Dr. K Gireesan*
Legislative assembly elections in the State of Gujarat were held in two phases – the first phase of elections in 89 constituencies in South Gujarat, Saurashtra, and Kutch regions on 1 December; and, the second phase in 93 constituencies in Central Gujarat and other regions on 5 December 2022. The election notification for the seats in the first phase was brought out on 5 November and the second phase on 10 November 2022. The counting of votes will be taken up on 8 December 2022.
Assembly elections in the home state of the Prime Minister is a matter of special concern and interest to different stakeholders for diverse reasons. One could find a rhetoric of ‘Vibrant Gujarat’, ‘Suvarna Gujarat’, and ‘Gujarat Model’, etc. propagated through various platforms. While considering the Human Development Index (HDI), which is a composite index of education, life expectancy at birth, and Income, Gujarat has been rated as a ‘Medium HDI’ State where it stands way behind many other States/ Union Territories. Probably, the data on malnutrition, Infant Mortality Rate, and other social development parameters do not match the economic progress achieved by Gujarat. Significantly, the State remains an enigma to many researchers who do not find the economic development and the social development indices in the same phase, with variations in the Urban and rural settings. As a researcher keen on the dynamics and dimensions of socio-political factors of development, the travel made through the urban and rural settings in Surat, Vadodara, and Chota Udaipur Districts has enhanced my understanding of the electoral patterns and dynamics in the State. The author carried out the journey from 25 November to 3 December 2022 through the selected areas of the State to analyse the socio-political aspects during the run-up to the assembly elections and capture the variations of the same, if any, in both the phases of elections.
An effort has been made to compare and contrast the approaches, patterns, and strategies adopted by major political parties during the election campaign. In addition, a snapshot of the broad prospects of the three major political parties in the contest also will be shared. Conversation with the candidates, campaign managers, community leaders, voters (with thrust on youth), and others, enabled the author to capture the whispers, voices, and reflections from the grassroots. During the period, focused efforts were made to interact with the cross-section of the society such as farmers, vegetable vendors, shopkeepers, auto/taxi drivers, college/University students, migrant labourers, etc., and gather their responses on the development aspects and election scenario.
Though the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has been contesting the elections in Gujarat since the 2014 Parliament elections, the state is poised to switch from a ‘bi-polar’ contest into a ‘triangular’ fight during the assembly elections in 2022. This was very much evident in some of the constituencies in South Gujarat and Saurashtra regions such as Varacchha Road, Katargam, Karanj, and Khambhalia. Entry of strong AAP candidates, leaders of Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) in the past, is making the contest more interesting and the results uncertain to some extent. In seats such as Vaghodia and Padra, the presence of strong rebel candidates, pose a big challenge to the official candidates of BJP rather than candidates by Indian National Congress (INC) or AAP. This makes the contest ‘triangular’ or ‘quadrangular’ and takes the final results beyond the limits of electoral arithmetic and poll predictions in those seats.
Political analysts such as Prof. Amit Dholakia, Prof. Lajwanti Chatani and Prof. Deepti Acharya from the Department of Political Science, MS University, Baroda view that the final results of the assembly elections could be predicted without much complexity, but the voting percentages and number of seats to be secured by the ruling party shall depend upon the impact of AAP on the urban and rural voters. It is noted that in the urban areas of the State, AAP may cut into the voters of the BJP more than the INC; whereas in the rural areas, AAP may draw more benefit from the voters of the INC. This trend is expected to be high in South Gujarat and Saurashtra regions.
Leaders of the AAP, right from the national convenor to the candidate as well as the local co-ordinators of the party sing in chorus about the implementation of the ‘Delhi model of governance’ if voted to power in the State. Arvind Kejriwal, in all the public meetings in different parts of the State, emphasized the merits of the ‘Schools, Mohalla clinics and door-step delivery of services’ initiated by the AAP-led Delhi Government. AAP made several electoral promises targeting the middle-income and lower-income sections of the community. The provision of free education, free health care, 300 units of free electricity, unemployment allowance of INR 3,000 p.m., special allowance of INR 1,000 to women, free pilgrimage tour to the elders to Ayodhya temple, etc. are some of the notable ones. AAP announced the ‘Kejriwal Rozgar Guarantee Card’ targeting the youth of pan Gujarat.
