Editorial: Invincible in Gujarat, vulnerable elsewhere

FPJ EditorialUpdated: Thursday, December 08, 2022, 11:13 PM IST
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Gujarat Chief Minister and BJP candidate Bhupendra Patel flashes the victory sign at the party headquarters in Gandhinagar | -

Once again, the exit polls stand exposed. Few could predict the kind of victory the BJP has achieved in Gujarat, which it has been winning successively since 1995. Nor could they give a hint that the Congress would wrest Himachal Pradesh from the BJP. It is indeed doubtful whether the BJP itself expected to sweep the polls in Gujarat breaking its own record of 127 seats in 2002 and the Congress’s 149 in 1985. The so-called anti-incumbency factor did not even exist in Gujarat, though the BJP was seeking a seventh term. That the party recorded a huge victory in Morbi, which caught the headlines in the international media when a rebuilt suspension bridge collapsed killing 141 people in October last, was a pointer to the kind of support the BJP enjoys.

The credit for retaining Gujarat should go entirely to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was his party’s star campaigner. Of course, what his number two, Home Minister Amit Shah, did behind the scenes, like removing the previous Chief Minister and denying tickets to many party MLAs, helped the BJP fight whatever little anti-incumbency existed. The voters seemed to be nursing the belief that it was in their own interest that Mr Modi should remain strong as the Prime Minister, for which Gujarat should remain firmly in his control. Small wonder that no other leader and no other issue mattered to them. Unlike the last time, when sections of the voters were cut up with the BJP over issues like GST, they were united this time.

No less important was the fact that the electoral field was virtually free for the party with the Congress unable to organise an effective campaign. Rahul Gandhi, who could make an impact five years ago, preferred to keep to the Bharat Jodo Yatra schedule rather than campaign in the state. As a result, the Congress has been reduced to a sorry state, while the Aam Aadmi Party could only play the role of the spoiler. Arvind Kejriwal’s promise of free electricity and free passage to Ayodhya did not entice the voters, who have seen solar panels on barren land and rooftops and are waiting for bullet trains and 5G telephone connections.

The BJP’s victory in Gujarat would have been greater if it had been matched by a win in Himachal Pradesh. True, the voters of the hill state never allow a political party to remain ensconced in power. They want to replace it every five years. However, this is a simplistic explanation for the failure of the BJP to manage the campaign from the top to the booth level. The presence of rebels in at least a dozen constituencies proved fatal for the party. That three of them won is a measure of the mismanagement in the distribution of tickets in the home state of party President JP Nadda. Anti-incumbency was obvious, except to the exit pollsters. Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra can take some credit for the party victory, as she was one of the most visible faces during the campaign.

The results in Himachal Pradesh and a day earlier in Delhi, where the Aam Aadmi Party won the Delhi Municipal Corporation, expose the so-called invincibility of Mr Modi. As an RSS leader, he had once been posted in Himachal Pradesh where his job was to elbow out the Congress from power. He did a marvellous job then. This time he campaigned all over Himachal Pradesh, even promising the electorate that he would use the G20 presidency to promote Himachali products, just to show how close the state was to his heart and get some votes. The results show that the BJP is not all that invulnerable. The by-election results, like the victory of the Samajwadi Party’s Dimple Yadav from Mainpuri in Uttar Pradesh and the Congress’s ability to retain their seats in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, show that there was no wave as such in favour of Mr Modi. In other words, these results should be considered too local in nature to see an all-India pattern in them. After all, one swallow doesn't make a summer.

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