In Gujarat what does 68% voters turnout in first phase signify?

Gujarat Assembly Elections 2017
By Deepak Parvatiyar*

Ahmedabad: On 13 December 2012 Gujarat had witnessed 70.75% of record breaking voting in the first phase of polling. That was a time when the BJP’s tallest Patel leader and former chief minister Keshubhai Patel had quit the BJP and set up his own political outfit, the Gujarat Parivartan Party. Still in 2012, BJP could win  63 of the 89 constituencies going for polls in the first phase. This included 5 of the total 6 seats in Kutch, and 30 of the total 48 seats in Saurashtra. The Congress had then got only 22 seats and  GPP, 2 seats in the Patel nerve-centre, Saurashtra.  The final outcome of the election showed that the then chief minister Narendra Modi was more than a match for the combined might of his rivals – the Congress as well as Keshubhai.

Incidentally, there was not much anti-incumbency then as it is being projected now against the ruling state BJP in Gujarat. In fact unlike this time, when exit polls are suggesting a tough contest between the BJP and the Congress, last time some exit polls had gone to the extent of projecting over 130 seats for the BJP in the 182-member Gujarat House.

The Hardik Patel factor is being hotly discussed this time and its impact in the first round when elections took place in Patel strongholds in Saurashtra, and even Surat in South Gujarat. In 2012 too, the Patel factor was very much an issue. But at that time Keshubhai’s party had only split the Congress votes to benefit the BJP, while at this time Congress supports Hardik.

At the backdrop of such comparisons, how can the 68% voting in the first phase this time, which is lesser than the 71% percentage poll registered in 2012, be interpreted? Usually larger turnout of voters are considered indication of anti-incumbency.

It is therefore imperative to consider a few factors that might have gone in the BJP’s favour at the very last minute:

*   The first is Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s ‘neech’ remark against Modi. While the Congress promptly suspended Aiyar for the remark, such a spar does have the potential of hurting the Gujarati pride. Modi on his part recalled, through a series of tweets and election rally speeches, the number of instances when he was a subject of personal attacks by the Congress leaders.

*  In a shrewd ploy, the BJP released its poll manifesto for Gujarat, promising to ensure double digit growth and continuation of the existing policies, just on the eve of the first phase poll day when campaigning had ended. The release of manifesto kept the party in news circulation for more time than its rivals.

*  A press conference by six influential Patidar organizations — Umiya Dham, Sidsar, Khodaldham, 41 Gam Kadva Patidars, SPG, Sardardham, Dharti Vikas Manda — and others rejecting the Congress–Hardik Patel understanding on quota for the Patels on grounds that reservation quota beyond 50% limit as worked out in the formula was not possible and was unconstitutional. They also differed from Hardik’s statement that whether reservation quota is given or not by the Congress, the BJP should be dethroned.

Will these factors turn the tide in favour of the BJP? Only the results will show.

*The writer is a senior journalist

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