Gujarat election: Why BJP could never win these Assembly seats
Gujarat has been a BJP citadel for years. But the party, or its previous avatar, Jana Sangh, could never win this cluster of Assembly seats in the state. Why is that so? And will anything change this time?
By Darpan Singh: Post-Independence, the Congress ruled most Indian states, and Gujarat was no exception. The Congress wasn’t merely seen as a political party that needed electoral validation every election. After all, the grand old party was a social and political collective that drove the freedom movement and became the rightful claimant of power.
This was till the late 1980s when the country’s political landscape started shifting after the Janata Party experiment about a decade ago. This time, the Janata Dal burst onto the scene, on the plank of anti-Congressism and made the issue of reservation to the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) its ladder to political ascent in several states.
This was also the time when the BJP felt the need to consolidate the Hindu vote and its leader LK Advani’s polarising chariot rolled from Gujarat’s Somnath to Uttar Pradesh’s Ayodhya where the party wanted a Ram temple. It was Mandal versus Kamandal.
Both the Janata Dal and the BJP grew at the expense of the Congress that lost power in states such as Gujarat, UP and Bihar. Then the 2000s was the era of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah who carried forward and intensified Advani’s Hindutva politics in Gujarat, making the western Indian state a BJP citadel.
THE FINAL FRONTIER
Now, the BJP has ruled Gujarat for 27 years. But what is surprising is that even in its nearly three decades of uninterrupted dominance, or in preceding decades, the party, or its previous avatar, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), has never been able to win a cluster of seats.
- Borsad (Anand district)
- Jhagadia (Bharuch)
- Vyara (Tapi)
- Bhiloda (Aravalli), except in 1995
- Mahudha (Kheda)
- Anklav (Anand)
- Danilimda (Ahmedabad)
- Garbada (Dahod district)
To be fair, the BJP didn’t enter Gujarat’s election scene immediately after the state’s creation, even though the Jana Sangh was there, and some of the virgin constituencies were carved out slightly later.
But the cluster has been, to draw a cricketing analogy of Steve Waugh’s formidable side not being able to win a Test series in India, a final frontier that the BJP, despite all its prowess and publicity, is yet to breach.
Then there have been Assembly constituencies such as
- Khedbrahma (Sabarkantha district)
- Danta (Banaskantha)
- Jasdan (Rajkot)
- Dhoraji (Rajkot district). The BJP has won, only on a couple of occasions, these seats but in bypolls and that too after the mid-2000s. But let’s, for now, focus on the virgin territories.
As Gujarat goes to the polls in the first week of December, a natural question to ask will be: Will the BJP be able to conquer the final frontier? Let’s begin with the beginning.
In 1960, Gujarat was formed from the north and west portions of the Bombay state, the remainder being renamed the state of Maharashtra. After the creation of the state of Gujarat, the first Assembly election took place in 1962.
THE 1962 POLLS
The Congress won 113 of the 154 seats, followed by the Swatantra Party’s 26 and the Praja Socialist Party’s seven.
- Borsad: Swatantra Party’s Maganbhai Vansjibhai Patel defeated Congress’s Ramanlal Dhanabhai Patel.
- Jhagadia: Congress’s Vasawa Dhanuben Dalpatbhai defeated Swatantra Party’s Amarsang Govind Bhil.
- Vyara: Congress’s Pruthviraj Gangjibhai Chaudhari won.
- Bhiloda: Congress’s Ganpatlal Jothalal Trivedi defeated Swatantra Party’s Jamnashanker Pujiram Bhatt.
THE 1967 POLLS
The Congress won 93 seats out of 168, while the Swatantra Party got 66. The Bharatiya Jana Sangha (BJS) debuted with one seat as its CH Shukla won from Rajkot 1.
Born in 1951, the BJS was a right-wing party and served as the political arm of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a nationalist volunteer organisation.
- Borsad: Congress’s RD Patel defeated Swatantra Party’s FD Patel.
- Jhagadia: Congress’s ZR Vasava defeated Swatantra Party’s J Mansangbhai.
- Vyara: Congress’s BS Gamit defeated Swatantra Party’s RV Chaudhari.
- Bhiloda: Swatantra Party’s AJ Trivedi defeated Congress’s MK Shah.
The late 1960s was a time of turmoil for the Congress. In 1969, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was expelled from the Congress for violating the party discipline. The party split, with Indira Gandhi setting up Congress (R) or Requisitionists Congress. The other group under K Kamaraj was called Congress (O) or Old Congress.
Later in the 1970s, the Congress (R) evolved to Congress (I), the 'I' standing for Indira and gradually Congress (I) became Indian National Congress, as Congress (O) merged with the Janata Party. We will return to these developments. For now, over to the 1972 Gujarat election.
THE 1972 POLLS
The Congress won 140 seats out of 168. The Congress (O) could get only 16. The Jana Sangh’s tally had increased to three. Its Harisinhji Akhubha Gohil was MLA from Sihor, Bhagvandas Narandas Amin from Chansma and Lekhraj H Bachani from Palanpur.
- Borsad: Congress’s Umedbhai Fatesinh Gohel defeated Gokalbhai Kashibhai Patel of Congress (O).
- Jhagadia: Congress’s Chimanlal K Vasava defeated Daudbhai B Dekhristi of Congress (O).
- Vyara: Congress’s Amrsinh B Chaudhari defeated P K Nagjibhai Chaudhari of Congress (O).
- Bhiloda: Congress’s Mulshanker Ranchhoddas defeated Ganpatlal J Trivedi of Congress (O).
- Mahudha (new seat): Harmanbhai N. Patel of Congress (O) defeated Congress’s Ahmadmiya M. Peejada.
THE 1975 POLLS
The Congress could win only 75 seats out of 168. The Congress (O) won 56 seats, while the Jana Sangh’s tally had soared to 18. The Kisan Mazdoor Lok Paksha has won 12 seats. But from Borsdad to Mahudha, people rejected the Hindutva ideology.
- Borsad: Congress’s Gohel Umedbhai Fatehsinh defeated Patel Gokalbhai Kashibhai of Congress (O).
- Jhagadia: Congress’s Vasava Zinabhai Ramsang defeated Deshmukh Dalpatsinh Amarsinh of Congress (O).
- Vyara: Congress’s Amarsinh Bhilabhai Chudhari defeated Pruthviraj Gangajibhai Chaudhari of Congress (O).
- Bhiloda: Vyas Dhaneshwar Kalidas of Congress (O) defeated Congress’s Trivedi Ranchhodlal Parsottam.
- Mahudha: Congress’s Balwantsinh Sudhansinh Sodha defeated Patel Harmanbhai Narsinhbhai of Congress (O).
THE BJP’S BIRTH
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi-imposed national emergency had changed India’s politics. In 1977, rebel Congress leaders, including Morarji Desai, besides some anti-Congress parties, came together to form the Janata Party to unseat her. The BJS also merged into the Janata Party.
Though Indira lost power and the Janata Party experiment didn’t last long. In 1980, the Jana Sangh faction broke away from the Janata Party over the issue of dual membership (of the political Janata Party and the social organisation RSS), and formed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Gujarat’s politics couldn’t remain untouched by these developments.
THE 1980 POLLS
The Congress won 141 seats out of 182. The Janata Party got 21 seats and the BJP debuted with 9. But again, from Borsad to Mahudha, there were no takers for saffron politics. The lotus bloom was kept out.
- Borsad: Gohel Umedbhai Fatehsinh of Congress (I) defeated Patel Chaturbhai Bhailalbhai of Janata Party.
- Jhagadia: Vasava Ravadas Limjibhai of Congress (I) defeated Vasava Khusalbhai Valjibhai of Janata Party.
- Vyara: Amarsinh Bhilabhai Chaudhary of Congress (I) defeated Chuaudhary Mohanbhai Ravajibhai of Janata Party.
- Bhiloda: Trivedi Manubhai Ambashanker of Congress (I) defeated Nathubhai G Patel of BJP.
