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Cracks in the Facade: The Gujarat BJP and Elections 2009

The Bharatiya Janata Party appears to have had a stranglehold over power in Gujarat from the 1990s. There have, however, been electoral ups and downs faced by the party over the years, highlighted by its below par performance in Elections 2009. That the BJP has been shaken but may be far from being dislodged is made clear by the state of the opposition Congress. Gujarat's electorate seems open to political alternatives. These will have to emerge either from nascent third party options or from a significant reworking of the pattern of politics offered by the big two.

COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW july 11, 2009 vol xliv no 2815Nikita Sud (nikita.sud@qeh.ox.ac.uk) is a research fellow with Wolfson College, University of Oxford, UK.Table 1: Gujarat Assembly Elections from 1985 BJP(VoteCongressOthers Share%) 1985 11 (14.9) 149 (55.6) JD: 14 1990 67 (26.7) 33 (30.8) JD (BJP ally): 701995 121 (42.5) 45 (32.9) 1998 117 (44.8) 53 (34.9) Rashtriya Janata Party (Congress ally): 42002 126 (49.8) 51 (39.3) JD(U): 22007 117 (49.1) 59 (38) NCP (Congress ally): 3Table 2: Gujarat Lok Sabha Elections from 1989 BJP(VoteCongress Others Share%) 1989 12 (26.7) 3 (30.9) Janata Dal: 11 (30.9)1991 20 (50.4) 6 (42.1, including the share of ally Janata Dal (G)) 1996 16 (48.5) 10 (38.9) 1998 19 (48.3) 7 (36.5) 1999 20 (49.8) 6 (39.3) 2004 14 (47.4) 12 (43.9) 2009 15 (46.5) 11 (43.4)Table 3: Zilla Panchayat Election Comparison by Number of Seats: 1987, 1995, 2000Zilla Panchayat BJP Congress JD Others Election Year1987 (seats-683) 62 492 91 371995 (seats- 772) 599 111 n/a 202000 (seats- 717) 192 513 n/a 12Source: Yagnik and Sud (2004).Cracks in the Facade: The Gujarat BJP and Elections 2009Nikita SudThe Bharatiya Janata Party appears to have had a stranglehold over power in Gujarat from the 1990s. There have, however, been electoral ups and downs faced by the party over the years, highlighted by its below par performance in Elections 2009. That the BJP has been shaken but may be far from being dislodged is made clear by the state of the opposition Congress. Gujarat’s electorate seems open to political alternatives. These will have to emerge either from nascent third party options or from a significant reworking of the pattern of politics offered by the big two. As the dust settles on the 2009 General Elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has little to cele-brate. Far from ambitions of forming the government in Delhi, it has turned out to be one of the biggest losers of the season getting 22 seats less than it did in 2004. Its leaders can derive some consolation from the party’s pole position in a handful of states: Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and of course that ever dependable poster boy of Hindutva and “development” – Gujarat. The Sangh parivar’s successful laboratory experiment has unfailingly given the party something to cheer about for the last 20 years. In the 1989 Lok Sabha election, the BJP won 12 out of 26 seats, inching ahead of Chimanbhai Patel’s Janata Dal (JD) which got 11 and the Con-gress which managed an abysmal three. The very next year, the BJP came to power for the first time in the Gujarat assembly in a coalition with theJD, thus decisively breaking the monopoly the Congress had had on the state’s electoral politics since independence. Throughout the 1990s, with ample help from the mobilisational and often violent politics of the Sangh parivar, the BJP consolidated its position. It has held power in Gujarat almost con-tinuously since 1995. Tables 1 and 2 show the performance of theBJP in assembly and parliamentary elections from the mid to late 1980s.Power of course is never to be taken for granted. The BJP has faced stumbling blocks throughout its ascent. In 1995, former Gujarat BJP President Shankarsinh Vaghela walked out of the party with 46 members of legislative assembly (MLAs) as he felt sidelined by Chief Minister Keshub-hai Patel and his backroom Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) strategist Narendra Modi. The disciplined “party with a difference” had been splintered by rebellion just like any other. Further cracks appeared in 1998 when someBJP legislators and ministers protested against the excessive interference of the RSS in party and government affairs. The party was increasingly divided between the moderates who did not owe their political careers to the RSS and the hardliners who had risen through the latter organisation’s ranks and were pushing its agendas in the legislature and government. Discord led to a low key campaign for the district pan-chayat elections in 2000, with several cadres refraining from campaigning and others supporting rival candidates. A con-vincing defeat in the elections was the logical outcome. The party also lost the municipal corporations of Ahmedabad and Rajkot which it had held for 13 and 24 years, respectively. The Congress and BJP’s reversal of fortunes at the district level is represented in Table 3. Losses in by- elections in Sabarmati and Sabarkantha and widespread criticism of the Keshubhai Patel government’s mishandling of rehabilitation efforts after the 2001 Kachchh earthquake appeared to be the final straw. With assembly elections looming in 2003, the BJP seemed to be heading for a rout.
