If the Congress hoped that Gujarat would be the first jewel in Rahul Gandhi's new crown as its president, that dream is over. Or so the exit polls
emphatically say. Almost all of them project the BJP's re-election. Yes, they predict a marginally reduced majority but other than that, Gujarat remains a secure bastion for the BJP as it clocks a sixth consecutive win.
If the Congress was planning this as a comeback, they forgot this is Narendra Modi's Gujarat, and that was never to be.
And perhaps this was always the story of Gujarat. Rana Ayyub, writing here,
was correct in saying that the chance of Gujarat losing its saffron hue in this election, or even in 2022, is zero as long as Narendra Modi is on the scene. She did not need an exit poll because she knows that Modi is
Gujarat for Gujaratis and no amount of anti-incumbency is going to topple the BJP. Now the exit polls have come to the same conclusion.
The fact is that despite GST, demonetization and the Patidar agitation, a Congress victory in Gujarat was always a bit of the stretch. The best the Congress could hope for was crossing the 80-mark in the 182-seat assembly; that and the BJP falling to a 100 seats or less would have been a major moral victory and taken some of the jauntiness out of the BJP's step. As it stands, the BJP has done no better or worse than it has done in the last few elections (excluding the 2014 general election where it swept the state).
This is a state where the BJP has been undefeated in 62 seats for three assembly elections; that number changes to 79 in the last two elections. Given that the majority is 92, it does not need a lot of other seats to swing and stay in power. And the BJP held more than 74 seats last time with a votes margin of 10%. These are very safe numbers in a two-way contest.
Yes, the BJP could have slipped, and slipped more than the polls predict, had they lost votes to the Congress. But that does not seem to have happened in a big enough way to have made an impact. While polls show the Congress having climbed to 42% of the vote share (up 2-3%), the BJP has only shrunk a wee bit by about 1%.
The graphic below clearly shows that a 2% swing away from the BJP would have been needed for the Congress to cross the respectable 80-seat barrier. To win, it needed a swing of 3.1% for it to have got to 92 seats (assuming it held all the seats it already had). That the exit polls don't show, except for NewsX and if it's correct, the results could be different.
There are some big differences between exit polls on what exactly has happened in Saurashtra, with some polls giving the Congress a huge victory there, compensating that with losses elsewhere.
If these are what the results on Monday are going to look like, what are the takeaways?
Well, the BJP is going to be very difficult to dislodge in Modi-Shah's home base, but its own dream of 150 seats was over-reach. The BJP had lost some support but a pretty aggressive campaign by Modi saved the party from slipping below 100 seats. He is clearly the BJP's campaign weapon and on his home turf, he was able to exploit the "son of the soil" persona to the hilt.
The Congress has some good news: the closer it gets to 80 seats, the rosier it looks for them. They found a new Rahul Gandhi, a willing and aggressive campaigner. And if they get over 75 seats, they should be pleased, because this was a party that lost 20-odd MLAs through defection and resignation. So in that sense they have managed to (supposedly) come back from the mid-40s they were at just months ago, post the Vaghela disaster, to a respectable number. Would they have been better off with a local face as leading the attack, as in Punjab?
What about Hardik, Alpesh and Jignesh and their support for the Congress? It would seem that they weren't able to translate and/or transfer their support to the Congress in a meaningful way. But this must wait for Monday when results can be examined more closely.
Meanwhile, this is the graphic to keep with you on Monday. If the exit polls are off the mark, then this will give you a quick reading of what the results mean.
And of course the forgotten Himachal Pradesh has gone the way predicted without any exit polls: a thrashing for the Congress and the end of Virbhadhra Singh's long political innings.(Ishwari Bajpai is Senior Advisor at NDTV.)Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.