Ahmedabad: While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the just-concluded Gujarat assembly elections, the ruling party has lost its strategic advantage over the Congress.
The BJP failed to cross the double-digit mark, winning 99 seats in the 182-member assembly, just seven more than the number required to form the government. The Congress, on the other hand, upped its score from 61 in the previous elections to 77 seats. With the support of Dalit youth leader Jignesh Mevani, who won the Vadgam seat as an independent candidate, and OBC, SC, ST Ekta Manch convenor Alpesh Thakor winning the Radhanpur constituency on a Congress ticket, combined with maverick Adivasi leader Chhotu Vasava and two other independent candidates also winning, the party has emerged as a formidable opposition to the BJP.
With 24-year-old Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) convenor Hardik Patel threatening to relaunch his pro-quota agitation from 1 January, the BJP new government, with its strength in the assembly reduced, faces tougher challenges than the previous one headed by Anandiben Patel first and then Vijay Rupani.
The ruling party has little over a year to deal with the troika of challenges posed by Patel, Mevani and Thakor before Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks a fresh mandate for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Had the Congress won the Gujarat polls, the BJP would have still faced the same challenges.
At the root of the mass movements led by Patel, Mevani and Thakor lies the ever-increasing rate of unemployment among education youth, the commercialization of higher education and corruption in recruitment for government jobs.
While the PAAS convenor wants reservation in government jobs and institutions of higher education for the youth of the Patel community, rights activist Mevani wants each Dalit family to be given five acres of land from the surplus acquired by the state government under the land ceiling Act. Thakor, espousing the cause of Other Backward Classes (OBCs), Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs), wants all vacant government posts filled and the system of hiring staff on daily wages replaced by a more permanent arrangement that includes fixed salaries. The Thakor Sena leader also wants strict implementation of the prohibition law in Gujarat and has said the sale of liquor and drugs was on the rise because of collusion with corrupt politicians and police personnel.
A greater challenge for the government will be on the agrarian front, where farmers have been crying foul over non-remunerative prices for the groundnut and cotton crops and acquisition of productive agricultural land for urbanization and industrialization.
In fact, it was this widespread dissatisfaction among the farmers that caused the BJP to lose votes—and seats—to the Congress in the predominantly rural parts of the state. The number of seats secured by the ruling party and the margin of victory over the Congress are much higher in the cities than in rural constituencies. A similar rural-urban divide in the 2015 elections to the district and taluka panchayats in Gujarat gave the Congress a massive win over the BJP.
The BJP will have to soothe this unrest among the peasantry and the youth in rural areas before Modi seeks a second term as Prime Minister.
Nachiketa Desai is a senior journalist based in Ahmedabad and tweets at @nachiketadesai. The views expressed are his own.