National

As Congress Gets Destroyed In Gujarat, Aam Aadmi Party Has Its First Roar

The Gujarat Congress has been decimated to the extent that it may not qualify even for a leader of opposition’s post in the State Assembly.

As Congress Gets Destroyed In Gujarat, Aam Aadmi Party Has Its First Roar
info_icon

‘Eventually, Modi will win.’ This was the common refrain among those who didn’t vote for anyone and those who voted for someone else. Few knew that Narendra Modi’s home-state would gift-wrap a massive victory that broke all records and cut through all regions and classes with 156 out of 182 seats, putting the Congress on ventilator support with a lifetime low of 17.

And there’s a new kid on the block: Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) with five seats and 14 percent voteshare. This is besides four independents.

An election that looked like, and was perceived as, a tough three-corner battle turned out to be a one-way affair, though a relatively low turnout of around 65 percent, more so in the BJP’s urban fiefdoms and less in rural areas, normally, would mean a dampener for the BJP and good news for the Congress.

The verdict is clear: Even in a low-scoring game, a majority of those who came out pushed the Lotus button. For instance, the dumbing down of the Congress is evident from the tribal-dominated South Gujarat region where it could win only one out of 31 seats. Anant Patel (from Vansda- Scheduled Tribe) won on a Congress ticket, while a tribal reserved seat in the same region was picked up by the AAP’s Chaitar Vasava (Dediapada in Narmada district).

The vote shares make the Gujarat picture clear: BJP 53%, Congress 27% and AAP 12.9%.

Besides Anant Patel, who spearheaded the agitation against the Par-Tapi-Narmada Riverlinking Project and forced the government to scrap the project, another face-saver for the Congress was Jignesh Mevani who won from Vadgam in North Gujarat’s Banaskantha district. Five out of six Muslim candidates from the Congress have lost to the BJP, except Imran Khedawala from Jamalpur-Khadia.

The Congress, which was expecting to do better in the Saurashtra region, capitalising on farmer distress, the Morbi disaster, unemployment, price-rise and a divided Patidar community, suffered the most here, largely because of the AAP eating into its votes.

Out of AAP’s five seats, four – Jamjodhpur (Jamnagar district), Visavadar (Junagadh), Gariyadhar and Botad – came from this region. Similarly, the AAP also cut through the Congress’s tribal vote banks in south, central and north Gujarat, though the party won only one tribal seat in Dediapada in Narmada district.

Not only this, quite unexpectedly, the BJP’s Kanti Amrutiya won from the Morbi constituency, despite the Bhupendra Patel government facing serious allegations from the opposition and the people alike, while the Gujarat High Court has moved a suo moto petition and pulled up the authorities for the tragic collapse of a colonial-era pedestrian bridge in the historic town. However, Amrutiya was among those who plunged into the Machhu river in Morbi to save the people from drowning and has been rewarded for this.

With Thursday’s victory, the BJP broke a huge record and equalled the CPM’s record of ruling West Bengal for seven terms at a stretch

With Thursday’s victory, the BJP broke a huge record and equalled the CPM’s record of ruling West Bengal for seven terms at a stretch. After trying through the past three elections, the BJP, riding on the shoulders of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, who led the party’s campaign from the front, broke the record of Congress’ chief minister the late Madhavsinh Solanki of winning 149 seats in 1985 and 139 seats in 1980.

The BJP has also broken Modi’s Gujarat record of 127 seats in 2002. The party’s seats kept decreasing since then, to 117 in 2007, 115 in 2012 and 99 in 2017, as against which the Congress seats increased from 52 in 2002 to 77 in 2017. On Thursday, there were 17 survivors.

The BJP first formed the government on its own in 1995 and has been ruling Gujarat ever since, except for a one-year break when the party’s splinter group, led by Shankersinh Vaghela, toppled it and rustled up a dispensation with external support from the Congress in 1997. It won again in 1998 and never lost after that.

Khalid Akhter, a senior researcher with C-Voter, the agency that had predicted a 140-seat victory for the BJP, told Outlook, “The Congress party and its central leadership are to be blamed for bringing the party to its deathbed in Gujarat. It is escaping from responsibility while calling the AAP or even the AIMIM the B-team of the BJP.”

“If it was a B-team, what would the Congress say to the MCD victory of the party? It is clear that the leadership left the Gujarat unit to fend for itself without campaign or resource support. The very fact that the Bharat Jodo Yatra has ignored the state as if it never existed, the party didn’t even have the imagination of launching the yatra from Gandhi’s birthplace Porbandar,” Akhter asserted.

Akhter is spot on. Few can explain why the Bharat Jodo Yatra and the Gandhi family simply ignored Gujarat despite the fact the 2017 election was Rahul Gandhi’s best stint as the vice-president leading to the presidency the same month the results trickled in December that year.

He was the only one from the Gandhi family who spent three days each in the four regions of Gujarat then and raised issues challenging Modi’s alleged “anti-poor, anti-Adivasi, anti-Dalit crony capitalistic” policies. Gandhi even spoke of the problems faced by the small-scale and MSME as well as traders on account of the Goods and Services Tax and demonetisation.

Simultaneously, Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani came on a common platform to raise issues of unemployment and increasing privatisation of the education and health sectors in Gujarat. It was unprecedented that a Patidar, an OBC and a Dalit would be on the same page in the state, where the three usually would be at loggerheads because of perennial social and economic divides.

Advertisement

In 2022, when the Gujarat Congress was battling itself, with the elections less than two months away, the high command of the party was too preoccupied with its own leadership tussles to bother to steer the ship. Simultaneously, Rajasthan Chief Minister and national observer for Gujarat elections, Ashok Gehlot, and senior minister, Raghu Sharma, also from the neighbouring state, were neck-deep in their own politicking that embarrassed their own central leadership.

Gujarat was left in the hands of the state leadership that has half-a-dozen chief ministerial candidates who won’t fight an election for fear of losing and don’t have a Gujarat-level connect with the party’s rank and file, leave alone voters. However, these leaders would continue their hobnobbing and lobbying for tickets for their ‘own’ candidates, notwithstanding allegations of corruption in ticket distribution.

Advertisement

Small wonder, first Alpesh Thakor and then Hardik Patel were taken away by the BJP. A BJP leader told Outlook, “Neither of them has any great utility for us for we could have gone ahead with any other candidates but they were of immense use for the Congress, but it never bothered. Simply stated, we nipped an emerging new leadership in the Congress in the bud.”

The major common grouse of both Thakor and Patel was that the Gujarat leadership wasn’t even calling them to important meetings, leave alone taking them into confidence on any decisions. Patel’s case was particularly bad since he was even made a ‘Working President’ while there was already a President, while no other team had been constituted with Patel.

Advertisement

The Gujarat Congress has been decimated to the extent that it may not qualify even for a leader of opposition’s post in the State Assembly. Four enthusiastic winners of the AAP will be in the House. For the AAP, the big achievement is an entry into a third state – and that one controlled directly by Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and Home Minister, Amit Shah.

(This appeared in the print edition as "Wiping the floor with the Congress")

Darshan Desai in Ahmedabad

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement