New Delhi: After weeks of high-pitched campaigning, the Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat election results are set to be announced on Monday, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) hoping to weather 22 years of anti-incumbency in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state and Congress in the northern hill state.
Exit polls predict a victory for the BJP in both Gujarat, where it has ruled since 1998, and in Himachal Pradesh, a state where the two parties have tended to alternate in government.
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Gujarat is seen as a test for Modi as this is the first assembly election in his home state after he became the prime minister three years ago, which meant he was no longer directly involved in the functioning of the state as its chief minister. The state was instrumental in projecting Modi as a national leader before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. And since Modi and BJP president Amit Shah are both from Gujarat, the election became a prestige battle for the incumbent party.
The Gujarat elections have been seen as a test of not only Modi’s dominance in electoral politics, but also his government’s policy of demonetisation and implementation of the goods and services tax (GST). Since his move to national politics, Gujarat has seen a series of social upheavals in the form of protests by the dominant Patel community for reservation, and agitations by other backward classes (OBCs) and Dalits. Internal problems also surfaced for the BJP which replaced chief minister Anandiben Patel with Vijay Rupani in August 2016 due to mounting social unrest.
“In Gujarat, it has been one of the most challenging contests for the BJP since maybe 1995. Everyone thought this election could be won by the BJP over the issue of ‘Gujarati Garvita’ (pride) and Modi being prime minister but on the ground there were a lot of issues. These issues included those of rural distress, unemployment and anger among Patel community," said Manisha Priyam, a New Delhi-based political analyst.
Equally, the Himachal and Gujarat elections are a test for Rahul Gandhi, who spearheaded his party’s campaign in both states and took over from his mother Sonia Gandhi as Congress president on Saturday.
“In both Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, Rahul Gandhi has an uphill battle electorally if the results do not go in Congress’s favour. This is specially because he has just taken over to the top party post. Himachal Pradesh too is very significant for Congress as it is a party-ruled state. The BJP in a way tore into the anti-incumbency of Congress in Himachal Pradesh which may not have been the similar case for Congress in Gujarat," Priyam added.
Out of power in Gujarat for about two decades now, the Congress in Gujarat forged a social coalition by reaching out to Hardik Patel-led Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), Dalit activist Jignesh Mewani and OBC leader Alpesh Thakor.
“Our campaign in Gujarat was very different. We reached out to smaller social groups and raised issues of development. If the results go as per our expectations, then a lot of our strategies used in Gujarat will find resonance in other state polls," a senior Congress leader said requesting anonymity.
Himachal Pradesh is slightly different as the campaign was led by 83-year-old chief minister Virbhadra Singh. While the BJP campaign was led by Modi, in the run-up to polls, it named 73-year-old former CM Prem Kumar Dhumal to lead the BJP in the elections. The election brought to the fore a leadership crisis in both parties.
In their manifesto for Himachal Pradesh elections, the BJP promised to tackle corruption and crime and generate employment, while the Congress focussed on farmers and jobs.