Why the Lotus May Not Bloom?

The GST issue in isolation would not have had a significant impact on the Gujarat election, but in tandem with high anti-incumbency sentiments and an overdose of irrational development, it could lead to negative traction against the BJP. 

The assembly elections in Gujarat received substantial media traction even before the polls were announced and it would have remained a run-of-the-mill electoral contest had it not been for a faux pas by the Election Commission of India (ECI) in announcing the electoral process. The date of the election results was declared first and there was a long-studied silence before the date of the election was announced. This allowed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Gujarat ample time and space to stage a so(a)p opera and a show of generosity towards the voters, which took the form of an unconditional waiver of Goods and Services Tax (GST) to the farmers using micro-irrigation systems, hiking of allowances and longer maternity leave for employees on contractual basis, enhancing monetary benefits to Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) workers in health, laying the foundation stone for the second phase of the Ahmedabad Metro project and sanctioning a substantial grant from state exchequer to assuage the dominant Patel community which is up in arms against the state government. The inordinate delay by the ECI in announcing the two phases of voting in the state and the last-minute patronisation exercise of the BJP government has thrown a spanner in the paradigm of competitive politics, which, has now turned into a battle of political prestige between the BJP and the Congress in Gujarat. 
The controversy in the public domain was finally laid to rest with the announcement of election dates. However, it raised a central question as to whether it was a case of failing political nerve of the BJP due to poor showing in the grass-root elections of 2015 and strong anti-incumbency sentiments against it, or a well-strategised political move to curate an electoral ground for the saffron outfit.
The results of three opinion polls conducted in the state provide the first clue in unravelling the answer to the conflicting binary. The recent polls reveal that the vote share of the BJP slipped by 11% points or more in the last three months, but the gap in the vote share of the two political? parties in psephological terms is too wide to be abridged during election. The state government was cautious and resorted to a flurry of populist measures to mobilise the electorate for ensuring a safe and unbreachable winning margin. The other equally weighty reason that led the BJP to indulge in brazen voter appeasement was the lack of trust in election surveys, which have lately failed in providing a fair approximation of the election results. 
The election snapshot by the polling agencies could be an erroneous mirror reflection of the present electoral scenario due to three main reasons: 
(i) The gap between the BJP and the Congress in the latest opinion poll is six percentage points and a calculation based on 5% standard margin of error could result in a major electoral topsy-turvy.
(ii) There could be an over-reporting of votes for the BJP due to “recency effect” and “popular recall.”
(iii) The intrusive surveillance of the electorate by the political parties seems to have created a covert “fear factor,” and they desist in spelling out the correct voting preferences

