So the verdict is finally out. The BJP led by their star campaigner Prime Minister Narendra Modi has led the party to its sixth consecutive win in the state. Projected as a referendum on Modi’s key economic policies like Demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax, the prime minister went all out in the state, spending over two months traveling to various regions, invoking the Gujarati pride and asking the voters to choose between him and outsiders, in a clear reference to Congress President Rahul Gandhi.
And to add insult to injury, the BJP also snatched Himachal Pradesh from the Congress - almost bringing Modi’s dream to fulfilment of a “Congress-mukt Bharat”.
But despite claims to the contrary, BJP leader Smriti Irani's statement post the verdict made it clear how tough the election was for the party this time in their favourite state. "Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar," said Irani as early trends showed a neck to neck battle with the Congress.
Here are seven things to note about the Gujarat assembly election verdict.
1) The verdict
Though the the half-way mark of 92 seats was breached comfortably, BJP could not reach the three figure mark and ended the results day at 99 seats, the least it has won in the state since 1995 when it came to power with 121 seats. While this is a long way away from the aggressive target of 150 seats that BJP President Amit Shah had planned for, the BJP is not complaining, at least for the time being. The party also missed their own mark of 112 seats that they won last time in 2012 assembly elections.
2) BJP vs Congress state leadership
While the Congress put up a spirited fight, there is no doubt that it has finally boiled down to the absence of a strong state leadership for the party that could have made the final difference. While the top three of the BJP, CM Vijay Rupani, Dy CM Nitin Patel and state party chief Jitu Vaghani won over their Congress rivals with more than comfortable margins, the top 3 leaders from the Congress, ShaktiSinh Gohil, Arjun Modhvadia and chairman of the party’s campaign committee Siddharth Patel all lost their seats, though with very low margins.
3) What next for Rahul Gandhi?
Losing two states especially Gujarat where Rahul Gandhi had invested all his attention would come as a disappointment, just two days after he formally took over from his mother Sonia Gandhi as the Congress President. But most analysts say that the manner in which he went about campaigning this time shows that he has come of age. For the first time in his political career, Gandhi showed that he is willing to campaign and match the BJP attack with equal firepower.
While he did not step back from attacking Modi and Amit Shah on their claims of development, demonetisation and patchy implementation of GST, the decision to suspend a senior Congress leader like Mani Shankar Aiyar for his remarks calling Modi “neech” showed that he is unwilling to allow any one from within the party to deviate from the agenda he has set for them. In contrast, the BJP led by Modi invoked conspiracy theories around "Congress tying-up with Pakistan to install a Muslim chief minister", "Aurangzeb Raj" in a dig against Rahul Gandhi's elevation in the party
Also by teaming up with Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mewani and Alpesh Thakore, Gandhi has shed his past reticence in making new alliances wherever needed. Thakore won on a Congress ticket from Radanpur while Mewani fought as an independent from Vadgam and emerged victorious. Patel was not eligible to contest elections this time due to his age.
But does this mean the Congress is safe under Gandhi? Maybe not, since the winnability factor is key to excite the cadre about his leadership as he travels around the country for various state elections. With today’s losses, the Congress tally along with allies have come down to 5 states in the country while BJP along with its allies ruling in 19 states. With state elections in Karnataka coming soon, Gandhi’s task is cut out to ensure that he does not lose the sole big state in the party’s kitty.
4) Hardik Patel - 'Upstart' or long-term politician?
For a 23-year old leader of an influential community that comprises 12% of the total population, Patel showed that politics is a game of rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty before you reap the rewards. He may have not had the desired impact but the BJP cannot deny that they grossly underestimated the young leader and dismissed him as an upstart till a few months back. Meanwhile Patel has shown that he is going to be a long-term player in politics when he converted the sex CD controversy to his advantage by tweeting that “the people of Gujarat want to see the CD of development and not of a 22-year old boy.”
