The Gujarat election has proved that Modi’s polarisation and anti-minority politics will only lead to defeat

Published: December 19, 2017

Despite the victory, Modi’s political stature has not grown. PHOTO: REUTERS

The headline, “The BJP lost in victory, Congress won in defeat”, from a local newspaper in Gujarat, sums up the result of the Gujarat election held yesterday.

The official winner of this election may be the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but the de-facto victor is definitely the Indian National Congress party. While it is true that the BJP retained the state for the sixth time in a row despite facing a strong anti-incumbency wave, nonetheless, the results came as a surprise.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has built his entire political persona by selling the ‘Gujarat model’ to the nation. However, Gujarat itself came to question that model, as seen in the results of its election. Out of 182 seats, the BJP got only 99, a loss of around 20 seats and its lowest tally since 1985.

On the other hand, Congress managed to get 77 seats; a jump of almost 4% in its vote share as well as its highest score in Gujarat in the last three decades.

Why was the Gujarat election important?

Gujarat is the home state of Prime Minister Modi and BJP President Amit Shah. This is the state which gave Modi notoriety and popularity. His three successive wins as chief minister of the state since 2001 consolidated his position as the prime ministerial candidate of the BJP in the 2014 elections. He marketed the Gujarat model of economic development and promised a vision of economic reform before he became prime minister.

However, in the 2017 elections, all sections of society arose questioning the Gujarat model. For Modi, this questioning from his own constituents was a big challenge – he could not answer them. Instead, he tried to run a very divisive campaign by bringing in emotion to counter political challenges.

For a long time, Gujarat has been the laboratory of Hindutva politics. The BJP, since the 1980s and particularly after Modi became chief minister, tried to entrench itself in the state by polarising voters in the name of religion. In 2002, the religious riots in the state under Modi’s governance consolidated the BJP’s hold on hard-line Hindus, and he reaped electoral dividends from it year after year.

It was this ‘laboratory’ which came to be challenged by the people of Gujarat. The verdict shows a strong discontent among people against the BJP, and the Congress party is the winner by default in the midst of this anger.

Is Modi truly the victor?

Modi staked all his political capital in the state. Had he lost the elections, it would have been an end to his narrative. However, while the victory saved face for both Modi and the BJP, it has exposed the chinks in his armour and has made him look more vulnerable than ever before.

The surprisingly good performance of the Congress and its party chief, Rahul Gandhi, indicates that Modi will now face a resurgent opposition and future elections will no longer be a walk in the park.

The election also exposed Modi politically. The veneer of modernity and neutrality that he has been maintaining vis-à-vis religious minorities got exposed through his divisive campaign.

By bringing Pakistan into the campaign, Modi betrayed his rabid, divisive instinct as he openly tried to polarise voters. He has frequently used Muslims and the ‘Pakistan card’ to consolidate his vote bank, and unsurprisingly, he did so yet again.

Despite the victory, Modi’s political stature has not grown. On the contrary, he is being questioned because of the reduced margin of the victory.

What does this mean for the future?

There are quite a few assembly elections due in 2018, with the most crucial being Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, all governed by the BJP at the moment. If one looks at this Gujarat experience and the way the party was pushed against the wall despite it being its bastion, retaining three states will now be tougher with an opposition that is resurging.

Many experts believe that a beleaguered Modi would resort to greater polarisation and anti-minority politics to remain in counting for the 2019 elections. Liberals, secular forces and religious minorities in India were all looking towards Gujarat with lots of hope, and it has, in a way, redeemed itself by delivering a strong message to India that those who indulge in polarisation and majoritarian politics will weaken and will eventually be defeated.

This result becomes more important in light of addressing the growing religious communalism in India and stopping the social atmosphere in India from being vitiated further. In that sense, the verdict in Gujarat remains in favour of Congress, suggesting that the losing party may have won after all.

Santosh Arora

Santosh Arora

The blogger is a journalist from India.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Lalit

    Defeat ? On the other hand BJP has increased its vote share from 49% in 2012 to 54.7% while congress has got 42.3%.why should we compare it with 2014 LS elections where Modi got 60% ? Mr Rupani is no Modi….secondly If Congress can’t unseat a lesser known CM, riding on the crest of a 22 year anti incumbency factor ,however slight it might be,than its farewell for any dreams they are harbouring for 2019.Remember it’s going to boil down to Modi vs others including Rahul in 2019 and I don’t think the way Indian elections are increasingly turning into presidential ways ,any other candidate comes even closer to Mr Modi in popularity.Gujarat elections in other way have solidified Mr Modi inside his party and have once again proved that he possesses Midas touch .Recommend

  • Jayakarthik1972

    First of all it is a victory for bjp and modi it does not matter whether it was won by fewer seats or not. In elections winner whether he wins by one vote or hundred votes may be a fodder for analyst but for a political party it means Victoriy.Elections for Gujarat was not a test to validate whether the model of development was successful or not rather it was meant to defeat modi and demoralise bjp so that it can’t come back to power in centre in 2019.This conspiracy which was hatched by opposition included blatant casteist groups who promised heaven and earth if they came to power As they say in war and love everything is fair. Modi used it and was successful. Still Gujarat is one of the success stories of India. It’s per capita income is far ahead of many states which were ruled by Congress till some years back. Congress or opposition run states which are few and far between can’t match the Gujarat track record in wealth and job creation.Recommend

  • jssidhoo

    A win after an incumbency of 22 yrs is no small matter esp now that Modi is no longer the CM . A biased article as usual from Mr Santosh AroraRecommend

  • Gratgy

    India needs a good opposition to the BJP, but alas when I see congress celebrating after losing an election by almost 20 seats, it is certainly very tragic. Especially a state where BJP had changed 3 chief ministers in 5 years and had to face a huge anti incumbency after ruling for 22 years, adding to that the anger due to introduction of GST along with Patel and other OBC unrest.