- Mahudha: Sodha Balvantsinh Sudhansinh of Congress (I) defeated Pathan Chhotekhan Bismilakhan of Janata Party.
THE 1985 POLLS
In 1985, the Congress returned to power in Gujarat. But it was no ordinary victory. The party won a record 149 of the total 182 seats in the state assembly. Its vote percentage was over 55 per cent, a high that even the BJP is yet to touch. However, much was to start changing soon.
1985 was also when Ahmedabad, the capital Gandhinagar and some other places in the state faced prolonged rioting over the government’s reservation policy to benefit the backward classes which later morphed into communal violence. Meanwhile, the BJP’s influence was growing in Gujarat, except for the final frontier.
- Borsad: Congress’s Umedbhai Fatesinh Gohel defeated Janata Party’s Patel Indubhai Zaverbhai.
- Jhagadia: Congress’s Revadasbhai Limjibhai Vasava defeated Janata Party’s Vasava Chhotubhai Amarsang.
- Vyara: Congress’s Amarsinh Bhilabhai Chaudhari defeated CPI’s Patel Dhirubhai Bhenklabhai.
- Bhiloda: Congress’s Upendra Trivedi defeated Janata Party's Khemabhai Hirabhai Patel.
- Mahudha: Congress’s Sodha Balwant Singh Sudhansingh defeated Janata Party’s Parmar Vajasigh Kabhaibhai.
MANDAL VS KAMANDAL
During the 1989 Lok Sabha polls, Bofors was a significant challenge for Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. The opposition sensed an opportunity and again scrambled for the Janata politics glue. VP Singh was the new Morarji Desai. The Janata Party remnants and other anti-Congress parties joined hands to form the Janata Dal. The party won the polls and also installed chief ministers in states, including Lalu Yadav in Bihar. A similar script was unfolding in Gujarat, too.
THE 1990 POLLS
The Congress tally dropped to a mere 33. Like in some other states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the Janata Dal was a new political force in Gujarat, with 70 seats. It formed the government with the BJP (67). Janata Dal’s Chimanbhai Patel was the chief minister and BJP’s Keshubhai Patel became his deputy.
In the same year, however, Chimanbhai Patel broke the alliance but remained on the post with help from Congress MLAs and even joined the grand old party, in a development similar to what happened in Maharashtra more recently. When Chimanbhai Patel died in 1994, Chhabildas Mehta of the Congress was sworn in as the chief minister.
But despite the BJP’s good show in the 1990 polls, nothing changed in the virgin territories, much like the pace and bounce of the Australian side, then captained by Allan Border, was ineffective in India’s dust bowls.
- Borsad: Congress’s Madhavsinh Fulsinh Solanki defeated BJP’s Patel Jayantibhai Talsibhai.
- Jhagadia: JD’s Vasava Chhotubhai Amarsangbhai defeated Congress’s Vasava Chandubhai Maganbhai.
- Vyara: IND’s Chaudhary Amarsinh Zinabhai defeated Congress’s Amarsingh Bhailabhai Chaudhary.
- Bhiloda: Congress’s Upendra Trivedi defeated JD’s Patel Khemabhaihirabhai.
- Mahudha: Congress’s Thakor Natwarsinh Fulsinh defeated BJP’s Kishorsinh Solanki.
THE 1995 POLLS
In the next election, in 1995, Keshubhai Patel became the chief minister as the BJP highlighted the betrayal and its numbers soared to 121. The Congress improved its abysmal show but only marginally. But, for the BJP, the script remained the same—from Borsad to Mahudha, with the exception of Bhiloda.
- Borsad: Congress’s Bharatbhai Madhavsinh Solanki defeated IND’s Gohel Umedbhai Fatesinh.
- Jhagadia: IND’s Chhotubhai Amarsang Vasava defeated BJP’s Vasava Chandubhai Maganbhai.
- Vyara: IND’s Pratapbhai Babubhai Gamit defeated Congress’s Amarsinh Zinabhai Chaudhary.
- Bhiloda: BJP’s Dr. Anil Joshiyara defeated Congress’s Upendra Trivedi.
