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Lok Sabha Elections 2019: BJP unlikely to repeat 2014 show in Gujarat, Rahul Gandhi expects Congress revival

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The 2019 general elections cannot see a repeat of 2014 and could witness something closer to the 2017 scenario. Neither Prime Minister Narendra Modi nor Congress chief Rahul Gandhi could afford to spend a lot of time in Gujarat in 2019 as they did during 2017 Assembly elections.

Lok Sabha Elections 2019: BJP unlikely to repeat 2014 show in Gujarat, Rahul Gandhi expects Congress revival
Gujarat has been one state where the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) base, set in the aftermath of the Janata Party’s collapse in 1979, had continued to expand until it emerged as the ruling party in the state in 1995. Unlike in such other parts as Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh, where the Bharatiya Jan Sangh occupied the core strength of the Janata Party (formed on January 30, 1977, weeks ahead of the general elections that year), the BJP’s emergence in Gujarat was on the ruins of the Congress (O) and its face, Morarji Desai.
Lest it is mistaken, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), an important arm of the RSS, was very much a dominant force in Gujarat even earlier. The Nav Nirman Andolan in 1973, when an agitation by students in an engineering college in Ahmedabad against an increase in the mess dues snowballed into a statewide students’ agitation seeking resignation of then Chief Minister Chimanbhai Patel (close to then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi) over corruption, gave the ABVP a platform to engage with the people even before the Emergency was declared.
Gujarat was among the states where organized student movement of the kind that existed in Bihar, Delhi, Kerala and West Bengal was absent and the ABVP remained the only such organization. Morarji Desai, even while commanding support for his Congress (O), remained a leader with a following sans organization. He won from Surat himself and his Congress(O) won a total eleven Lok Sabha seats apart from two by the Swatantra Party, as part of the grand alliance. The Congress(O) had come a cropper elsewhere in 1971 and the grand alliance simply lost.
It was not a mere coincidence that Morarji Desai owed his position as Prime Minister to support from those in the Janata Parliamentary Party who owed allegiance to the Jan Sangh. This was evident throughout his tenure as Prime Minister and even after the party split up and Charan Singh went away. The BJP’s formation, announced in April 1980, happened at a time when Desai announced his retirement from electoral politics, the rump that was now left of the Janata Party was beginning to split further and the vacuum left in the political space in Gujarat was apt for the BJP to set up its own edifice.
This way, Gujarat belonged to a different league for the BJP unlike other parts where the party had occupied the space that the Hindu Maha Sabha had created even earlier. It may be stressed here that one of the two BJP members of parliament (MP) in the Seventh Lok Sabha (1984-89) had won from Gujarat in the 1984 elections. And in 1989, the BJP had emerged into the major player against the Congress party; while V P Singh’s Janata Dal reinvented Chimanbhai Patel (ousted by the Navinirman Andolan in 1973), the BJP recorded its strength in the state winning 10 of the 26 Lok Sabha seats.
The fragile Janata Dal collapsed soon and the BJP emerged as the sole anti-Congress platform in Gujarat, winning 16 Lok Sabha seats in 1996. The party had wrested power in Gujarat even earlier in 1995. The BJP’s lineage, belonging as it was, from the Congress(O) became evident with dissidence within forcing a frequent change of chief ministers (between Keshibhai Patel and Suresh Mehta) would be arrested only after Narendra Modi took over in October 2001. And even then it could never win a large number of Lok Sabha seats in elections in 2004 and 2009. The Congress had won 12 Lok Sabha seats out of the 26 from the state in those elections before it was wiped out in 2014.
The large margins that the BJP candidates secured in the 2014 general elections – over 3 lakh votes in 24 of the 26 seats the party won – in 2014, however, turned out to be a flash in the pan. The elections to the State Assembly in 2017 saw the Congress party reviving and the BJP having to scramble. Barring the South Gujarat region, urban in many parts, the BJP lost many seats in Gujarat. The Congress won many seats, came close to a majority in the state assembly, even while it was left without a face that the party could call its prospective chief minister.
It may be noted here that the Congress party had consciously weeded out Shankar Sinh Vaghela from its farm; Vaghela, in fact, was Modi’s associate since the early 1970s and had rebelled against his party to become the chief minister in the early 1990s. And he is a spent force now. The Congress, in 2017, forged a new formation fielding three young leaders – Jignesh Mewani, Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakore – as against its 1980s formation – KHAM – put together by Madhavsinh Solanki.
The 2019 general elections, then, cannot see a repeat of 2014 and could witness something closer to the 2017 scenario. The Congress party, meanwhile, had suffered erosion with some MLAs leaving the fold. But Hardik Patel remains with it and the same is the case with Mewani. However, Alpesh Thakore resigned from the Congress party on April 10.
Modi remains the BJP’s tallest campaigner along with Amit Shah, who has replaced L K Advani from Gandhinagar as the party’s candidate. Modi could afford to spend a lot of time in Gujarat in 2017; it is another story in 2019.
Rahul Gandhi too cannot spend as much time in Gujarat; he had stayed put in the State in 2017 and that yielded results for his party. The Congress party’s performance in Gujarat – the best outcome for the party in the given situation – indeed put Rahul Gandhi on the stage since then.
Notwithstanding the numbers that the Congress and the BJP will end up securing when the votes are counted on May 23 in so far as the 26 seats from Gujarat is concerned, a lot will be said if the scorecard turns out to be a projection of the assembly polls outcome of 2017. All that seems to be likely is that it may not be a repeat of 2014 where the BJP won all the 26 seats from Gujarat. That, indeed, was unprecedented and was also reversed in 2017 with the Congress reviving itself to a position where it stood in 2004; the party had won 12 Lok Sabha seats then; or in 1996 when it won ten of the 26 Lok Sabha seats.
All the 26 Lok Sabha constituencies from Gujarat will go to polls in the third phase, on April 23, 2019.
V Krishna Ananth teaches History at Sikkim University, Gangtok.
This is the 12th article of a series on a state-by-state deep look at the approaching general elections. Click here to read more: State Scan
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