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GUJARAT-BJP s Rise to Power

BJP's Rise to Power Ghanshyam Shah The BJP's victory in the 1995 assembly elections in Gujarat was not due to a temporary wave. The party has slowly built its base among the OBCs, tribals and datits in the state. Nevertheless, for a majority of the people who voted for the BJP, its 'Hindutva' plank remained a major consideration for extending support to the party. This was particularly true of the urban middle class voters.

THIS is not for the first time that the Congress(l) has lost power in Gujarat. With the support of Kisan Majdoor Lok Paksha (KMLP), the Janata Morcha (United Front) formed the government in 1975.' It was the dissident Congress leader Chimanbhai Patel who, having been expelled from the party for his "anti-party" activities after his resignation as the chief minister, had organised the KMLP. The Janata Morcha won 86 seats and the KMLP 11. Again the Congress lost power in the 1990 elections.

With the support of the BJP, the Janata Dal, headed by Chimanbhai Patel, formed the government. Both the non-Congress chief ministers - Babubhai Patel and Chimanbhai Patel - had Congress lineages. For the first time the present chief minister does not have a Congress background. The difference between the post-1975 and the 1990 elections was that the Congress after its defeat in 1975 rejuvenated itself and evolved new strategies to expand its base among the deprived communities. This did not happen after the 1990 defeat. Moreover, the Janata Morcha and the Janata Dal were loose and ad hoc parties, whereas the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is well organised and has evolved strategics to make inroads into the Congress support base.

For the first time in 1995, it was a straight fight between the Congress and the BJP. In the past the BJP was either a coalition partner or had scat adjustments with the nonCongress parties. In this election the BJP contested for all the 182 seats.

By securing 51 per cent of the votes polled and 20 out of the 25 seats in the 1991 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had demonstrated its strength.2 It was almost a foregone conclusion that the BJP would capture power in the slate. The party leaders were waiting in the wings to form the government. There was more than one contender for the post of chief minister. After losing power in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh in the 1993 elections, the BJP in Gujarat had become active. The party changed its strategy and priorities to expand its base in view of the approaching elections. The Congress (I), on the other hand, displayed no will to fight elections with a political agenda. During the last five years most of the party leaders had spent their energy to get political offices and other favours. After winning power in Madhya Pradesh in 1993 the party bosses believed that somehow they would come to power again in 1995. They continued to bank upon old strategies and calculations.

Individually, each party boss hoped to continue in power and fought for. This tooth and nail within the party against the rival factions. Collectively, however, they had given up the battle. Their cynicism was so intense that many of them said privately that all Congressmen, except of course themselves, deserved to be defeated.

The BJP's impressive victory, with 122 seats out of 182 (42 per cent of the votes) in the 1995 assembly, was not due to a temporary wave. The parly has built up its support structure brick by brick since the 1960s. Its predecessor, the Jan Sangh, became active in the state in 1951 soon after its birth.

RSS leaders from Saurashtra, mainly brahmins and rajputs, were the prime movers of the party. Though the party fielded candidates in the first three elections, it opened its account in the state assembly in 1967 by getting one seat. In the midst of Indira Gandhi's 'garibi hatao' hurricane, the party improved its position in the 1972 elections by capturing three seats. Its front organisation, the AkhiI Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Parishad (AVBP), played an important role in the 1974 Navnirman students' movement.

The party was a partner in the Janata Morcha which captured power in the 1975 elections; it secured 18 seats, and two of its important members, including the present chief minister, became ministers. The party used that opportunity to consolidate its position by expanding its patronage network and recruiting RSS cadres into important government positions. It maintained its identity, though the Jan Sangh was dissolved for a while.

The party fought its first election after its birth as the BJP in 1980. Like other nonCongress parties, it suffered a setback and could secure only nine seats. The party slightly improved its position in the 1985 elections despite the sympathy wave for Rajiv Gandhi. It bagged 11 seats, and 14.6 per cent of the votes. The Congress was routed in the 1990 assembly poll, securing only 33 seats in a house of 182 members.

