I Covered The Gujarat Election. My Top 10 Takeaways

Published: December 18, 2017 21:08 IST

The Congress may have lost but perhaps the undeniable stars of this elections are two young men, two unconventional politicians - Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakor. Not only have they won with sizeable margins of almost 20,000 votes but they have done so despite being written off by their own party - the Congress. Even this morning, the Congress had very little hope of them getting elected for a variety of reasons. They felt that they should have stuck to being campaigners, they felt that their own partymen were stronger candidates and in Jignesh's case, they felt that bringing down JNU campaigners from Delhi was a romantic idea which didn't work on the ground. Well, it did. Jignesh Mevani has proved that the Dalit vote, which has been considered inconsequential in Gujarat (6-7% of the population) is a force to be reckoned with and that his new politics has a winnable audience. Mevani had low resources, so his win is also a blow to big muscle power and now he's likely to be full of fire power in the assembly.


If you ask anyone what's the difference between the way the Congress and the BJP run elections, they'll tell you that the BJP is ruthless in its distribution of tickets. While the Congress started out with plans of only giving seats to winnable candidates, in the end they got 25 seats horribly wrong (according to one estimate). While they wanted to do away with the era of giving a quota of tickets to their regional stalwarts, this didn't work entirely, and some leaders sulked enough to get their own way. 25 wrong tickets in 182 where the margin of win is so close (19 seats) - well, that's the difference between a win and a loss. The BJP on the other hand is ruthless. Even if Anandiben was sulking, her daughter Anar didn't manage to make Amit Shah budge when it came to tickets.


So the Congress may have worked a new Dalit, OBC and Patel alliance with their young leaders (Hardik, Alpesh and Jignesh), but it became a double-edged sword. The wooing of the Patels with Hardik meant that some other groups were isolated including the OBCs which make a much more substantial (almost 40%) share of the votes. Alpesh Thakor, who was the OBC leader for the Congress along with Bharat Singh Solanki (who didn't contest), was limited to just the one seat where he was contesting and so, the BJP's strategy of consolidating the other side while also giving considerable seats to Patidars helped contain the damage. The Patels, as the Congress knew, were traditionally with the BJP and Hardik was only going to pull some of them. That in the end, just wasn't enough.


Staying with the same thought, some may even argue that the Congress erred by outsourcing its campaign entirely to Hardik Patel. Yes, he was drawing impressive 2 lakh-strong crowds, but for many Gujaratis, it was hard to digest that if the Congress were voted to power, Hardik would play a crucial role. "They felt he would be calling the shots because it's not like Rahul will become Chief Minister. That idea they didn't like,'' said a senior BJP leader. While his alleged sex CDs didn't get that much traction, they didn't do much for his reputation either.


It isn't a secret that the Congress is a much poorer party than the ruling BJP and elections are an expensive game. The BJP has a larger support base and has been in power here for the last 22 years. The Congress points out that they simply couldn't match the party when it came to things like logistical support and infrastructure. The BJP's foot soldiers also far outnumbered the Congress to make sure that the last mile was covered diligently - all making every vote count.


If there's one thing that the Congress and the BJP shared, it was the loss of local face in both parties. The Congress saw a complete rout of their shadow Chief Ministerial face Shaktisinh Gohil along with other leaders like Arjun Modhwadia and Sidharth Patel. The BJP also saw many senior ministers losing like Health Minister Shankar Chaudhary and Power Minister Chimanbhai Saparia. It is a a wake-up call for both parties - you have to rejuvenate yourself. And the message to the BJP - you may have beaten 22 years of anti-incumbency but only due to Modi magic.


And speaking of Modi magic, the BJP needs to do some introspection. Top leaders admit that the organisation had become so weak in the state that they sat back and simply waited for the Modi wand to change their fortunes. The leaders admit that this did lead to many of even the Prime Minister's rallies drawing a much lower turnout than expected. It was only after that this happened at some rallies consecutively that the party then got its act together for later addresses by Modi. BJP President Amit Shah pitched a tent in the state for a month and tried to galvanise the party and he delivered in the end.


It has everyone split down the middle - did Mani Shankar Aiyar become a factor or not in the polls? Did Kapil Sibal hurt the Congress when he said that the Ram Mandir verdict should be delayed till 2019? Did they push the Congress which had a tough challenge to the side of loss? While it may not have played on voters' minds at all, what it did manage to do was that it gave the BJP exactly what they wanted - a great way to weave in their favourite themes - the promotion of the Mandir and Pak-bashing. This meant that for two or more days, all that the Congress was doing was focusing on damage control.


Yes, he lost another election and yes, the timing couldn't be worse what with just taking over as Congress President, but then again, he did improve the Congress' tally significantly and delivered quite a power-packed punch to the opposition. Even the most honest calculation within the BJP was at 105; that seems to have been further lowered to just under a century. At the end of it, Rahul Gandhi is still not the most eloquent of speakers, he's still figuring his way out and his team still makes mistakes like writing he's a non-Hindu - but he fought well.

10) EVMs

And finally, EVMs and the Election Commission may have just got the last word. If there's one thing that's been talked about constantly since the beginning of the Gujarat elections, it's the questions about the poll panel and its decisions like why the Gujarat and Himachal elections were announced separately. The EVMs may be tamper-proof, but the EC needs to answer all questions to restore all its credibility.

(Sunetra Choudhury is Political Editor, 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.

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