Diwali may be over but the biggest “phataka” (firecracker) of the year is yet to commence. The much awaited and keenly followed Gujarat State Legislative Assembly elections are scheduled to be held (in two phases) on 9 December and 14 December 2017, the Election Commission announced yesterday.
After registering an unexpected but massive win in the state of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat may not look like a tough battle for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) but there are a number of recent developments that have brought the Indian National Congress forward as an important contender as well. Let us not forget that Gujarat is a ‘must have’ state for the BJP. Home state of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Gujarat has been under the administration of the Saffron Lotus since 1995. The BJP also has much at stake. Apart from this being the first state assembly elections after NaMo led BJP stormed the centre, retaining the state is also very important in terms of increasing its influence in the Rajya Sabha. With the Gujarat polls, all the contending parties shall be able to gauge the mood of this western state in the context of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The following are a few of the key issues that are likely to dominate the minds of the 4.3 crore voters who will cast their mandate this December –
- The BJP is hopeful of beating any anti-incumbency sentiments and bagging over 150 of the 182 seats. The lack of a dynamic CM candidate, however, shall be an impediment in its ambitions. The sentiments of rural Gujarat are turning towards the Congress as seen in the recent Rajya Sabha elections where Ahmed Patel won along with Amit Shah and Smriti Irani.
- Gujarat is one of the most industrialized states of the country. The recent demonetization and GST reforms are certain to have evoked strong reactions. Despite this, industrial growth in the state high and manufacturing grew by about 12 percent in 2015-16. FDI too was pegged at about USD 3,367 million for the year.
- For the first time in decades, the Congress seems to have a credible chance at turning the BJP tide in Gujarat. With AAP’s entry into the fray, it is likely that BJP’s vote bank will be eroded. Congress, on the other hand will undoubtedly gain from the inclusion of Rakesh Maheria and Alpesh Thakore. These are two prominent state leaders who recently deflected from the BJP to the INC. The addition of these leaders will undoubtedly add Dalit and OBC votes to the kitty of the Congress.
- One of the most important issues in the state, one that is likely to go against the BJP is its handling of the Patidar agitation led by Hardik Patel. The Patidar or the Patel agitation virtually brought the state to a standstill in the latter half of 2015. Curfews were imposed and much damage was done to public property by the Patels who united in protest demanding OBC status and quota reservations as well. The 10 percent reservation promised by the state BJP government was upturned by the High Court. The state is split with the Patels demanding concessions and others who think that the affluent community should not be granted reservation. The Dalit agitation too has been gathering steam in the state and these two communities are unhappy with the incumbent BJP government.
- Another very important issue that the BJP needs to tackle ahead of the elections is the allegation of corruption faced by Jay Shah, son of Amit Shah. Jay Shah now faces charges that his company grew about 16,000 times the year after BJP came to power in the centre. He is embroiled in litigation with the popular online publication The Wire over their report on this matter.
- Despite a strengthening opposition, the recent inauguration of the Sardar Sarovar dam and the introduction of the Ro Ro ferry service from Ghogha in Saurashtra to Dahej in South Gujarat are likely to go in favour of BJP. Election time sops announcement by the party in power is not new but BJP has the reputation of following through with its promises in Gujarat.
The final verdict of the people of Gujarat will be delivered to us on 18 December when the votes will be counted. Till then the state will remain on our radar and in the headlines as the battle heats up.
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