The BJP faces an arduous task of beating an anti-incumbency of over 24 years when it enters the Assembly poll ring in Gujarat and the saffron party is expected to encounter tough challenge from the opposition Congress and the new entrant AAP in its bid for a record-equalling seventh straight term in office, according to political analysts.
The BJP has reworked its strategy to retain Gujarat, a party stronghold where polls are due by 2022-end, and if it succeeds in achieving the goal, it will match the record of the Left Front which won seven Assembly elections in a row in West Bengal.
The CPI(M)-dominated alliance ruled the eastern state from 1977 to 2011. Gujarat's ruling party, which was reduced to a tally of under-100 (99 seats) out of the total 182 in the 2017 elections for the first time in the six consecutive elections it won since 1995, has taken major steps to fight anti-incumbency like changing the entire government, including the chief minister, outreach to the influential Patidar community and extensive tours by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Winning Gujarat, the home state of Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, will provide momentum to the BJP ahead of the 2024 general elections when it will seek a third straight term in office at the Centre.
"The BJP, it looks like, is desperate to win the coming elections in Gujarat. The prime minister and the home minister, it seems, are camping here as they have visited the state many times (in the recent past), political analyst and founder-director of the Sardar Patel Research Institute, Hari Desai, said.
"Their aggressive outreach to people, including the way state BJP president C R Patil and Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel are campaigning, shows they are desperate for a win in Gujarat," he said. However, data from the previous polls show the BJP tally has been going down in each election since 2002, indicating some erosion in the party's support base.
The BJP had won 2002 elections with 127 Assembly seats, followed by 117 in 2007, 116 in 2012 and 99 seats in 2017. "Since 2002, in each and every election BJP's tally of seats has been going down. In the last elections of 2017, they dwindled to just 99. This shows that a massive anti-incumbency is building against the BJP over the years," Desai said.
"Within the BJP, there are groups which do not support the working style of C R Patil," he said, adding this internal fighting can benefit the opposition. Despite being in the opposition for more than two decades, the Congress remains a political force to reckon with in the western state.
"The Congress cannot be taken lightly by the BJP as it is working on its tried and tested formula of KHAM (Kashtriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslims) votes. This grouping of votes plus some of the Patel votes can pose a real challenge for the BJP," Desai said. The Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which won Punjab a few months ago, has also become a factor in Gujarat.
"The BJP is also worried about the AAP. They fear that AAP will not only cut into opposition votes, but it can also take some votes from the BJP," the political observer stated. "So the situation is challenging for the BJP but Prime Minister Modi has the capability and popularity to pull off another win in the state. He is their ace," Desai noted.
In September 2021, the entire government of the BJP, including Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, was made to resign and replaced by a new council of ministers led by Bhupendra Patel, a first-time MLA, as CM.
Party sources said the unprecedented step was taken to reduce anti-incumbency against the ruling outfit. In the 2017 elections, the BJP had faced the wrath of certain sections of the numerically strong Patidar community due to the quota agitation.
Taking this into account, a Patidar leader, Bhupendra Patel, was made chief minister and quota agitation spearhead Hardik Patel, who joined the Congress in 2019, was inducted into the BJP. In the 2017 elections, the BJP had faced the wrath of certain sections of the numerically strong Patidar community due to the quota agitation.
Sources said the recent outreach to the Patidar community was aimed at winning the support of the entire social group. The BJP sounded confident about retaining power.
"We will win the elections and the target is to win maximum seats," state BJP president C R Patil has said. PM Modi has visited Gujarat six to seven times since Uttar Pradesh election results in March. He has addressed rallies and has been on inauguration and foundation stone laying spree in the state.
The Congress, however, is of the view that people are unhappy with the BJP and this disenchantment will get reflected in the ensuing polls. "In 2017, we missed the target of 92 seats (majority mark) by just a few seats in Gujarat as we got 79 seats. That was due to mistakes committed by us in distribution of tickets. However, in 2022 we will win the elections," state Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi said.
"Unemployment among youths, expensive education and problems of farmers are some of the main issues. All these issues will lead to the BJP's defeat. People have made up their mind and the results will be in the Congress' favour," he said. Political observer Suresh Samani said BJP can easily emerge victorious in the upcoming election despite the anti-incumbency factor.
"In the 2017 election, BJP was reduced to 99 seats mainly as rural Gujarat had voted for Congress. However, BJP had managed to solve the agrarian issues," he said, adding that Congress is at its weakest at present.(With PTI inputs)