Its votes declined from 56 per cent in 1985 to a mere 31 per cent in 1990, The Janata Dal and the BJP, with partial electoral adjustment on some seats against the Congress, secured 70 and 67 seats respectively. They jointly formed the government under the leadership of Chimanbhai Patel of the Janata Dal.

The main mission of Chimanbhai Patel, during his absence from the chief minister's office for nearly one-and-a-half decades, was to come back to power by any means possible. Being a master manipulator he, along with all but three other Janata Dal legislators, joined Chandra Shekhar against V P Singh as the Gujarat BJP withdrew support to his ministry. In order to play with regional sentiments, he toyed with the idea of forming a regional party. He formed the Janata Dal (Gujarat) to seek the support of the Congress. Rajiv Gandhi, whose main aim was to topple the VP Singh government, directed the Gujarat Congress to extend unconditional support to Patel, but he did not take the state Congress leaders into confidence. They faced an odd situation as they had all along fought against Patel and branded him as a pro-rich, upper-caste peasant leader. In the mid-term Lok Sabha poll in 1991, the Congress entered into an alliance with the JD (G) by sharing 10 out of the 26 seals. Both the Congress and the JD (G) experienced a humiliating defeat, while the BJP won 24 out of 26 seats.

Urmilaben Patel, the CM's wife, was also defeated. The BJP had a lead in 119 assembly segments out of 182. Between the JD (G) and the Congress, the performance of the former was worse. The JD (G) could take a lead in only I8 assembly segments (31 per cent) out of the 59 in which it contested, whereas the Congress secured a lead in 40 per cent of the segments. The lesson was clear - the JD (G) had no popular base in the state. But the Congress high command gave preference to the JD faction within the party rather than to its own party loyalists.

For reasons having to do with national politics, the prime minister wanted to keep Gujarat under Congress rule; therefore he did not want to displease Chimanbhai Patel.

Soon after the 1991 Lok Sabha election some senior Congress leaders from the state openly advocated withdrawal of support to the Chimanbhai Patel government. They warned that it was suicidal for the party to continue to support him, but the national leaders did not heed their advice. Chimanbhai Patel slowly won over some of the Congress MLAs by promising them positions in the ministry, and the JD (G) merged with the Congress. A senior Congress leader was made the deputy chief minister.

After the 1991 debacle the Congress became more and more alienated from its support structure. No effort was made to rejuvenate the party. All the factions remained busy in circuit house annexe politics3 with the aim of defeating one another. There was evidence of cross voting in the Rajya Sabha elections in 1993-94. The party avoided lacing the electorate as far as possible - postponed panchayat and municipal elections under one pretext or the other. This happened tor the first time in Gujarat since the inception of panchayati raj in 1964. The party held elections only when it had no other choice, thanks to the directive of the high court. The elections for 54 nagar palikas (municipalities) look place in January, in which the BJP's edge over the Congress was evident. Out of 1.803 seals the Congress won 311 and 16 per cent of the votes, as against 625 seats and 30 per cent of the votes won by the BJP.

The independents won the largest number of seats. The Congress had a clear majority in six municipalities whereas the BJP had it in only 12 municipalities.

Chimanbhai Patel died in 1994 and the party could not find another leader who could manage the show. The industrial andbuilder lobby was active and was openly supporting one or the other contending aspirant. In an ad hoc arrangement Chhabildas was made the chief minister, and he was forced to accommodate a large number of power seekers in his 38-member ministry, which had two deputy chief ministers.

Factionalism came to the surface again during the distribution of tickets. The senior leaders had their own lists for all the 182 constituencies. The JD(G) faction succeeded in getting a large chunk, and many of those who did not get the party ticket contested as independents. The BJP also had a faction - fight over selection of candidates, and some of the rejected aspirants contested as independents. There was, however, a significant difference between the Congress and the BJP rebels - many of the Congress rebel candidates received support from the one or the other party faction leaders, whereas this was not so in the case of the BJP. A majority of the winning independent candidates were ex-Congress leaders, while no BJP rebel won. Several cases were reported in the press pointing out that sonic of the Congress bosses provided financial and other support to independent candidates in order to ensure the defeat of the Congress.


