New Delhi: The myth is busted! The promises bullet train, the roll-on-roll-off ferry service ride and the flamboyant take-off on a sea plane and so on that the BJP rolled out with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the presiding deity, was not enough to propel the unstoppable right wing juggernaut to the 100-mark. As one daily has put it “Mighty BJP survived on wafers!”
The BJP won the game of numbers, but it was the lowest since 2002 and nowhere near the figure of 150 set by party president Amit Shah. On March 29, he had tweeted: “Modiji jab mukhya mantri the tab bhajpa ne Gujarat mein 128 seat jeeti thi aur ab toh Modiji desh ke pradhan mantri hai toh hum 150 se zyaada seaten jeetenge (When Modi was chief minister, the BJP had won 128 seats. Now, when Modi is Prime Minister, we will win more than 150 seats.)”
In three of the 99 seats that the BJP has won, its margin of victory was in three figures. Two of these seats were being contested by party heavyweights: former minister Saurabh Patel from the Ambani family won in Botad (Saurashtra) by 906 votes, and minister Bhupendrasinh Manubha Chudasama held on to his Dholka seat by just 327 votes.
Sitting MLA C.K. Raulji, who shifted to the BJP from the Congress, managed to retain his seat by a whisker with 258 votes – way below his 2012 margin of 2,868 votes.
But the honour of winning by the thinnest margin went to the Congress in Kaprada where it took the seat with a lead of 170 votes. The Congress won three other seats by similar wafer-thin three-figure margins. Nine other seats were decided by less than 2,000 votes; and five of them were bagged by the BJP. (The chart on the right shows 16 seats that were bagged by the BJP with margins below 3,000.)
In 2012, four seats were decided by three-figure margins and only one of them was from the BJP. Of the six seats decided by less than 2,000 votes back then, the BJP accounted for only one. So not only has the BJP’s overall haul come down, it has just about made it in eight of the 99 seats it won in what is the Sangh parivar’s original laboratory.
By dusk, it was clear that the party lording it over the Prime Minister’s home state for over two decades would not cross three digits. Compared to the BJP’s extrapolated Assembly tally in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the score of 99 seats on Monday is a deep dive. In 2014, the BJP had won in 166 of the 182 Assembly segments in Gujarat.
A telling moment came in the evening when it was announced that the BJP lost the constituency that includes Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hometown Vadnagar.
The big takeaways from the state polls:
• Modi’s barnstorming campaign may have saved the BJP the blushes, but he need not be the one-man juggernaut he is often projected as.
• The nation caught a ringside glimpse of an extraordinary battle in which Modi pitted adrenaline-pumping emotive factors against Rahul Gandhi’s seemingly tedious bread-and-butter issues. Serious politics is back. The challenge before Rahul now is to stay the course and that before Modi is to choose between a divisive agenda and a substantive one.
• Rahul succeeded in attracting a crop of young leaders – a segment the BJP had assiduously cultivated in 2014.
• With effective allies and a campaign led from the front, the Congress can put up a good fight, and, if it irons out structural issues, probably win.
• The Congress possibly erred in concentrating too much on putting up a good fight, and could not convey winnability to the voter with emphasis.
*Projecting a chief minister candidate, and beginning its campaign earlier may have helped Congress wrest Gujarat. Rahul’s elevation as Congress president appears finely timed in immediate retrospect; he emerges strong within the party too, which may mean bad news for the likes of Ahmed Patel and the old coterie.
• Senior Gujarat Congress leaders like Shaktisinh Gohil and Arjun Modhwadia lost; perhaps the party needs to look at a newer lot in the state.