Why Gujarat Elections 2017 stand out from the previous assembly elections?

By now, almost everyone will have had their say about the Gujarat elections. In my opinion, this is one of the most interesting elections – it had everything in it – piety, casteism, pornography, blame game and so much more apart from the usual politics, religion, rallies and speeches. The psephologists were very guarded in their predictions since most people were just not able to judge the mood of the voters. In the end, BJP won with a huge share of the vote percentage but contrasted it with a slender margin in the form of seats won. News channels too were in a tizzy when the results started trickling in and many actually thought that the Congress would win or give the BJP a run for their money. For me, these elections stand out for these reasons:

AGENDA SET BY THE BJP: For the first time in years, a political party in India had the guts to run an election campaign on ‘vikaas’ or progress. While the other players in this election depended on ‘reservations’ (especially for Patidars) and ‘religion’, BJP did not side with either. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah kept harping on ‘sabka saath, sabka vikaas’.

PRIDE OF A STATE: How many times have we heard politicians say that one must feel proud of one’s state, country, culture, habits or progress? Throughout the campaign, whether it was the social media or WhatsApp messages, the ‘Gujarati pride’ was at the forefront. In fact, the main counter-argument to the opposition’s ‘vikas gandothayoche’ was that Gujarat state was a role model for the entire nation and that this was possible only because of BJP. Linking the pride of belonging to a particular state which had progressed beyond other states, was seen for the first time in these elections. And yes, this pride went beyond the boundaries of religion or caste.

NO APOLOGY FOR TOUGH DECISIONS: If anyone thought that PM Modi would apologize for the after-effects of GST or demonetization w.r.t. to the traders or business community, they were mistaken. On the contrary, the BJP kept educating the people on how it was the toughest decision for the entire country and how despite that, they had faith that Gujarat would not let them down. Studies have shown that any political party which introduced GST in their respective country, have always lost the subsequent elections. But by not apologizing and by reaffirming their faith in the business community’s willingness to do clean business, Modi has won over the industrialists and business communities. The stupendous wins in Surat, Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Baroda all point to this.

NO VIOLENT CRIME DURING ELECTION PHASE: One of the most disturbing facts of elections in recent years is the sudden spurt in violent incidents of rape and lynching during the election phase. Mainstream media has always pounced on such news and repeatedly played it whether it is in Delhi, Haryana, UP, Bihar or any other state. Gujarat elections (along with Himachal Pradesh elections) stand out as having been reasonably clean, without having any such incidents. One must thank the previous state government and its officials for this.

Some other factors also came to play during this election – these are with respect to the Congress party and their president Rahul Gandhi. Let us look at these:

RELIGION: Gandhi was forced to state on record that he was a ‘janeudhari brahmin. This means simply that Congress can now not claim that they allow people from the lowest strata of society to reach the top party position. Also, they cannot ask for votes from Christians or Muslims by stating that their top leadership represents their communities. One of the biggest casualty of this statement will be visible when the Ram Mandir would be built on Ram Janmabhoomi. Having declared himself a Hindu, Gandhi will not be able to oppose it.

NO OPPOSITION TO PARTY PRESIDENT POST: In what has raised eyebrows from die-hard supporters of Congress, the silencing of anyone who wanted to even put in their nomination papers for the post of Congress presidential elections, tells a lot. Now no one in the Congress will ever be able to say that nepotism does not matter in Congress. In contrast, BJP easily seems to be the best party in India when it comes to rising to the top only based on merit.

ADDRESSING THE CADRES & NEWS PORTALS: On winning or losing an election, the BJP has always had its president and/or Modi addressing their cadres and the newspersons directly. In contrast, the Congress always had to depend on its spokesperson, or sometimes 2-3 spokespersons to address the party workers and newspersons. This clearly shows the knowledge and maturity level of the top people in the respective parties. Gandhi has only preferred a one-way communication when it is in public, even after winning the post of the Congress party president.

SETTING THE NARRATIVE: Rahul Gandhi has set the narrative of blame game and fault finding in his election speeches, and also in his first speech as Congress president. All politicians indulge in this to a certain extent, but the difference here was that while Gandhi spoke about conquering all with love, he seemed obsessed with the BJP more than love for the country.

OTHER LEADERS IN PARTY: Although Gandhi speaks about how he believes in freedom of speech, he has repeatedly shown that he does not like anyone superseding his words. He has repeatedly targeted Modi for being a dictator within his party and only liking yes-men; but surprisingly if one were to study the Congress party and Gandhi, one would realize that he’s speaking about himself. Apart from the old guard, one has hardly heard any Congress leader from the younger generation at all. On the contrary, leaders in the BJP have given a free hand to speak on the TV and elsewhere.

All said and done, by retaining their record streak of winning Gujarat elections, BJP has shown that unlike 2004, this time around they are here to stay. It would be interesting to see how BJP manages to fulfil the aspirations of the Hindu people as per their manifesto, in the coming year. ‘Sabka saath, sabka vikaas’ has made deep inroads in the mindset of the people. While these are not yet translating into votes by minorities, the Hindu majority has accepted this agenda with open arms.