The BJP won Gujarat, its territory of 27 years, in stunning fashion, registering the best performance ever by a political party. The party won 158 of 182 assembly seats, leaving Congress and the AAP with only 17 and 5 seats, respectively.
In Himachal Pradesh, Congress won a narrow victory in a close contest with the BJP, confirming the 37-year trend of the hill state’s revolving door policy.
Aam Aadmi Party who was the third challenger in the race took heart from the results in Gujarat and the lessons of the lackluster performance in Himachal Pradesh.
Here are the highlights…
The Modi brand dominates above all else
The enduring influence Prime Minister Narendra Modi has on the Gujarati conscience has set the BJP on course for perhaps the best tally ever for any party in state assembly polls, dwarfing people’s perceived discontent over issues such as inflation and local leadership.
In his statewide barnstorming campaign in which he addressed 31 rallies and conducted three road shows, Prime Minister Modi has traveled through various regions of his home state, urging voters to make ‘Bhupendra exceed the record by Narendra,” a call for a higher tally for Prime Minister Bhupendra Patel’s government than he had achieved while he led the state for nearly 13 years.
And it is evident that the voters have listened to him.
The BJP is set to surpass its previous best result of 127 seats in 2002, when Modi was prime minister.
For those traveling across the western state, it was clear that voters might have some issues with the BJP, in power in the state since 1998, regarding its local leadership and some aspects of its administration but, for the most part, not mattered before the party’s broader governance architecture, ideological drive and, above all, their faith in Modi.
“Prime Minister Modi has emerged as a rare leader whose popularity is not influenced by factors such as anti-incumbent or length of stay in power. In fact, his popularity has increased with time. He was a ‘jan -jan ke neta’ (a leader of the masses) and is now ‘jan-man ke neta’ (a leader of the masses and their hearts),” said Shiwanand Dwivedi, who has written and edited four books on the BJP and its leader.
No one fights elections like the BJP
Be it a poll in Telangana or civic polls in Delhi or assembly elections in Gujarat, the BJP goes to great lengths to achieve electoral success.
Of course, that comes as no surprise to a party that is on the upswing and has the cadre base and electoral strength to contest any election that matters. But what is commendable is the methodical way in which the BJP contests every election.
The Saffron Party impressed voters during the election campaign with its relentless campaigning and strategy. It has become a task for every party to deal with the electoral juggernaut of the BJP at any level.
Even in Gujarat and Himachal, the BJP has held endless rallies, carpet-bombed ambushes with well-known activists, including Prime Minister Modi, and staged several road shows to gain an advantage over its rivals.
Himachal Pradesh 2022 Election Results Live
Modi is on the ballot
On paper, in the last 8 years, Prime Minister Modi was the official candidate only in 2014 and 2019. Yet, time and time again, he put himself on the ballot to score victories for his party.
In Himachal, Prime Minister Modi has asked people to vote on his name. Even in Gujarat it is almost clear that the BJP runs a campaign centered almost entirely on Prime Minister Modi.
This trend has been seen in election after election over the years.
People may have issues with the BJP, its MLAs and its governments, but their faith in Modi trumps everything else, added Dwivedi, who is associated with the BJP-linked Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation think tank.
BJP creates history in Gujarat
Gujarat has always been the BJP’s favorite political playground. It has been like this for 27 years.
But the overwhelming majority by which the BJP won the 2022 election is also notable for a party deeply rooted in state politics.
The BJP won 156 seats in the 182-member assembly. This is almost 86% of the total seats.
In terms of vote share, the party won more than 53% of the total vote, the best ever in the state.
The numbers are particularly encouraging when compared with results from 2017, when the party saw its share of seats fall below 100.
AAP arrives on the national scene, but still a long way to go
Delhi CM MP Manish Sisodia said that AAP is now a national party based on its vote share in Gujarat. With two states under its belt and key forays into others, that really is the case.
But for now, the party still has a long way to go before it can match the ranks of the BJP.