- Mahudha: Congress’s Thakor Natvarsinh Fulsinh defeated BJP’s Kishorsinh Solanki.
THE 1998 POLLS
Though with slightly fewer seats, Keshubhai Patel returned to office in 1998. The Congress was still in the 50s. But the final frontier for the BJP remained impregnable.
- Borsad: Congress’s Solanki Bharatbhai Madhavsinh defeated BJP’s Patel Dilipbhai Narsinhbhai.
- Jhagadia: JD’s Chhotubhai Amarsang Vasava defeated Congress’s Dalpatsinh Vasava.
- Vyara: Congress’s Gamit Pratapbhai Babubhai defeated BJP’s Amarsinh Zinabhai Chaudhri.
- Bhiloda: IND’s Upendra Trivedi defeated BJP’s Patel Devajibhai Visangbhai.
- Mahudha: Congress’s TThakor Natvarsinh Fulsinh defeated AIRJP’s Dr.Hansraj Mandanbhai.
MODI TAKES CHARGE
Keshubhai Patel was unwell and becoming unpopular. The BJP lost some state bypolls. Narendra Modi was sent to Gujarat from Delhi to take over. Next year, the Godhra train burning and Gujarat riots took place. Under criticism, CM Modi called for fresh polls, eight months before his term was to expire. The BJP won an absolute majority. The Congress got only 51 seats.
THE 2002 POLLS
But even a Modi wave couldn’t change the script. The non-BJP seats again rejected the party. Even changing candidates didn’t work.
- Borsad: Congress’s Solanki Bharatbhai Madhavsinh defeated BJP’s Raj Bairajben Bhairavsinh.
- Jhagadia: JDU’s Chhotubhai Vasava defeated Congress’s Dalpatsinh Vasava.
- Vyara: Congress’s Chaudhary Tusharbhai Amarsinhbhai defeated IND’s Gamit Pratapbhai Babubhai.
- Bhiloda: Congress’s Dr. Anil Joshiyara defeated BJP’s Upendra Trivedi.
- Mahudha: Congress’s Thakor Natvarsinh Fulsinh defeated BJP’s Tahelyani Kumar Meghraj.
In the two Gujarat elections under CM Modi, in 2007 and 2002, the BJP won the state but could do nothing about the final frontier which had more such seats added to it in 2012 after a delimitation exercise. Let’s look at these two elections.
THE 2007 POLLS
- Borsad: Congress’s Amitkumar Ajitkumar Chavda defeated BJP’s Gohil Pratapsinh Fatesinh.
- Jhagadia: JDU’s Chhotubhai Vasava defeated Congress’s Vasava Chandubhai Maganbhai.
- Vyara: Congress’s Punabhai Dhedabhai Gamit defeated BJP’s Gamit Pratapbhai Babubhai.
- Bhiloda: Congress’s Anil Joshiyara defeated BJP’s Chaudhari Vipulbhai Mansinhbhai.
- Mahudha: Congress’s Natvarsinh Fulsinh Thakor defeated BJP’s Suresh Bhatt.
THE 2012 POLLS
- Borsad: Congress’s Rajendrasinh Dhirsinh Parmar defeated BJP’s Solanki Naynaben Ramanbhai.
- Jhagadia: JDU’s Chhotubhai Vasava defeated Congress’s Vasava Balubhai Chhotubhai.
- Vyara: Congress’s Punabhai Dhedabhai Gamit defeated BJP’s Gamit Pratapbhai Babubhai.
- Bhiloda: Congress’s Anil Joshiyara defeated BJP’s Nilaben Hasmukhbhai Madiya.
- Mahudha: Congress’s Natvarsinh Fulsinh Thakor defeated BJP’s Sodha Khumansinh Ratansinh.
- Anklav: Congress’s Amit Chavda defeated BJP’s Solanki Jasavantsinh Amarsinh.
- Danilimda: Congress’s Shailesh Manubhai Parmar defeated BJP’s Girish Parmar.
- Garbada: Congress’s Bariya Chandrikaben Chhaganbhai defeated BJP’s Rathod Mohindraben Ajitsinh.
