As Sonia Gandhi kicked off the Congress election campaign at Rajkot on Gandhi Jayanti, she would have been under no illusion that her party could wrest Gujarat after the long 17-year interregnum from 1995 when the Congress had lost control of the state to the BJP. She would however consider it a “victory” for the Congress if it could restrict the BJP to under 100 seats in the 182-seat assembly. This would surely cut to size the growing persona of the charismatic and controversial BJP chief minister, Narendra Modi, and thwart his ambition to move to the national stage.
However, Narendra Modi’s own campaign has been rolling along for three weeks, and his Vivekananda Yuva Vikas Yatra seems to have succeeded in giving the BJP an unassailable lead and momentum. A LensOnNews poll conducted among a representative sample of 7294 voters spread over 52 assembly constituencies across the state finds that the BJP is set to garner 50 per cent of the vote in the coming election and that this would translate into a tally of 133 seats, a share of more than 70 per cent in the 182-seat assembly.
This would be a gain of one per cent in vote share for the BJP, but would give it 16 more seats as compared to its 2007 tally. The Congress is slated to maintain its 38 per cent vote share but get only 43 seats – a drop of 16 seats from its 2007 tally.
This phenomenon of a small swing of vote share resulting in a disproportionate benefit to the BJP in terms of seats is to a large extent due to the delimitation exercise which has carved out a greater share of urban relative to rural constituencies than before. Of the 16 seats projected to be gained by the BJP since its tally in 2007, a substantial number of 10 seats are to be attributed to an increase in the number of urban seats where the rival Congress is a much weaker force.
The Congress is handicapped by the fact that it lacks a state leader to match the stature of Narendra Modi and has refrained from naming its candidate for chief minister. This has played into Modi’s hands, and he has converted the election into a battle between the “six crore people of Gujarat” and the “Delhi Sultanate” comprising Sonia and Rahul Gandhi.
The issues he has raised, of Centre’s discrimination against the people of Gujarat, the relentless price rise, corruption and loot under the UPA government – find the Congress party at the receiving end. He points to the stellar development record of his government over the last 11 years and asks pointedly why the Congress-led central government could not offer similar governance at the national level.
While the Congress’s promise of free houses for the urban poor (the “Ghar-nu-ghar” scheme) did create a flutter, it soon fizzled out as people realize that there is no prospect of the party coming to power. At the same time, Modi has been announcing concrete measures such as disbursement of house-building subsidies to BPL families, 50 per cent waiver of loan interest to farmers, raising the recruitment age for government employees, etc.
Corruption charges against the Modi government have failed to stick; the M.B. Shah Committee’s report giving a clean chit to the government will deprive the Congress of the tit-for-tat stance they have been taking on the corruption issue.
Former chief minister and disaffected leader, Keshubhai Patel, has tried to rally his Leuva Patel community, particularly in the Saurashtra region, under the banner of his newly-launched Gujarat Parivartan Party, but it has failed to make a dent in the BJP’s vote share.
Parties from other regions such as the SP, BSP, the JD (U) and the NCP have announced their intentions to enter the fray in Gujarat seeking to extend their influence, but they will only cut marginally into the Congress vote.
The results of the Gujarat poll, when they are announced on December 20, are bound to have reverberations beyond the state. They will certainly impact the fortunes of the BJP at the national level, and possibly also influence the longevity of the UPA government and the timing of the next Lok Sabha elections.
The LenOnNews Poll was conducted between September 2 and September 28. The results are subject to a margin of error of 3 per cent.