Bhartiya Janata Party in all likelihood is set to return to power in Gujarat. The victory will surely come as a much needed boost and shot in the arm for the saffron party before the 2014 General Elections. The last couple of months have not exactly been rosy for the BJP. With infighting between the top rung of central leaders like Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj, to the charges of corruption faced by its national president, to its Rajya Sabha MP Ram Jethmalani taking Nitin Gadkari head on, to the breakaway and formation of his own party by former Karnataka chief minister BS Yeddyruppa, to the exit of former CM of Gujarat Keshubhai Patel - the BJP’s cup of woes have been full.
Given the above scenario, BJP’s victory led by Chief Minister Narendra Modi will be like a launch pad before the all important 2014 polls.
The state which voted in two phases saw an unprecedented voter turnout of 70 percent or more. Traditionally, record polling means – either the incumbent government will be voted out and the Opposition will sweep the polls or the government of the day will come back with a bigger mandate.
But if the exit polls are to be believed, then Narendra Modi is all set to trounce the Congress, ride back to power, become the CM for a record fourth term and if everything else falls in place then embark on the road to New Delhi. The post-poll survey conducted in Gujarat by CSDS for CNN-IBN and The Week showed the BJP far ahead with 53-63 seats in the first phase. The survey was restricted to just the first phase of polling which took place on December 13 in 87 seats out of the 182. The Congress is predicted to trail behind with only 19-27 seats with other smaller parties likely to win three to nine seats.
Along with this the BJP was likely to bag 45 percent vote percentage, the Congress 33 percent and Keshubhai Patel`s Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) 12 percent of the votes. The exit poll carried out by C-Voter for Times Now predicted 119 to 129 seats for BJP and 49 to 59 seats for the Congress out of the total 182 seats. News 24 showed that BJP is likely to get 140 against and the Congress 40 seats and as per Headlines Today, BJP will get 118 to 128 seats while Congress was likely to win 50 to 56 seats. Meanwhile, the ABP News predicted BJP to win in 116 seats and Congress in 60 constituencies.
This must be music to Modi’s ears and his party with the Congress once again being left in the wilderness. If one were to look at the past two Assembly elections then Gujarat has by and large witnessed a higher voter turnout and it has been beneficial to the BJP in the end. In the 2007 state elections, Gujarat saw a turnout of around 62 percent voting which saw the BJP return to power with 117 seats. And in 2002, 61.55 percent voting was registered which resulted in the saffron party’s best tally till date – 127 seats out of 182.
Going into the electoral mode, Narendra Modi’s main challenge in 2012 was to counter the challenge posed by Keshubhai Patel’s the Gujarat Parivartan Party. A strong Leuva Patel leader Keshubhai had threatened that he would bring down the tally of BJP in the Saurashtra region. 87 seats went to the polls in the first phase and out of this 52 were in this region. The BJP had won 38 seats in this area in 2007 and Modi must have been a wee bit worried of KPP denting BJP’s chances. Though the Patels have been loyal voters of the saffron party, this was the first time since Modi came to power that Saurashtra had witnessed its first draught and water problems. However as post poll surveys indicate Modi baiter’s charm seems to have failed to reap any dividends.
But not wanting to take any chances Modi went all out to woo the ‘neo middle class’ and the youth, along with the tribals and the dalits in the run up to the polls. In his election manifesto, Modi promised housing for low income groups and jobs for more than three million youth. And he held Garib Kalyan Melas and loan-cum-aid rallies to woo poor tribals who make up 15 percent of the state’s population. If the BJP comes back to power then the party will have to address the concerns of the tribal dominated eastern region where every second person living in the rural areas are said to be poor.
Also, whereas the state’s economy registered a growth of ten percent for the past 10 years, it has been seen that the development model is not evenly distributed. Modi-led government has made sure that cutting out red tape and taking quick decisions helped create a business-friendly environment in the state but as per critics these moves only helped the urban agglomerates corner much of the benefits. Though, Gujarat did manage to cut poverty by half between 1993 and 2004-2005, it has been often said that the growth has been uneven. These are the areas that demand immediate attention.
Modi led BJP in its fourth term at the helm will also have to address some of other pertinent issues – Gujarat’s infant mortality rate is said to be tenth worst in the country. Malnutrition amongst children is rampant. The CM will have to refrain from making comments like dieting by the new generation leading to malnutrition and take the problem head on. The sex ratio in the state has declined from 921 women per thousand men in 2001 to 918 in 2012. Thus the saffron party has enough on its hand to keep it busy.
Just after casting his vote on 17 December Narendra Modi said – “People of Gujarat will make a hat-trick by giving a third term to us. People of the state will once again vote BJP to power.” Yes, Gujarat which has 60 million population and 36.7 million electorate has cast its vote and the voters will most likely return Modi-led BJP back to power. But what may be a dampener of sorts for the saffron party is the fact that poll pundits have predicted a photo finish in Himachal Pradesh between the Congress and the BJP, the other state which went to the polls. If the BJP is able to beat the incumbency factor in the hill state then it will have double reasons to rejoice. But if the Congress is able to edge out its rival then the BJP will play down the defeat in HP and go hammer and tongs about its win in the all crucial state of Gujarat.