As else where in the country, voting turnout in the assembly elections in Gujarat was the highest so far. The highest turnout in the past was 63.7 percent, in 1967. In the 1995 polls 64.36 per cent of voters (66.65 pet cent of males and 61.78 per cent of females) exercised their franchise. The highest turnout, between 70 and 73 per cent, was in three districts of north Gujarat. Tribal constituencies in the country are generally known for a low level of voter turnout.4 This was so in Gujarat also. On the whole, between 1952 and 1990 the average voter turnout in tribal constituencies was 49 per cent. In the 1985 election it was the lowest, 45 per cent, whereas it was 55 per cent in the l%7 elections. The 1995 polls have broken that record. More important, this time voter turnout in tribal constituencies was higher than the state average, i e, 70 per cent. The urban constituencies, however, continued the earlier pattern of low turnout (Table 1).

Contrary to general belief, there is no positive relations hip between the high turnout and the BJP victory, for the Congress also won seats where the turnout was high. In 30 constituencies the turnout was more than 20 per cent higher than in the 1990 elections, and the Congress won 30 per cent of the scats from these constituencies. It had a similar performance in the low turnout constituencies as well (Table 2)

The BJP secured more voles than the Congress in all the regions of the state

Barring two, it captured all the seats in the urban areas, securing more than 20 percent more votes than its rival. An independent won one of the remaining two seals with less than 100 votes; the Congress captured the other seal with a narrow margin of 5 percent

The narrowest gap between the Congress and ihe BJP was in the tribal constituencies; the BJP secured 14 out of the 2b ST reserved seats. The Congress votes in these constituencies declined by 2 per cent as compared to the last assembly poll. However, the independent candidates gained ground, securing lour seats. Three of these were the Congress rebels.


North Gujarat continued to be a strong hold of the BJP, but the party faced close competition with the Congress in central Gujarat. Kheda was the only district in the state in which the Congress captured more than 50 per cent of the seats (nine out of 17). This is an area of milk co-operatives dominated by patidars and a numerically large kshatriya population. Madhavsinh Solanki enjoys popularity among the kshatriyas. There was no significant improvement in the BJP's performance in Vadodara district - it secured five out of the 13 seats.

The Congress and the BJP had a close competition in 31 constituencies, with either party winning the seat with a margin of 5 per cent or less votes (Table 4). Such a neck-to-neck fight was more visible in the rural and tribal constituencies than in the 27 urban constituencies. The BJP had a comfortable victory in urban areas. The Congress and the BJP candidates lost deposits in 14 and six constituencies respectively.


Though voting is an individual act, in India it is generally a collective decision of a family in which the voices of males dominate. 88 per cent of respondents in rural Gujarat reported that all members of their families all along voted for the same party

Hence, one docs not find a difference between the male and the female voting pattern,despite the fact that some parties claim to be more concerned about the emancipation of women and field more female candidates than their rivals. In the 1995 elections in Gujarat there were only 94 women candidates as against 2,545 males, of which nine belonged to the Congress and three to the BJP. Only three women, all from the Congress, got elected

In the outgoing house there were four women members. For the first time the ruling party does not have any woman member in the state assembly.