AAP released a list of special offers targeting the Muslim community as the ‘Kejriwal Ki Guarantee’ that included a salary of INR 10,000 p.m to the Moulavis; financial support of INR 25,000 per month to each madrasa; financial assistance to the Musjid/ Dargahs/ Mazaar up to INR 2 lakh in a year; 100 % subsidy to Haj yatris; assurance to legalise the unauthorized constructions by the minorities; assured loan of INR 10 lakh at 0% interest to shop keepers; and assured loan of INR 5 lakh at 0 % interest to the students.
Significantly, one could find lot of similarities in the announcements and other histrionics adopted by the speakers in the public meetings convened by AAP. Loud chantings of ‘Jai Sreeram, Vande Mataram, Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ in addition to ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ have been an integral part of the speeches made by the AAP leaders, including its national convenor. Chanting of the slogan of ‘Parivartan’ (Change) in public rallies and meetings has been an addition. It tries to pull out all possible efforts to bring a fine balance in its electoral promises and campaign practices to match and outsmart BJP and others.
Prof. Lajwanti Chatani mentioned that for the first time, there is some discussion happening about the core issues of education and health, especially in the rural areas of the State. She commented that AAP has been instrumental in bringing these ‘mool mudde’ (core issues) as agenda during the assembly elections. According to her, for the first time in her career spanning more than two decades with the University, students from the campus travelled to even remote parts of the State for voting. And, many of them have indicated their preference towards AAP, probably attracted by the ‘Delhi model of governance’. However, interactions with the urban and rural voters in the field gave an impression that the influence of AAP on the overall results has been over-rated due to its active social media presence, rather than the genuine responses from its followers/ sympathisers.
The grand old party of INC has adopted a different strategy in election campaigning in the State. Probably, owing to the Influence of ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’, change of campaign management strategies coupled with the challenges of mobilising adequate financial resources, INC did not give much thrust on big public meetings, except in some urban constituencies. Its candidates focused more on small meetings in the villages and house-to-house (h2h) visits. And, many candidates preferred to travel about 25-30 kilometers in a day and conduct sabhas (small meetings) as well as carry out h2h visits.
In a personal conversation, one of the campaign managers of INC in Vadodara District indicated that they did not seek the presence of any ‘national leader/star campaigner’ in their constituency, with a strong reasoning. It may have cost them a minimum of three to four days from the total campaign period, with no surety of any tangible returns from that exercise. In addition, the whole exercise may have resulted in incurring additional expenses to the tune of five to six lakhs, out of which a significant portion needs to be managed by the candidate. Drawing from previous experiences of organizing big rallies, the campaign manager confided that not even one-tenth of the crowds that came to the rallies has been translated into votes. Significantly, it was a clear departure from the campaign strategies adopted by the INC from the past.
During the election campaigns, it was noted that the INC leadership at the local level was not making any individual targeting of Narendra Modi. The major thrust of their speeches was on the issues of price rise, unemployment, paper leak in exams, etc. Some of them even highlighted the futility of ‘double-engine sarkars’ in their speeches, highlighting the inability of the single-engine in the State to run properly. Probably, the practice of keeping the national level leaders away has been prompted by another interesting aspect as well. Interactions with the voters gave an impression that the life and work of Narendra Modi, being the ‘son of the soil’, the aura and visibility gained by him within the country and outside, make them upset when criticised by his detractors. It is noted that national leaders like Mallikarjun Kharge and Rahul Gandhi were personally targeting the Prime Minister in their speeches but the same has not been appreciated even by the ‘neutral’ voters. Probably, this may be an important factor that makes the campaign managers of INC, especially in the rural areas, not to seek the presence of national level leaders/ star campaigners for election campaigns in their area. As a decentralisation activist, the author consider this as the possibility for the revival of confidence and faith in the abilities of local leaders/ grassroots workers rather than the capacities of national level leaders to attract the crowd as well as to translate them into votes.
