Dislodged from power for the last 22 years in Gujarat, the Congress leadership had pinned its hopes this time on voters’ unhappiness with the BJP. Rahul Gandhi showed up in his new avatar this time during the campaign and the media lapped it up to say that Rahul was giving a tough challenge to Modi in the latter’s home turf, but the final results have dashed the hopes of Congress leaders. Also dashed were the hopes of Modi’s other political opponents like Lalu Prasad and Mamata Banerjee, who had calculated that the 2019 LS battle would have been easier if the BJP was dislodged from its Gujarat citadel.
Who else could have understood this game better than Narendra Modi? The victory in Gujarat reinforces the trust people had in Modi’s leadership, and the hopes of Modi’s opponents have been dashed. There will be fresh efforts now to prop up an anti-Modi political front, but this is not easy. Because if Congress joins this front, questions would be raised about the leadership abilities of party chief Rahul Gandhi, and Congress would be loath to face such questions.
The Congress should learn some lessons from its failed Gujarat experiment. Rahul Gandhi should have trusted old Congress leaders instead of his young, immature associates. This could have changed the entire picture. Rahul felt that the young trio – Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakor – would help his party get a majority. Because of this wrong calculation, Rahul ignored and sidelined Shankarsingh Vaghela. 14 MLAs left the Congress and joined BJP, and this harmed the party at the hustings. It’s true, Vaghela failed to provide a strong political alternative, but he succeeded in preventing the Congress to appear as a forceful alternative. Had Vaghela been in the Congress, the results could have been different.
The results prove one thing. That, Modi knows the pulse of the voters of Gujarat, and that, the people of his state love him. That is why when Modi made emotional appeals to touch the chords of the hearts of the voters, the message went through. The results of the second phase of voting are there for all to see. Modi’s magic worked, and the way was cleared for the BJP for a sixth successive term. And the credit for all this rightly goes to Modi.
There are lessons to be learnt by the BJP too. The party fared well in the urban centres, but if it had performed well in rural areas, it could have been a landslide. There seems to be lack of enthusiasm for the BJP in rural areas because the farmers are in distress and unhappy, and the party will have to work towards that end.
It is true traders in Surat, Rajkot, Ahmedabad and Vadodara were angry over the implementation of GST. The traders, who were traditional supporters of BJP, felt that the party had brought their thriving trade to a halt. Rahul Gandhi sniffed an opportunity and he derided GST as Gabbar Singh Tax. He assumed that the traders’ community would support the Congress this time, but Modi took up the issue at the right time. Modi is a politician who personally knows many of the businessmen in Gujarat by name. He sent Arun Jaitley and Amit Shah to talk to the traders, and all their grievances over GST were addressed, both by Jaitley and Amit Shah. That is why, there are seats in Surat, where the BJP candidates won by huge margins. The Congress leaders and Rahul Gandhi are now scratching their heads after the results.
Patidar movement leader Hardik Patel faced the biggest disappointment from the results. There were huge gatherings at his rallies, he worked on the emotions of people, and went to the extent of saying that ‘even if my parents contest on BJP ticket, do not vote for them, and support the Congress’, but Patidar voters did not listen to his emotional appeals. They voted for BJP. The Patidars were, of course, angry with the BJP, but they preferred not to vote for the Congress. You will be surprised to know that in as many as 29 constituencies, the number of NOTA (none of the above) votes was higher than the victory margin. It worked both ways. BJP won 15, the Congress 13 and one Independent won because of NOTA. Nearly 5.5 lakh voters in Gujarat pressed the NOTA button. This amounted to roughly 1.8 percent of the total votes polled.
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