Gujarat Elections 2017 : The Final Face - Off

BY R.K.MISRA

The end of polling  in the western India state of Gujarat 2017  on December 14, brought the curtains down on one of the most bitterly fought Assembly elections in the last quarter century , with two national entities  sweating it out for a state neither can head.

The election campaign was a face-off between Prime Minister Narendra Modi who had a tough fight on home ground from emergent  challenger Rahul Gandhi of the Congress even as exit polls unanimously voted his BJP to power in Gujarat. The truth, however, will emerge only on December 18 after the counting is completed.

Though assessments varied in terms of quantification but the common thread of all of them gave a lead to the BJP forecasting it’s return to helm the state. The Times Now-VMR exit poll predicted 115 seats to the BJP and 64 for the Congress while the Republic-C Voter exit poll gave the BJP 108 seats and the Congress 74, the ABP-CSDS survey by ABP news predicted a BJP victory in 117 seats as against Congress’s 64 and India Today’s Aaj Tak also predicted BJP would retain Gujarat.

The 2017 Gujarat Assembly elections, however, will remain etched in national memory as one which saw Modi stretched to the limits and hurling every arrow in his varied armoury in a desperate bid to ward off a determined challenger. Rarely has a prime minister given up on key national functions to devote so much time to a state election but he pulled out all stops in a bid to retain Gujarat, aware as he is that a breach of his home citadel will provide the bridge-head for a 2019 assault on his dreams of retaining power in India.

At stake, on the poll results, is the prestige of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, more so since Gujarat is his home state while for Rahul Gandhi who took over charge as the Congress president mid-way through the poll campaign, the results will calibrate the nature of the challenge the party under his command will provide to his wily opponent.

A victory for the BJP, particularly in Gujarat, will not only be a personal one for the Prime Minister, but also an  endorsement of his two decade long rule of the state and also those of his policies pursued at the Centre including demonetisation and GST. On the other hand, the defeat of the BJP in the state will mark the emergence of Rahul Gandhi as his principal opponent and a rallying point for the opposition in their fight against the Modi led NDA in 2019.

As for the technical details, official sources said that 68.70 per cent of the total 2.23 crore voters across 14 districts of central and north Gujarat had cast their franchise to elect 93 legislators amongst 851 candidates in the final phase of polling. The voting is slightly higher than the first phase of polling at 66.75 per cent for 89 Assembly constituencies in Saurashtra and South Gujarat region. All in all the final figures for the voting percentage in Gujarat elections 2017 stands at 68.41 compared to 71.32 per cent in 2012.The House has 182 members

This Gujarat elections is the most bitterly fought poll campaign with the Prime Minister hurling his might into the battle to retain control of  his home state, one which he ruled to become the longest serving chief minister before moving over to Delhi in 2014 to helm the country. The first election being fought after his departure has seen the Congress pose a serious challenge to the almost two decade long rule of the BJP, forcing the prime minister to return and dirty his hands to lead campaigning in a state    campaign. If Rahul succeeds, or in a last case scenario, manages to raise the tally of the Congress significantly, it will mark his emergence as a serious challenger to Modi with 2019 general elections just about two years away.

If the prime minister was leading from the front, so was Rahul Gandhi for the Congress who found himself elevated to full charge of his party mid-way through the campaign. Though Modi had begun his campaigning almost six months ahead of the polls, increasing  the frequency of his visits to his home state with every passing month, Gandhi too, took to the road, criss-crossing regions on his stretched three day long ‘navsarjan yatras’.
The urban seats which have been the backbone of the BJP tally will decide the fate of the state. The BJP had won 60 of the total 64 such seats in 2012.The Prime Minister’s entire exercise which bordered on self-vilification as well as leveling allegations against former constitutional entities was aimed to safeguard this vote bank.

After Modi left for Delhi , Gujarat has been in  a state of drift with the BJP government caught in the quagmire of caste conflagrations leading to the emergence of three youth leaders-Hardik Patel of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti(PAAS),Jignesh Mevani championing dalit causes and Alpesh Thakore spearheading the OBC interests-who are proving a thorn in the BJP flesh.

Aware of what  fate awaited  the BJP,Modi had to personally take charge. For all practical purposes, it has been a straight fight between two diametrically opposite personalities,the one who kept aggressively smashing all around and the other who kept calmly lobbing it back to keep the narrative going. Thus it was that while Modi meandered from development to hindutva with a ‘tea-break’ in between to venture into historical narratives, communal issues and even alleging Pakistani interference in Gujarat polls and attributing motives to one time constitutional entities,  Rahul chose to challenge his more experienced rival on governance issues and lapses of his government.

This election will also stand out for making all other parties in the fray virtually irrelevant. At least this was what campaigning showed up with rebel Congress leader Shankersinh Vaghela’s  Janvikalp, the NCP of Sharad Pawar, AAP of Arvind Kejirwal ,BSP of Mayawati and Janata Dal-United of Nitish Kumar  being reduced to the margins. Little was heard about them during campaigning. Even AAP which had earlier spoken of contesting all the 182 seats with their leader, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal coming to campaign, did not do so. It remained content with contesting few of them only for namesake presence.

The countdown begins !


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