Opinion: In The BJP's Spectacular Gujarat Win, A Role For AAP

"Sardar Modi" - the BJP circulated a picture of the Prime Minister with this caption as soon as the Gujarat trends became live on television.


Gujarat voted for its favourite son incredibly bucking 27 years of incumbency in what can only be called a Modi endorsement. The BJP has got a historic seventh term in Gujarat. The only other state where this has happened is West Bengal, which elected the CPI(M) for the seventh time in 2006. Gujarat has been a laboratory for "Hindutva" and it has lived up to the billing.

As I had written here in an earlier column, all credit for the Gujarat win is due to Amit Shah, who took on the Gujarat command and micromanaged the elections. Amit Shah, the BJP electoral totem, galvanised an ideologically-charged but complacent cadre by provoking, in a deliberate exaggeration, the threat of AAP, which made its Gujarat debut in this election. Amit Shah bigged up AAP, and the cadre responded, running a fervent campaign securing an incredible 53% vote share.


Amit Shah in Gujarat

The BJP lost Himachal Pradesh to a determined campaign run by Priyanka Gandhi - her first political success. The BJP also lost the crucial Mainpuri Lok Sabha seat to Dimple Yadav, daughter-in-law of the late Mulayam Singh Yadav, the Samajwadi party founder. She won despite Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath pulling out all the stops in trying to nail the seat. Another UP win in Muzaffarnagar's Khatauli by-election, won by Madan Bhaiya of the RLD, brought joy to the alliance of Akhilesh Yadav and Jayant Chaudhary.

These elections are a warm-up for the big face-off for 2024; an interesting side story is Arvind Kejriwal's AAP officially qualifying as a national party ten years after its debut in politics. It is the most successful political start-up in India, winning the Delhi civic polls yesterday and giving the Congress a run for its voters wherever it now contests. Arvind Kejriwal led a well-funded campaign in Gujarat which gained the party five seats.


Arvind Kejriwal at a roadshow in Surat, Gujarat

The Congress, which just elected Mallikarjun Kharge as its new President, finally had some good news after serial defeats. It ran a deft campaign in Himachal Pradesh fronted by Priyanka Gandhi and Sachin Pilot and promised a big pension scheme if elected. The Congress was helped by the squabbling between BJP President JP Nadda and the Dhumal family, which has huge sway in the hill state. Nadda had a giant say in the tickets and also personally fronted the BJP campaign with a record number of rallies. Anurag Thakur, Union Minister for Information & Broadcasting, faced snide complaints about those loyal to him sabotaging several seats. But Dhumal was not wrong in warning that Nadda's choices would hurt the BJP - several candidates turned rebel. 

You've wouldn't even know that the Congress had won HP as most channels limited it to their scroll (except NDTV). The channels were busy creating "mahaul" (atmosphere) for 2024 general elections being a breeze for the BJP.


Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in Himachal Pradesh

So what are the big takeaways from the electoral box office today?

Modi is the front and centre of every BJP winning campaign. He held a record number of public meetings in Gujarat - more than 30. The BJP has learnt that Modi projections give it the lead. It worked in Gujarat for the 'native son' narrative (Gujarat ka Gaurav) but there's a danger in banking too heavily on his star power. The centre had re-routed several projects worth tens of billions of dollars from Maharashtra to Gujarat. This may have embarrassed its government in Maharashtra (run in alliance with Eknath Shinde), but it came through with desired results.

The Opposition now understands that it has to be regional and stroke sub-nationalism to give the BJP a run for its money. And adoring Gujarat aside, states can be won despite the daunting might of the BJP.

(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.

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