The BJP attracted a larger number of younger voters than the Congress, both in urban and rural areas (Tables 6 and 7). A larger number of senior citizens, those above 55 years, in the countryside voted for the Congress, but this was not so in the cities. Till the 1960s the Jan Sangh was primarily the party of a section of urban petty traders and professionals belonging to brahmin and bania castes. A few ex-rulers, rajputs from Saurashtra, were also its supporters. Its base among the urban middle castes expanded in the mid-1970s; Slowly the party won over a section of palidars who once supported the Swatantra Party. Its base among this dominant peasant caste has expanded since the early 1980s. The party competed with Sharad Joshi in organising the patidar peasants and did not allow Joshi's Kisan Sabha to penetrate in north Gujarat and Saurashtra. The campaign on Ram Janmabhoomi and the anti-reservation agitation in 1982 enabled the party to consolidate its base among the upper and middle castes including patidars, suthar, potters and other artisan groups. During the 1995 elections the BJP secured more than 65 per cent of the votes from these castes in urban and rural areas (Table 6). It may be mentioned that a majority of its office-bearers both at the state and the district level belong to the upper castes." The social composition of the Congress support structure began to change after the split in the party in 1969. It carved out an image as a pro-poor and pro-backward castes party. The alIiance of the kshatriyas, harijans, adivasis and Muslims (KHAM) strategy in distribution of party tickets and offices; the 20-point and other poverty alleviation programmes; reservation for OBCs; and the pro-poor activities of some of the Congress leaders such as Jinabhai Darjee, Madhavsinh Solanki, Narsinh Makwana, etc, gave the party a firm support base among the OBCs, SCs, and STs. However, with the declining influence of pro-poor leaders within the party and their infighting since the mid- 1980s, its pro-poor image was on the wane.

Though Chimanbhai Patel tried to project himself as pro-poor, no one took him seriously. Several projects promising relief to the poor were announced but there were few Congressmen who were committed to their implementation. This task was left to the government machinery which was increasingly getting engulfed in corruption and indifference. The downtrodden began to resent the blatant corruption. SC and ST educated youths were required to pay money to get jobs reserved for them, and even Congressmen could not help them.

However, a majority of the dalits and adivasis in rural areas still support the Congress (Table 6). Though the Congress could secure only three out of the 11 SC reserved seats, it does not necessarily mean that the BJP won these seats with the overwhelming support of dalits. Two points need to be mentioned here. First. SCs constitute, on an average, only 10 per cent of the voters in the reserved constituencies

Second, urban dalits who are upwardly mobile, particularly the younger generation, began to shift their loyalties from the Congress to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Republican Party, and even to the BJP

This is evident from the survey carried out in Surat city in 1993. Though in urban areas the dalits and adivasis increasingly moved towards the BJP, a majority of them in rural areas are still pro-Congress (Table 6 and 7)

The BJP has followed the electoral arithmetic of the Congress. It has slowly built its base among the OBCs, adivasis and dalits. Pro-BJP kshatriya leaders formed the Kshatriya Sabha in north Gujarat to counter the Congress-supported kshatriyas." ShankarsinhThakor.ex-president of the state BJP, belongs to the kshatriya (koli-thak or) community. The present president from south Gujarat also is an OB C In the 1990 and 1995 elections the party fielded a sizeable number o f candidates belonging to the OBCs. The BJP has wo n over a large section o f the OBCs in the urban areas and half of those in rural areas (Tables 6 and 7).

The party has co-opted tribal and dalit leaders in different districts and has also hijacked Ambedkar' s ideolog y and symbols. Th e BJP extended its support to NGOs in opposing the proposed forest bill, whic h is anti-tribal . Th e part y also supported various struggles of tribal s demanding land for cultivation. It wo n more than 29 per cent o f the tribal votes in tribal and non-tribal constituencies.

Though this time the BJP did not focus us electoral campaign on Hidutv a or against minorities, for most o f the BJP voters, that remained a major consideration for extending support to the parly. This was particularly true in the case o f the urban middle class.

This, however, does not mean that the rural poor were not influenced by the Hindutva ideology. Those who were not enamoured of the Congress' pro-poor promises and programmes voted for the BJP because o f its campaign for Hindutva. O f course, their number was very small. A large number o f otherwise non-committed urban middle class BJP voters said that corruption or price rise was not the issue which determined their voting behaviour. They felt that the BJP was no better than the Congress. "Al l politicians are the same... But what is important is that the BJP stands for Hindus and wil l build Ram mandir in Ayodhya." This was a common retrain. The last-minute ban on the V H P worked as a catalytic force in reviving the Hindutva ideology. Sadhvi Rithambara, Ashok Singhal and many other VH P leaders and sadhus o f various sects asked Hindus to vote for the party that promised to protect Hindu interests. Almost all Congress leaders fell that the ban was untimely and none of them defended it. They did argue that the BJP was a communal party but they were not able to convince the masses how and in what way communal politics is dangerous to the nation. They almost conceded the BJP argument that the decision to ban the VH P was meant primarily to please the Musli m voters.