    BJP now rules 19 states after losing two major states yesterday and I see Congress and congressmen like this author rejoicing. In politics, coming second best is not good enough… sadRecommend

  • Raul

    In case you actually analysed the results, BJP increased its vote share from the 2002 Gujarat elections. Why ET keeps publishing analysis from left leaning columnists is beyond my understanding. Please present the real India and you will be doing your Pakistani readers a favor too.Recommend

  • Parvez

    As a casual observer this write up came across as a Congress supporters attempt and a bit of a shaky attempt, to down play a BJP win……..and a win is a win.Recommend

  • Jay Singh

    Last I checked, Modi has won Gujarat as well as Himachal Pradesh.Recommend

  • harkol

    The basic premise of this article is wrong. Modi did not win in 2014 because of Anti-Muslim or polarising agenda (I don’t think he has one, though some of his associates seem to have one). India as a whole doesn’t vote for polarisation as shown in many instances in past 70yrs. He won it on an economic & anti-corruption agenda…

    In Gujarat 2017 – Modi’s BJP won more voteshare than it did in 2012, when Modi himself was chief minister. Yet, there was a counter consolidation of people who were unhappy with the growth/farm distress (Saurashtra region)

    If he loses 2019, it won’t be because of his social agenda (Polarisation/anti-muslim). It’ll be because – his economic agenda wasn’t good enough. Even in Gujarat, the Patel protests were more economic. Patels are as Anti-Muslim as they get, yet a good portion of them voted for Congress because they are upset at reduced economic opportunities. Same goes for Thakores & Dalits who voted for Congress. It was a consolidation of those who were disenchanted.

    Modi will win 2019 again. Because India doesn’t have a reasonable alternative with a good economic agenda.Recommend

  • Viraf Mehta

    To win elections 6 consecutive times is indeed note worthy for the BJP. The party has debunked the economic law of diminishing marginal utility. People of Gujarat still trust the party and its policies. Why is no one talking about the brutal loss by the Congress in Himachal Pradesh? When it comes to HP, Congress says that it lost because of the incumbency factor, but when it comes to Gujarat it is loss of faith in Mr Modi. Double speak is thy name for the Congress Rahul Gandhi and his cohorts will need years and years to counter Mr Modi. Recommend

  • Rajiv

    BJP has won both states.
    So, stop eating sour grapes.Recommend

  • PatelPara

    happens when you comment before reading the article.Recommend

  • PatelPara

    Pakistanis should be happy to have Modi and BJP win every where across India.

    this party proves the concept of two nation theory. it proves indian muslims made a mistake by not leaving and now have to deal with whatever is going on.

    the only draw back is BJP and India will support/fund more terrorists attacks inside Pakistan. which we all have to deal with Quaid’s vision. Unity, Faith & Discipline.Recommend

  • Salman Raheel

    A lot of politicians around the world are doing politics on hate and sadly this phenomenon has taken the front row after Trump and Modi’s regretful acceptance as leaders in their respective states.Recommend

  • Patwari

    A win is a win. Even Hitler won all his elections.
    Even Mussolini, ‘IL Duce’ won his elections.
    Even Idi Amin ‘Dada’ would have won all his elections,
    if he has wanted to,…even though he was a dictator.Recommend

  • gp65

    Yes, a good opposition can be necessary but it can come from media, civil society and from within BJP itself, This is what happened in the immediate aftermath of GST when Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie spoke up and there were protests in Surat and media gave coverage to all of it. The government was forced to take prompt corrective actions in terms of streamlining the process and rates.Recommend

  • gp65

    Actually Hitler was a junior partner in the coalition in power and when the leader retired, he was elevated. His party NEVER won a majority in elections.
    Mussolini did not win an election. Rather, his march forced the sitting PM to resign and then the kind appointed him PM.Recommend

  • gp65

    Not just did BJP win, but it won with an increased vote share over 2012. Further there was a 8% difference in vote share between Congress and BJP which Is huge in what was virtually a 2 party fight and a difference of 20 seats. 91 seats constitute majority and BJP had won 99. By no parameter could it have been called a close fight.
    Having said that, a loss of seats compared to 2012 did happen. Will keep BJP on their toes as it realizes that any marginalized group that is neglected (in this case farmers from Saurashtra region) can consolidate and prevent vote share from converting into seat share. IF BJP derives the right lesson and stays focused on improving governance and economic opportunities for all, it will not have been a bad outcome.Recommend

  • Gratgy

    Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie give the impression of sulking rather than any serious issue based opposition. They just look for chances to score brownie point against Modi.Recommend

  • abhi

    May congrass achieve similar “victories” in future. This is becoming comic now. I can tell you what is going to happen next year. Rahul will not at all campaign in Karnataka similar to Himachal. Rahul’s full focus will be Rajsthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Congress will lose Karnataka for sure. Congress may win Rajasthan because of anti incumbency and that will be projected as the biggest revival of congress.Recommend

  • abhi

    Even after reading didn’t make any sense.Recommend

  • Parvez

    That was both interesting and informative but let me just say that the @Parvez who commented was not ME ( the one who is a regular on this site ). What I found amusing was that the Parvez who commented was intelligent enough to use my opening style ” As a casual observer…….” when I comment on matters relating to India.Recommend