COMMENTARYEconomic & Political Weekly EPW july 11, 2009 vol xliv no 2817Despite his own tall claims, Modi has built on rather than created Gujarat’s growth story. After all, the state has welcomed liberalisation and facilitated the market with infrastructure and flexible rules well before 2001 (Sinha 2005; Sud 2007).(b) The politics of Hindutva mobilisation that dates to the mid-1980s in Gujarat: Initiated as a counter to the democratic upsurge of the Kshatriya-Harijan-Adivasi-Muslim (KHAM) combine and a proposed reservation policy for Other Backward Castes (OBCs), the politics of Hindu reli-gious as opposed to caste or class unity got incorporated in the Ram janmabhoomi movement from the late 1980s. Gujarat saw multiple yatras in the run-up to the destruction of the Babri Masjid; it pro-duced a large number of kar sevaks for this event and indeed has been a portent of the BJP’s rising electoral fortunes in other parts of the country. Modi, the much touted Hindu hriday samrat has ridden the high of this Hindutva wave, wrench-ing every ounce of capital from it in 2002 and through his brand of jingoistic politics that has been developed in the aftermath of that event.(c) The global tide of spin: The promi-nence of politicians from Tony Blair to Modi can be attributed to a modern day convergence of politics, entertainment and advertising. Here, symbols and style become as important as the policy mes-sage (Grattan 1998). Modi the individual has been able to claim authorship of Gujarat’s growth and Hindutva trajectory before a believing electorate and a nation-al party desperate for idols in the post Vajpayee-Advani-Ram janmabhoomi age. That the contributions of history, political economy, the larger government appara-tus and the state party unit have been left out of this tale is testament to the power of the spin machine propping up the “number one chief minister in India” as much as it is to statecraft. Elections 2009: A Reality CheckWithout doubt, the Gujarat BJP, especially under Modi has been an electoral success story. At the same time, elections 2009 allow us to stop, think and add caveats to what has seemed like a graph that would only go up. The BJP reached its vote share pinnacle of 50.4% in the Lok Sabha elec-tions of 1991 and almost repeated the feat with 49.8% in the assembly elections of 2002. The Ram janmabhoomi movement and the violence of 2002 are clearly the context for this. The party has lost seats as well as vote share in the assembly and Parliament post 2002 (Tables 1 and 2). It may have added one Lok Sabha seat to its 2004 tally of 14 in 2009, but these are still its lowest scores since 1989. The much hyped “five crore Gujaratis” never offered a universal mandate to the BJP and they are beginning to withdraw this even further. Why may this be so? First, Gujarat has followed a skewed de-velopment model and the disparities this has brought are more apparent today than ever before. In 1983-84, the primary sector employed 63.80% of the workforce and contributed to 38.70% of the Net State Domestic Product (NSDP). Due to policy focus on the secondary and tertiary sectors post-liberalisation, the share of the pri-mary sector in the NSDP had fallen to 17.30% by 2004-05 but it continued to employ a significant 46% of the workforce. Gujarat faces not just widening inter- sectoral disparities, but also