more happy with the BJP. They had a lot of expectations from the central government under Modi. But, nothing has been done for their development or for fishing ports. Earlier, CM Modi used to blame Central government led by Congress as anti-Gujarat and that was the reason that he cannot develop Gujarat. Now, he cannot give such excuses. People expected him to deliver. But, he has failed to fulfill the expectations and aspirations of the people of Gujarat.
The state leadership of the BJP has no other option but to depend on their central leadership. Vijay Rupani, the current Chief Minister, has failed to inspire people of the state. The fight is between Modi and Congress. If BJP loses or just manages to retain power, it will be a defeat of Modi. More BJP leaders will join hands with Yashwant Sinha, Arun Shourie, etc, in criticising Modi. Prime Minister is aware of the consequences and that is why he will be addressing more than 50 rallies. Gujarat elections will be most interesting to watch for.