Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has won a remarkable victory in the general election in his home state of Gujarat, winning an unprecedented 85 percent of the seats in the assembly, securing a commendable 52.5 percent share of all polled votes. The party won 156 seats out of 182 in Gujarat’s state assembly – the most ever won by any party in the state.
“Thank you Gujarat. I am overwhelmed by many emotions when I see the phenomenal election results. People gave their blessing to the development policy while at the same time expressing a desire to continue this momentum at a faster pace. I bow to Gujarat’s Jan Shakti [people’s power]“ Modes wrote on twitter.
While supporters of the Hindu nationalist party in the western state of Gujarat were euphoric about the victory, a somber mood descended on BJP supporters in the Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh, which the BJP has ruled since 2017. The Congress, India’s largest opposition party, emerged victorious, winning 40 of the 68 seats in the state legislature.
Those results came just a day after the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), a rising opposition party that has remained equidistant from Congress and the BJP, stormed to power in the state capital’s civic governing body elections, sweeping the 15th Annual Rule in Delhi Municipality.
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By-elections for two assembly seats and one seat in parliament were also held in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, which has been governed by the BJP since 2017. Even though the BJP returned to power earlier this year in Uttar Pradesh with an overwhelming majority, the Mainpuri Lok Sabha side poll saw the opposition Samajwadi Party (SP) retain the seat in question, securing 64 percent of the vote polled – which represents a 10-point increase in vote share compared to the 2019 general election. Of the two assembly seats, the BJP snatched one seat from the SP, but an SP ally took the other seat from the BJP.
Responding to the results, BJP MP and Congress Chair Kirti Azad expressed euphoria tweet in which he wrote: “The beginning of the end of the BJP. lost 2/3 in Delhi MCD and Himachal, won in Gujarat due to vote split between #Congress and #AAP.”
While Azad oversimplifies the results – the BJP would have won Gujarat even without a split in the opposition vote, having bagged more than half alone – the results do offer some glimmers of hope for India’s opposition parties.
“The outcome of Himachal Pradesh is a definite morale boost for Congress,” said Senior Congress Chairman Jairam Ramesh wrote in a tweet that also highlighted that the BJP’s national president, JP Nadda, is from Himachal.
Columnist Ajay Gudavarthy, associate professor of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi, said the results of the three most recent elections had reinforced his belief that the BJP is not being driven by “toxic anti-Muslim majority thinking” in electoral success Country.
“Using almost the same campaigning methods everywhere, they overwhelmingly succeeded in Gujarat but failed in Himachal Pradesh and in the local elections in Delhi,” Gudavarthy told The Diplomat, adding that the case of Gujarat was seen as an exception in the case of Gujarat should be viewed in national context.
“In Gujarat, the reasons for polarization at the community level had been established for years. Even socially, there is a wall between communities and the ghettoization of Muslims is nearly complete. But that’s not the case everywhere. Himachal, who is predominantly Hindu, has voted on development and public service issues, as have Delhi voters,” Gudavarthy stressed.
“The lessons of the BJP’s success in Gujarat relate to its organizational ability to take constituency calculations to the hilt and ideological ability to instill a deep sense of belonging among Hindus,” he said.
The analyst said people in different sectors are responding in different ways to issues such as religious sentiment and security, as well as development and the economy, a trend that leaves leeway for the opposition. “BJP’s advantage is that they can lay claim to 3,000-year-old glory and push for bullet trains. By marrying old-school pride with modern high-tech ambitions, they’ve managed to capture more of the panorama,” Gudavarthy said.
For political observers, the BJP’s victory in Gujarat was a foregone conclusion – it was a contest for second place. All eyes were on whether or how much the AAP, running a high-voltage campaign in Gujarat, managed to lose the Congressional share of the vote. It reached over 12 percent, bringing Congress below 30 percent for the first time in Gujarat state elections.
However, that may not be enough to sell itself as the BJP’s top contender, not least in central Indian states such as Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where general elections are due next year. Congress had won Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in 2018 but later lost the former due to defections of party leaders. With AAP nowhere near Congress’ share of the vote in Gujarat, it is unlikely to trouble Congress in central Indian states.
However, when it comes to North and West India, AAP’s success in Delhi is likely to increase the complexity of the electoral equations. Many seats could witness triangular competition between the BJP, Congress and the AAP in the 2024 Lok Sabha election.
This is because the AAP, which has prime ministers in Delhi and Punjab, can eat into the vote bank of both the BJP and Congress. In the recent elections, they harmed the BJP in Delhi by toppling their 15-year regime, but seem to have facilitated the BJP’s landslide victory in Gujarat by eating up the traditional votes of Congress.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a spokesman for the Trinamool Congress (TMC), another opposition party that has governed the eastern state of West Bengal since 2011, said that the results of the Delhi and Himachal elections “revealed the hollowness of the concept of invincibility the BJP.”
“The results of the side poll in Uttar Pradesh show that all is not lost for the opposition there,” said the spokesman. Uttar Pradesh, which holds 80 of the 543 seats of the Lok Sabha in India, plays the most important role among the states in deciding the fate of the union government.