During Congress rule in the 1980s, the parly's support structure among the Muslims, who constitute 10 percent o f the population, was considerably eroded. None o f the party leaders even attempted to prevent the spread of Hindutva ideology. They only paid a lipservice to secularism. At the most, they chanted in meetings thai the BJP was 'komvadi', communal. During communal riots many of the district-level Congress leaders talked of Muslims in almost the same language and idio m as that o f the BJP. The involvement o f some Congress workers in riots in Surat and Vadodara is widely known.

On the other hand, a few Congressmen who regarded themselves as secular were helpless and frustrated with their own government.

Muslims suffered the most in a series of communal riots whose number increased particularly after 1985. Under the Congress regime, which claimed to be their protector, they were victims of TADA . In 1993,14.094 persons were arrested in Gujarat under the act. It was a widespread belief among the Muslim masses that the majority of detainees belonged to their community. Even liberal pro-Congress Muslim leaders like Bandukwala were not appeased. The secular Congress leaders were helpless. A number of Muslims believed that "we have no choice.

One [Congress] stabs from the back and the other [BJP] stabs from the front. The former is more dangerous than the latter." They felt that neither the JD nor the BSP could formidably challenge the Congress or the BJP. According to them, dalits were no less anti-Muslim than the upper or middle caste Hindus. Muslims therefore either abstained from voting or voted against the Congress and the BJP. In all, 118 Muslims contested the elections, as many as 66 of them independent. The BSP fielded 24 Muslims, and the Congress gave tickets to 10 Muslims mainly in the constituencies having more than 20 per cent Muslim population. These are urban or semi-urban constituencies. The BJP did not have any Muslim candidate.

Only one Muslim got elected as against three in the previous assembly, and he is an independent.

The Gujarat urban middle class protested against blatant corruption in the administration in 1974. Chimanbhai Patel was their target. Once he was ousted, the society sat back and slowly began to accept corruption as inevitable. However, corruption spread further and after 1985 it has crossed all bounds. One is required to pay a bribe to get a peon's or a teacher's post or to get a ration card, a loan or even a subsidy under welfare programmes. The urban middle class, though sore over this, somehow managed to get things done but the poor .suffered the most because they have no money to pay.

This was their main complaint against the Congress government, along with the price rise which has made their lives miserable.

This was a major consideration for the poor, who shifted their support from the Congress to the BJP. Sixteen per cent of the BJP supporters hoped that the party would check prices and corruption (Table 5). This time the BJP promised them a bhay, bhookh one bhrastachar mukta (free from fear, hunger and corruption) Gujarat. "Let us try it out- What else can we do?" was the stand of many a non-committed voter.

A major advantage of the Congress was that it has around 15 per cent of the voters as its traditional supporters, committed to the party. They voted for the party in the previous elections and continue to do so irrespective of its performance. A young dalit said that "my grandfather was a supporter of the Congress, so was my father, and I also believe in the 'panja' (palm) (Congress symbol)". Some said that the Congress was an old and experienced party.

There are of course, anti-Congress traditional voters as well, but they do not necessarily have a preference for the BJP. In 1995 the BJP successfully built up a campaign spreading the impression that it would win the election this time. Except for Muslims, it sought the support of all sections of society; though it repeatedly declared that the party was not against the minority communities.A pro-BJP tempo dominated the scene.

