Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to his home state Gujarat could not have come at a more appropriate moment. Assembly polls in the state are slated by year end and BJP will be vying for power for the record seventh term in Modi-Shah’s home state of Gujarat.
A convincing victory in Gujarat will certainly set the momentum going for BJP for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. Gujarat elections have always been followed keenly by pollsters and more so often after a Gujarati Narendra Modi came to the helm of affairs at center.
The last 2017 assembly elections in Gujarat were different altoghter. BJP faced a daunting task at that time with a strong opposition led by troika of young turks, Alpesh, Hardik and Jignesh and then the Patidar agitation was making the saffron party jittery.
To the advantage of BJP this time, the young trio of Alpesh, Hardik and Jignesh no longer pose a challenge to BJP. As both Alpesh and Hardik are now in the BJP camp. The issue of Patidar andolan has subsided with time. Incumbent Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel, a member of the community is firmly in the saddle. The community that has traditionally voted for the BJP looks rock solid with the party.
Once a bitter critic of BJP, Alpesh Thakore, who heads Gujarat Kshatriya Thakor Sena, an organisation that holds sway overThakor voters is an influential OBC leader in the state and is in saffron camp now. He in 2017 polls, was leading the Congress attack and himself got elected from Radhanpur assembly seat.
Similarly, Hardik, a Patidar leader who spearheaded the series of agitations against BJP in the run up to 2017 assembly elections seeking reservation in government jobs for his community too has switched sides and is now in BJP’s fold. Twenty two year old, Hardik drew immense popularity in 2015, when Patidar andolan was at its peak. Young, ambitious and energetic Hardik has strength to pull young voters in favour of BJP.
The last assembly elections in Gujarat were evenly poised, which was evidently revealed in the poll results. In 2017 assembly elections, BJP bagged a total of 99 assembly seats while Congress clinched 77 seats while 6 others went to independents and smaller parties in the 182 member assembly. It was for the first time since 1995 that the BJP tally went below a hundred assembly seats. Though BJP then rejoiced its sixth straight victory then, Congress performance did pose a challenge to an extent.
Though BJP managed to sail through comfortably in Central Gujarat, North Gujarat, South Gujarat and Kutch regions. But, a challenge came from Saurashtra region, where BJP was behind Congress and was reduced to 19 seats while Congress here won a whopping 28 seats. BJP is thus especially focussing in this region this time to ensure a decisive victory. BJP is targeting 150 seats this time. As the BJP will be vying for power for the seventh time, it has to overcome an anti incumbency of nearly thirty years.
Interestingly, the opposition Congress is still to become a force to reckon with. Congress is rather on a decline ever since it gave BJP a contest in 2017. Fourteen of its MLAs have already quit the party. The loss of Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel, who passed away during the pandemic is another big loss for the grand old party. He was a key strategist for Congress in the state. A shrewd poll manager Ahmed Patel’s strength as a politician could be gauged from the fact that in 2017, he managed to get elected to Rajya Sabha from Gujarat despite a stiff opposition from BJP and also all odds against him. He was then supposed to have won a battle of grit, wit and nerve against BJP. But he will be missed in action this time.
Though a state with a history of bi-polar politics, Aam Admi Party is also trying its luck in the Gujarat polls. After Punjab success, the party hopes for a better performance in Gujarat. But so far, its presence is only symbolic and limited to rhetoric.
Eying polls, Prime Minister Modi has been frequently visiting Gujarat. In his recent August end visit to his home state, Prime Minister inaugurated the Atal Bridge in Ahmedabad. He visited the Smiriti Van in Bhuj and also inaugurated the Narmada based water supply project there. BJP on one hand has been undertaking a spree of development intiatives, while also treading cautiously on caste and class combination of Gujarat. If not less, the election of a tribal woman, Droupadi Murmu to the highest constitutional post in the country has helped BJP send a subtle message to a large tribal population that holds sway in several of the assembly seats. The state has nearly fifteen percent tribal population.
Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah draw their strength from Gujarat and both of them don’t want to take any chances. The Gujarat verdict will have a big impact. Following Gujarat polls, the states of Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Mizoram will go to polls in 2023, next year. Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan have Congress governments. BJP will definitely want to see a saffron government in these two states before entering the 2024 Lok sabha poll arena. Gujarat elections certainly are a semi-final to 2024.