inter-regional ones. In 1993-94, the coefficient of varia-tion in the incidence of poverty in the geo-graphical subregions of Gujarat was 0.225 in rural areas and 0.157 in cities and towns. By 1999-2000, this had risen to 0.258 for rural Gujarat and 0.245 for urban areas (Kashyap and Mehta 2007). Second and related, for a high growth state, Gujarat’s record of human develop-ment is poor. As a combined measure of health, education and income, Gujarat’s human development index (HDI) meas-ured 0.360 and ranked fourth amongst Indian states in 1981. By 1991, its HDI had improved to 0.431 but other states had taken over and it ranked sixth. In 2001, HDI stood at 0.479 and Gujarat still stood sixth behind Kerala, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Haryana (Planning Commission 2002). Taking infant morta-lity as a measure of health and therefore human development, Gujarat’s infant mortality rate (IMR) remained unchanged at 64 deaths per thousand between 1991-93 and 1996-98. This is a far cry from Kerala whereIMR in 1996-98 was 15 (Hirway and Terhal 2002).IMR was 62 in 2000, the same as Bihar. It was 54 by 2005. While these are improvements over previ-ous years they fall into perspective when one notes that in 2005, Gujarat ranked 25th amongst Indian states and union ter-ritories in terms of IMR (Registrar General of India 2002, 2006). In this context, Table 4: Top Three Parties in Some Gujarat Lok Sabha Constituencies in 2009Constituency Winner (Number of Votes) Runner-Up Second Runner-Up Other Significant PartyBanaskantha Congress (2,89,409) BJP (2,79,108) Independent (20,524) BSP (11,867)Patan Congress (2,83,778) BJP (2,65,274) MJP (18,554) BSP (10,705)Mehsana BJP (3,34,651) Congress (3,12,648) Independent (12,064) BSP (9,066)Sabarkantha BJP (3,37,432) Congress (3,20,272) Independent (28,135) BSP (8,246)Surendranagar Congress (2,47,710) BJP (2,42,879) BSP (31,971) Rajkot Congress (3,07,553) BJP (2,82,818) BSP (14,653) Porbandar Congress (3,29,436) BJP (2,89,933) BSP (14,713) Jamnagar Congress (2,81,410) BJP (2,54,992) BSP (11,967) Junagadh BJP (3,55,335) Congress (3,41,576) Independent (23,290) MJP (2,521)Amreli BJP (2,47,666) Congress (2,10,349) Independent (15,122) MJP (7,994),BSP (7,672)Bhavnagar BJP (2,13,376) Congress (2,07,483) MJP (1,56,570) BSP (3,897)Anand Congress (3,48,655) BJP (2,81,337) Independent (16,729) NCP (6,259)Kheda Congress (2,84,004) BJP (2,83,158) Independent (13,840) BSP (6,557),MJP (6,400)Panchmahal BJP (2,82,079) Congress (2,79,998) Lok Janshakti Party BSP (10,637) (LJP) (23,615) Dahod Congress (2,50,586) BJP (1,92,050) Samajwadi Party CPM (29,522), (SP)(29,700) NCP (15,057),BSP (9,395)Chota Udaipur BJP (3,53,534) Congress (3,26,536) BSP (43,970) Bharuch BJP (3,11,019) Congress (2,83,787) JD(U) (63,661) BSP (6,192)Bardoli Congress (3,98,430) BJP (3,39,445) Independent (26,269) BSP (16,478), CPI(15,257)Surat BJP (3,64,947) Congress (2,90,149) MJP (15,519) BSP (4,858)Navsari BJP (4,23,413) Congress (2,90,770) Independent (12,821) BSP (7,371)Valsad Congress (3,57,755) BJP (3,50,586) Independent (27,429) BSP (15,268)Source: Election Commission of India (2009).
COMMENTARY

r ecent claims by the chief minister that his government would compete with developed countries in the HDI stakes seem farfetched (Business Standard 2008).

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