THE 2017 POLLS
In 2014, Narendra Modi became prime minister but his personal charisma ensured the BJP won the 2017 polls, though in a much tougher battle with the Congress. Meanwhile, victory continued to elude the saffron party where it had never won.
- Borsad: Congress’s Rajendrasinh Dhirsinh Parmar defeated BJP’s Solanki Naynaben Ramanbhai.
- Jhagadia: BTP’s Vasava Chhotubhai Amarsinh defeated BJP’s Ravjibhai Ishvarbhai Vasava.
- Vyara: Congress’s Punabhai Dhedabhai Gamit defeated BJP’s Chaudhari Arvindbhai Rumsibhai.
- Bhiloda: Congress’s Anil Joshiyara defeated BJP’s P.C.Baranda.
- Mahudha: Congress’s Indrajitsinh Natvarsinh Parmar defeated BJP’s Bharatsinh Raysingbhai Parmar.
- Anklav: Congress’s Amit Chavda defeated BJP’s Hansakuvarba Janaksinh Raj.
- Danilimda: Congress’s Shailesh Manubhai Parmar defeated BJP’s Jitubhai Vaghela.
- Garbada: Congress’s Bariya Chandrikaben Chhaganbhai defeated BJP’s Bhabhor Mahendrabhai Rameshbhai.
All this while, the BJP could also not win Khedbrahma, Danta, Jasdan and Dhoraji in Assembly elections. The only success it had in these seats came in bypolls: Khedbrahma (1990), Danta (2007, 2009), Jasdan (2009, 2018) and Dhoraji (2013)
BJP’S TRIBAL TANGLE
So, why has the BJP not been able to win these seats? Many of these seats have a dominant tribal population. Some of them have been reserved for Scheduled Tribe candidates. These are part of the 27 constituencies in Gujarat, with considerable tribal influence, largely spread across the state’s 14 eastern districts—traditional Congress supporters.
Borsad has always voted for the Congress after the 1962 polls. The Congress had won Jhagadia till 1985 after which the constituency voted six times for the Janata Dal and for the Bharatiya Tribal Party in 2017. Vyara has always backed Congress nominees or party rebels.
One of the reasons is that Hindutva politics has had few takers among tribals, many of whose customs and beliefs often come across against widespread right-wing propagation. Even subaltern Hindutva has had limited success in states, say, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.
For a party seen appealing primarily to caste Hindus, it’s been difficult to win over tribals or even Dalits and Muslims for the same reason–though there have been inroads in states such as Odisha, Jharkhand and Maharashtra in recent years.
The BJP now hopes for a better show from 2017 when it got only eight Tribal seats, while the Congress won 15. By making Droupadi Murmu India’s President, the party has tried to send out a message to the Scheduled Tribe who make up about 15 per cent of the state’s population.
The BJP is also hoping that the AAP’s entry into the Gujarat election, whose results will be declared on December 8, will cut into the votes of the Congress which has been facing an existential crisis, triggered by election losses, exits of some top leaders and dissent within the party.
It’s not surprising that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi decided to take a break from his Bharat Jodo Yatra for campaigning in Gujarat, where PM Modi and Union home minister Amit have gone frequently.
But vote splits work both ways. The AAP is primarily a city-centric party. Urban centres are not where the Congress, which has been doing better in villages, is placing its highest bets. So, in cities, the stakes couldn’t be higher for the BJP because it has more to lose. Theoretically, the possibility of the AAP also denting the BJP in its urban stronghold cannot be ruled out.
In fact, the Congress could also benefit in some cities due to a likely division of BJP votes and a long voter fatigue. Opinion polls have also suggested that the APP is making inroads into urban areas.
As Gujarat gets ready for a two-phase polling, many are reminded of Atal Bihari Vajpayee's speech at the first BJP convention in 1980: "The darkness will go, the sun will come out and the lotus will bloom."
What Vajpayee started was completed, to a large extent, by CM and then PM Modi. Can the Gujarat lotus bloom more strongly this time? Only December 8 will tell.