Gandhinagar: The Congress, though it raised its tally significantly, failed for the fifth time to snatch Gujarat from the hands of the BJP with PM Narendra Modi proving an unsurmountable obstruction as a preliminary analysis of the results shows. The campaign, as it progressed in the initial stages, was cause of considerable concern for the BJP, which was battling anti-incumbency as well as three determined youth who were spearheading the discontent of their respective communities.
Hardik Patel headed the agitated Patidars, a strong and dominant community that had emerged in the vanguard of the BJP rise to power in the State post-1985, when Madhavsinh Solanki, heading a Congress government, created an all-time record bagging 149 of the 182 state Assembly seats.
Solanki had welded a coalition of castes leaving out the Patidars in what came to be known as the KHAM theory. The Patels had, thereafter, moved away to the BJP gradually, eventually bringing it to power on its own accord in 1995. With Hardik emerging as the youth leader who channelized discontent to eventually turn the community against the BJP, it was expected to cause considerable damage. But the BJP seems to have succeeded in minimising their losses by giving a record number of seats to the community, pitting one amongst the other and using OBC candidates to recoup to some extent.
While Saurashtra remained a setback to the BJP, South Gujarat, to some extent, undid the damage. However, the biggest failing of the Congress remained its inability to effect a serious breakthrough in the urban citadel of the BJP. Surat, which was widely believed to have been dented, both by virtue of the Patidar stronghold seats as well as the impact of GST in this diamond cutting and polishing as well as textile hub, remained solidly with the BJP with the Congress managing only one seat and the ruling party walking away with 14 of the total 15 seats. Ditto, Ahmedabad, Rajkot and Vadodara.
The Prime Minister, who went hell for leather against the Congress, chose to steer clear of the caste minefield laid by youth leaders Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani. Not once during the entire campaign did he take the name of any of them in his innumerable speeches made in the course of the last one year. Instead, he sought to turn focus on the Nehru-Gandhi family, injustice meted out to Gujarati leaders by the Congress, including Sardar Patel, and towards the development narrative of Gujarat.
However, the discontent amongst the farming community, particularly in Saurashtra, and to some extent in north Gujarat, remained an unsurmountable oddity for the Prime minister and which is expected to trouble the ruling party no end in the days to come. More so because of the resurgent Congress, which finds its spirits rekindled.
WHAT WENT AGAINST CONGRESS
- Rank outsider Rahul Gandhi who does not have a government at the Centre did not cut much ice with pragmatic Gujaratis.
- Hardik Patel was able to wean away only a fraction of Patidar voters. The BJP won most of the Patidar-dominated pockets of Surat and Rajkot.
- Attempts to forge a Patel, OBC and Dalit alliance didn’t work; others, especially Muslims, felt alienated.
- Cong campaigning started rather late, the push never became a shove; that preventing them from touching the 90-seat mark and causing a major upset.