गुजरात की जनता २२ साल के लड़के की नहीं,२२ साल में हुवे विकास की सीडी देखना चाहती हैं।
— Hardik Patel (@HardikPatel_) November 14, 2017
Post the results, Hardik said that he will travel to rural Gujarat with his eyes now set on the 2019 general elections. But his image as a caste-based leader may prove to be his biggest limitation as even within the Patel community, the support to him is far from being unanimous.
5) Exit Polls fail once again
So did the exit polls get it right this year? News 24 along with the much celebrated Today's Chanakya gave 135 seats to the BJP (plus-minus 11 seats) while it gave the lowest to the Congress among all pollsters at 47 seats (plus-minus 11 seats). News Nation gave the BJP 128 seats while News 18 and Republic were the most conservative who gave the BJP only 108 seats and the Congress 74 seats.
It is clear from all the exit poll results that while they got the winner correct, they had failed to estimate the surge by the Congress and its allies who may finally settle around the 80 mark.
6) Any lessons for the BJP?
The BJP will be happy that they have not just managed to beat the Congress and retain the PM's home state but also increased their vote share to over 49.1% (vs 47.8% in 2012). But they will have to look at some of the worrying trends that seem to have emerged this time. The Congress backed by the Patidars have pushed up their vote share to 41.4% (vs 39% in 2012). It is also important to note that in the 2014 general elections, the BJP had a whopping 60% vote share while the Congress was a distant second at 33% vote share.
The slender margin of victory for the BJP is thanks to the urban voters who came out in support for the party as expected. Otherwise, rural Gujarat have given a thumbs up to the Congress - a strong message to the BJP that agrarian crisis in the state was not just an election issue but a real crisis for the farmers.
According to the Times of India, "of a total 109 seats in rural constituencies, the Congress won or is leading in 62 while the BJP and others trail at 43 and 4 seats respectively." The Congress has added 23 seats compared to 2012 while 3 independent candidates have defeated their BJP counterparts in rural Gujarat.
Speaking to FirstPost before the polls, Bhupad Koladiya, a loyal BJP voter from Jhinjuda village, unhappy with the state's crop insurance scheme said, "Modi has brazenly ignored us. It is time to topple the government. To be honest, I do not like Congress, but I want to vote BJP out of power." It appears that rural voters like Koladiya acted on their threat this time.
A clear reminder for the BJP that the new government will have to take their concerns seriously if the party wants to win them back in time for the 2019 general elections.
7) When you lose, blame the EVMs.
Once again, the losers have raised the bogey of EVM hacking without providing any credible evidence. On being grilled by reporters why he chose to believe the results in those regions where the Congress have won in huge numbers if EVMs are faulty, Hardik Patel stuck to his position.
Accusing the BJP of manipulating EVMs in urban areas like Surat, Rajkot and Ahmedabad, Patel said that the margin of victory in these urban pockets were very low which suggests EVMs were tampered with. "If ATMs can be hacked, why can’t the EVMs?,” said Patel at a press conference post the results.
Interestingly, it was Congress candidate from Porbandar, Arjun Modhwadia who filed a complaint with the EC that the EVMs in his constituency were “connecting via Bluetooth”.
Speaking to the Indian Express, a polling booth official from Porbandar said, “It was a misinformation campaign. He switched on the Bluetooth device on his phone which showed ‘ECO 105’, a model of the Intex brand of phones, and he raised an alarm that the EVM had been hacked. We spend two hours locating that device. Our EVMs are tamper-proof,” the official said.
Ok, this is hilarious! BSP polling agent’s wifi called ECO 105, mistaken for EVM hack! https://t.co/4cNyrXyJE6
— Nistula Hebbar (@nistula) December 9, 2017
This is not the first time faulty EVMs have been blamed after a big election loss. Ironically, it was the BJP's L K Advani who first raised questions about tampered machines after the UPA came back to power in 2009 general elections. BJP MP Subramanian Swamy also filed a PIL at the Supreme Court and the Election Commission was directed in October 2013 to implement Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) system in a phased manner with 2019 as the final deadline. The EC introduced VVPATs in Gujarat this election.