The Importance of Gujarat for the BJP

Stakes are high for the BJP in Gujarat because it is the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is also the native state of union home minister Amit Shah. They appear to have made victory a prestige issue. The opposition, especially the Congress, is trying hard to upset BJP’s apple cart

There is no denying the importance of Gujarat for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is the home state of Modi, a state he ruled for a long time before shifting his gaze to Delhi and contesting the 2014 Lok Sabha election as BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate. He won with ease.

But the Gujarat assembly election is not going to be a walk over for the BJP. That the stakes are high for the BJP can be guessed from the number of rallies the Prime Minister has addressed in the state. So far at least16 election rallies and he has also inaugurated development projects worth thousands of crores in the run-up to the Gujarat Assembly poll.

The BJP learnt its lessons well in Gujarat in 2017 when it won by the number of seats won by the party got drastically reduced to 99 in the 182-member state Assembly. So this time the BJP is leaving no stone unturned. It changed the entire cabinet and replaced Vijay Rupani with the trusted but inexperienced Bhupendra Patel as chief minister a year ago. From 2017 to 2022, it also kept poaching influential Opposition leaders, including some Adivasi and Patidar legislators who had succeeded in creating sentiment against the BJP. The party also dropped several veteran legislators and nominated fresh faces for elections. The PM, whose presence was restricted in the 2017 campaign is the chief campaigner for his party in 2022.

His rallies and speeches have tactically targeted the tribal belt and Saurashtra, where the BJP took a hit in 2017. The Prime Minister has a special interest in the elections this time not only because Gujarat happens to be his home state which makes victory a prestige issue but also because of the entry of Arvind Kejriwal’s AamAadmi Party (AAP) into the fray.

Although a new player, AAP is no pushover. It has pooled all its resources in the state and has been running a spirited campaign in the face of a multi-pronged attack by the ruling party. On Gujarat’s roads, even BJP workers discuss Kejriwal’s roots and his tendency to distribute freebies.

Modi has said that the poll was not about choosing a legislator but deciding the future of Gujarat. While claiming credit for present-day Gujarat, he said that it was time for Gujarat to take “a giant leap” to decide how it would be in the next 25 years. Most surveys have predicted yet another BJP win, but it won’t be easy. Another poll showed that AAP may help the BJP bag more seats than in 2017.

However, many AAP leaders find the analysis too simplistic. They insist that their party will damage BJP’s prospects in 48 urban seats, which the Congress has never won. However, even though AAP may not be in a position to win, it can take away a significant portion of BJP’s traditional votes.

The Congress is also trying its best to consolidate its gains.  The campaign of the party focuses on strengthening the party’s base among OBCs, Dalits, Muslims and Adivasis. But this is easier said than done. This, by all accounts, is going to be a tough battle. But it must be won by the central government which is trying its best to upstage the evil designs of its enemies.