Nearly one-fourth of the BJP voters voted for the party for no specific reason. They did it just because others did it. A patidar who had earlier voted for the Congress, voted for the BJP this time because "it was the trend". An old adivasi from south Gujarat said, "every one in our faliya' (locality) tended to support the BJP, so I also supported if . The party's election manifesto promising reduction in fare in state transport buses and supply of Rs 2 per kg of wheat did influence some voters. An adivasi landless labourer from south Gujarat said that the BJP had made several promises and "we hope that it would fulfil them". Some others, 18 per cent of the BJP voters in rural areas, wanted to try out the party. They, however, are not committed to the BJP.


The overall image of the BJP as a proHindu party has continued. That was the reason for its support by a large number of Hindus, particularly from the upper and middle castes. The party, however, tried to downplay its communal i mage in the election campaign so as to win over electoral support from a cross-section of society. To some extent the party has succeeded in its objective

The BJP has won over a sizeable section of the OBCs and artisan castes from the Congress. Many of the tribals and dalits have not yet shifted their loyalty from the Congress to the BJP. The latter, though, has gained substantial ground which helped it to win most of the ST and SC reserved seats

However, it is too early to say whether it would be able to consolidate its newlyacquired base. The party may not be able to resolve its contradictions. Strongholds of the upper castes and middle classes within the BJP would come in the way of its government to adopt pro-poor policies, particularly those having the potential to endanger their interests. Moreover, the party does not have any leader who openly champions the cause of the downtrodden

The BJP's future also depends upon how the Congress plans its future and on the emergence of new secular forces. The Congress in Gujarat will take time to recover from the shock of its defeat. At present, there is no will or plan of action to rejuvenate the party. If the Congress fails to resurrect itself

space is available for other left of centre bourgeois parties to compete with the BJP and provide an alternative within the present parliamentary system


[Satyakam Joshi supervised the field work Malvika Munim coded the data with care and Vimal Trivedi processed it in the midst of his many other commitments. Biswaroop Das read the manuscript and made useful suggestions. I am grateful to all of them. The data for rural ureas was collected as a part of a study on Panchayati Raj in Gujarat' Nine talukas corresponding to nine state assembly constituencies in three districts - Surat in south Gujarat, Mehsana in north Gujarat and Junagadh in Saurashtra - were selected Three villages, selected randomly in each taluka, were chosen for data collection. In each village. 10 per cent of the voters were selected randomly Nearly 5 per cent of the respondents were either not available or refused to answer, and have been dropped from the analysis. These interviews were earned out through structured questionnaires between March 25 to April 25, 1995, soon after the elections The data for urban areas was collected as a part of the study on 'Communal Consciousness and Communal Violence' in Sural city in May July 1991 Fifty-three polling booths from municipal wards were selected to interview citizens. From each polling booth. 25 voters were selected with the help of a random table for interview The total number of respondents was 1,325, from which we could interview 723 A number of them were either wrongly listed or had shifted their residence; some were not available at the time of interview; and few avoided us. Since the data presented above was not collected as part of an election study, it suffers from methodological limitations. Our sample is in no way representative of the state assembly constituencies]

1 Ghanshyam Shah, 'The 1975 Gujarat Assembly Elections in India', Asian Survey, Volume XVI, No 3, March 1976

2 Ghanshyam Shah, 'Tenth Lok Sabha Elections: BJP's Victory in Gujarat'. Economic and Political Weekly, Volume XXVI, No 51, December 21. 1991

3 The annexe of the Ahmedabad circuit house has been almost permanently occupied by political leaders who operate from that place

Leaders from Delhi come and stay there while the local leaders make their representations

4 Myron Weiner and John Osgood Field. 'How Tribal Constituencies in India Vote' in Jagadish Bhagwati et al (eds) Electoral Politics in the Indian States: Three Disadvantaged Sectors, Manohar Book Service, Delhi, 1975

5 Gajendraprasad Shukla, Bharatiya Janata Paksha (Gujarat) na Netao', Arthat, Volume XIV, No I, January-March 1995

6 Ghanshyam Shah, 'The BJP and Backward Castes in Gujarat'. South Asian bulletin

Volume XIV, No I, 1994. 

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