= BJP , congress
In this context, it is pertinent to analyse the political power play in Gujarat by probing the caste and community support base for the Congress and the BJP and assess the current social group re-alignments for getting a clear picture of the electoral landscape and ascertain the most likely outcome. 
Demographic Composition
The demographic composition of the Gujarat electorate comprises 11% Kshatriyas, 12% Patidars (Patels), 40% Other Backward Castes (OBC), 7% Dalits, 14% Adivasis, 9% Muslims and 7% other castes. 
Among the numerically largest section of the OBC, 22% are Kolis, 20% are Thakors and the rest are a conglomeration of several smaller castes.  The caste–community profiling of the two major political establishments in Gujarat reveals that the Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis, and Muslims (KHAM) have been the bedrock of the Congress party which, combined with fragmented votes of the Patidars and OBC communities, made it a winning combination till the 1980s. The consolidation of the Patidars and swing of OBC and Brahmin electorate towards the BJP created a new caste calculus with a bigger headcount that resulted in Congress’ defeat based on KHAM votes in state politics. The rise of Narendra Modi as the Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2001 against the backdrop of the Gujarat riots not only ruptured the social fabric but also polarised the electorate on religious lines, which manifested in state elections and created a peculiar voting pattern unheard of in other parts of the country. 
The BJP got a clear majority of seats and escalated vote share in all the state elections since 2002, but it had to split Lok Sabha seats with the Congress in the general elections in 2004 and 2009. The elevation of Modi as the prime ministerial candidate in 2013 changed this predictable electoral trend and the saffron party made a clean sweep by winning all the 26 parliamentary seats in the state in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. The saffronisation of the state was complete as the BJP gained firm control over all the three tiers of the government. However, Modi’s exit from Gujarat had a negative fallout as it created a leadership vacuum. The change of guard twice in Gujarat in the last three years is a testimony of the leadership crisis, which resulted in the BJP receiving its first electoral jolt in the state in the 2015 grass-root election. The victory of the Congress in the elections to local bodies could be the first visible symptom of Modi’s “Development Model” losing its appeal among the electorate. The successful marketing of a development plank by the BJP in Gujarat seems to have outlived its electoral utility and is now entering the twilight zone, which is vindicated by the wide reception to the slogan “Vikas Gando Thayo Che” (Development has gone crazy) by the citizens of the state on various social media platforms.
Changed Political Landscape
The other important incidents that changed the political landscape in Gujarat after the elevation of Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister was the spate of the violent Patidar agitation seeking inclusion in the OBC category and the rising cases of atrocities against the Dalit communities. The emergence of Hardik Patel as an influential youth leader of the Patels and his anti-BJP stand is expected to create a divide among the community votes, which could prove detrimental for the saffron party. The Patidars have been traditional voters of the BJP and not only play a key role in determining the electoral outcome in 21 assembly seats but they also have a significant influence in around 40 more seats in the state. The Congress has already strengthened its caste community alliance by garnering the support of OBC youth leader Alpesh Thakore and Dalit activist Jignesh Mewani, and is in negotiations with Hardik Patel to mobilise the Patel community votes. However, chances are that Hardik Patel may neither support the Congress nor the BJP, which may prove to be more damaging for the saffron party as it would waste a sizeable number of Patel votes, which would be crucial in a fight to the finish situation. 
The rollout of the GST in India at the stroke of midnight is one of the boldest economic reforms ushered in by the BJP government. The move disrupted the economic wheels of the small business community causing distress and short-term losses. The trading community, small businessperson and shopkeepers, form a major chunk of the population in Gujarat and have been ardent and unequivocal supporters of the BJP since its inception. The GST issue hit the traditional support base of the saffron party the hardest and it has become a major political issue in the state. The BJP made some corrections in the differential slabs of GST and brought some Gujarati delicacies in the lower tax bracket, but the Congress turned the tables and made it a central issue in the election using cinematic idioms to reach the electorate. The issue has already hurt the livelihood quotient of the traders in Gujarat, creating a trust deficit with the BJP, and could result in an electoral retaliation among the trading communities. The GST issue in isolation would not have had a significant impact on the state elections, but in tandem with high anti-incumbency sentiments and overdose of irrational development, could lead to negative traction against the BJP. The primary unusualities that could alter the current electoral situation could be a force majeure or a surprise mobilisation strategy by Amit Shah or Modi hypnotising the Gujarati electorate by their clever rhetoric, or any self-goals that the Congress might make.
The Gujarat election, like other state elections in the country, would be clichéd, starting on welfarist and people-centric agenda and escalate to communal rhetoric and caste, community overtones in the final days of campaigning. The state mandate in Gujarat would be explained in the paradigm of referendum on GST and the issue will be assigned as the main agenda item for the next general Election. But, the impact of GST or demonetisation based on state election outcomes on national politics would be an exaggeration, as the political dynamics and issue dimensions of party competitions at the national and state level elections are not only tangentially different but also spatially segregated. Major policy engagements like GST and demonetisation could at best be test-marketed in state elections but its positive results cannot be superimposed as a national referendum for the central government in Delhi. It will not only be politically naïve, but also potentially misleading, as national issues raised in state elections are outliers with non-computable causal effects on provincial mandates.


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