Definitely, BJP has an edge over others in the whole exercise as noted from the field. The strong presence and support of cadres of Sangh Parivar in every nook and corner with the dedicated organisational machinery, adoption of scientific practices of micro-management, and presence of a ‘strong messaging system’ have been the hallmarks of BJP’s election campaigns. Unlike INC, it has no dearth of financial resources, and its band of committed workers (mostly from Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) takes the message to the grassroots and runs the campaign like a well-oiled machine. The active presence of Panna Pramukh and booth-level committees have been the unique features of BJP’s micro-management in the process of campaigning and voting. These functionaries make their presence felt at the grassroots much earlier and continue to stay in touch with the voters, even beyond the elections. Interactions with the auto/ taxi drivers in Surat revealed that the party had separate briefing sessions exclusively for them. Significantly, the comments made by an auto driver to our queries on the offer of ‘revdis’ (freebies) by the AAP and the response of Amit Shah, Union Home Minister in an interview with the journalist from the Times of India on the same topic, conveys the same. This highlights the presence of a ‘powerful messaging system’ from the top to bottom of functionaries/ cadres in the party.
In addition, the campaign managers of BJP have organised separate sabhas for different sections of society such as petty shopkeepers, auto/ taxi drivers, functionaries of Housing Societies/ Residential Welfare Associations (RWA), etc. Incidentally, in one of the meetings convened by the candidate of BJP in Vadodara, where more than 500 representatives of Housing Societies participated, did not have any mention of the party, candidate, or election in the banner. It was a ‘Sneh Sammelan’ organised for the functionaries of RWAs to enhance voter awareness and to ensure voting by all. Such meetings could not even attract the attention of the Election Commission for calculation of expenses by the candidate/ political party, as no banner, poster and flags with the party symbol or candidate has been displayed at the venue.
Though the election scenario in Gujarat looks like an easy return for the BJP, but the urban-rural differences in development paradigms are a matter of serious concern to the new Government. By making visit to number of villages, just outside the city limits, the author was able to understand the precarious nature and status of development in Primary Schools, Anganawadis, and Village Panchayat Offices. In one of the villages visited by the author, the Primary School and Anganawadi were functioning in dilapidated buildings with asbestos/ metal sheet at the roof. The Anganawadi functions in a small room with no toilet facility. The primary school has 91 children studying from Class 1 to Class 5 and it operates in two classrooms with only three teachers. It is nothing less than a miracle about the way in which the classes could be conducted effectively. All these show that the ‘Gujarat model’ is yet to be translated into reality, at least in the rural settings of the State.
It is observed that the animosity towards AAP from BJP and INC has been very high in the election campaigns. It was known that in many TV debates, the representatives from BJP and INC used to ask about the presence of AAP functionary prior to the exercise and if found, they expressed their unwillingness to share the platform with the speaker from AAP. However, no major conflict/ violence has been reported during the elections in the State, which is a very positive sign. Another significant aspect was the ‘near absence’ of any hoarding by the candidates in the city of Surat. Wherever the hoardings were seen in the city, they were all placed in portable carts/ vehicles. However, this was not the case at Vadodara city, where the hoardings and banners were found in every possible place.
As the counting of votes in the State of Gujarat will happen in less than two days, all the exit polls have predicted a grand victory to BJP, giving a clear mandate to the party, seven times in a row. Though the overall predictions of the exit polls are in line with the whispers, voices, and reflections gathered by us from the field, the same is yet to be matched well with the significance of AAP as a ‘third force’ in the State and the signs of revival of INC given its revised election campaign strategies.
* Director, MIT School of Government, MIT World Peace University, Kothrud,
Pune – 411 038.
E-mail ID: firstname.lastname@example.org; Mobile: (0091) 9445400855