Although the AAP won the MCD election in the national capital, the numbers were not as good as pollsters expected. In Himachal, he failed to open his account. And in Gujarat, where the party has campaigned aggressively, it won 5 seats.
While doing enough to be heard on the national stage, the AAP needs to build on the foundations and conquer more states to finally emerge as a credible opposition unit capable of challenging the BJP.
Beginner’s luck for Kharge
Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge took over the leadership of the party just weeks before the elections in Himachal Pradesh.
In that context, winning the election in the hill state means a good start for Kharge even if the party did not fare well in Gujarat.
Himachal will now be the third state in the Congress kitty after Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. For a party that has struggled in elections in recent years, the prospect of gaining a new state will surely be a blow in the arm.
It will also give Kharge much-needed confidence to make the party structurally stronger.
Opposition Unity Index
Opposition parties have been trying to mend a rainbow alliance for some time.
Various permutations and combinations have been explored, with senior leaders and prime ministers criss-crossing states to build a united front to confront the BJP.
The contours of an opposition alliance have yet to emerge. But regardless, they are creating more concern for the BJP than before.
Together, Congress and the AAP now govern 5 states. Regional parties like TRS and TMC are still a big threat to the BJP.
Former BJP ally Nitish Kumar is trying to aggressively unite opposition parties.
With more states under their belt, opposition parties will continue to prevent the BJP from complete political dominance.
AAP helps BJP Cong-mukt Bharat’s efforts
Inadvertently, the AAP is now helping the BJP sweep Congress, or at least further weaken it, across the country.
In Gujarat, the AAP garnered almost 13% of the total vote, cutting part of the Congress vote. He also helped reduce Congress’s share of seats from 77 in 2017 to just 17 in 2022.
Earlier this year, the AAP decimated Punjab’s ruling Congress to form its own government.
These 8 constituencies had never before voted for the BJP. Did they do it now?
In Delhi, he is now the undisputed leader in both the state assembly and the civic body. The BJP is a distant second and Congress is nowhere to be seen.
In other states, too, it is now making a serious dent in Congress’s vote share.
Beat the anti-incumbency
The BJP’s strategy of changing prime ministers in mid-Gujarat has certainly helped the party, as is clear from the results in Gujarat.
The party named Bhupendra Patel its prime minister in the state, replacing Vijay Rupani who has been criticized for his handling of the pandemic.
Patel, an unassuming leader, beat several leaders to become the CM. The unexpected choice helped the BJP overcome the anti-incumbent atmosphere in good measure.
Even earlier, the experiment to change the CMs worked in favor of the BJP in Uttarakhand. The party had replaced two CMs in the space of a year but managed to win elections in the state.
Indeed, the BJP is enjoying what its leaders have dubbed a “pro-incumbent” surge.
Although the party lost Himachal Pradesh, a state notorious for voting against the ruling group, it managed to hold on to power in several other states.
Also, in smaller states, where constituencies and margins of victory are smaller and local leaders loom large over national leaders, victory and defeat may be less predictable.
This is why, despite a very small difference in vote share, the BJP lost to the Himachal Congress. The vote share doesn’t look like an anti-incumbent wave against the BJP, and in the Lok Sabha election, the results could very well go with the party, since Modi is the man on the list.
Earlier this year, the party held power in all four states of Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur.
In Gujarat, he now holds power with a bigger and better mandate.
Even earlier he won most of the states where he was already in power (Assam, Haryana, etc.).
Road to Lok Sabha
Thursday’s election results will set the tone for the 2024 Lok Sabha election and the series of state elections scheduled for next year.
With a victory in Gujarat, the BJP will be confident of repeating similar successes in states where it is in direct confrontation with Congress.
But parties like Congress and the AAP will also gain some confidence ahead of next year’s elections, hoping to build on recent gains.
The next big contest will now be in Karnataka in May next year where both the Congress and the BJP are locked in a fierce brawl.
(With contributions from agencies)