Narendar Modi's Gujarat victory belies exit polls

Debashish Mukerji        Last Updated: December 24, 2012  | 18:15 IST

Debashish Mukerji
The hype was misleading, after all. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has not set any records in gaining a majority. His party, the BJP, has merely repeated its performance in the last assembly polls.

In December 2007, it won 117 of the assembly's 182 seats. This time it bagged 115.

The opinion polls, including the exit polls, have been belied. In the run-up to the results, all of them had predicted a higher tally - some even giving the BJP 140 plus seats.

MUST READ: How Narendra Modi turned around Gujarat's fortunesFor perspective, sweeping electoral victories are fairly common in Gujarat. When Keshubhai Patel led the BJP to victory in the 1995 and 1998 assembly elections, it was with 121 and 117 seats respectively. Before that, when the BJP was still a fringe party, the Congress under Madhavsinh Solanki got 141 seats in 1980 and 149 in 1985. Under Modi himself, and in the shadow of the 2002 communal riots, the BJP won 128 seats in the elections that year.

So, why is it a muted victory this time?

The reasons could be many: the anti-incumbency that inevitably arises when the same person has ruled the state for 11 years, the drought earlier this year, which hit farmers badly despite all the check dams they had in place, etc. But the main reason seems to have been the complacence of Modi's supporters.

They seem to have been so convinced that their 'Gujarat Samrat' was going to win that they did not turn out with the frenzy or determination they had done on the last two occasions Modi led the party to the polls.

"There was a festive atmosphere at the polling booths during both rounds of polling," says an RSS-VHP supporter, who prefers not to be named. "Everyone took it for granted that Modi would win."

The Congress strategy of not seeking to corner Modi by harping on his 'communal record' this time, in stark contrast to 2002 and 2007, seems to have worked. Indeed, Congress speakers at public meetings seemed to consciously avoid even uttering the 'M(uslim) word'.

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The RSS and VHP are no longer Modi lovers. Many claim it was they, rather than the Congress, who were the BJP's biggest foes during the campaign. They have an overwhelming sense of having been used and discarded - Modi used them when he needed to polarise Hindu votes in his favour, but has distanced himself from them now that he is trying to sell himself as a development messiah. But their opposition may have boomeranged.

Many believe that the Gujarat Parivartan Party, led by former chief minister-turned-rebel Keshubhai Patel and said to have the blessings of the RSS, actually helped Modi when it entered the electoral fray. It finally gave Modi supporters the impetus to put some effort into his campaign.

Keshubhai was expected to get the votes of his own Patel community, a dominant agricultural caste that comprises about 15 to 18 per cent of the state's population. But just the opposite happened, with the non-Patel Hindus finally finding a reason to root for Modi.

But for the GPP, which so far leads in only two seats, one of them Keshubhai's own, Modi may have fared worse.

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