India will have 140 million first-time voters, added to 2014’s 120 million first-timers. 26 crore voters under-26. They could be game changers.

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As more details & data come in, what‘s quite clear is that far from being a one-sided contest, Gujarat polls were actually a closely fought battle.

A. BJP’s 99 is a wafer-thin victory, a majority of just 7 in the 182-seat Assembly. It is, in fact, the lowest tally by a winning party since 1975 (93 seats) or 1985 (86 seats; govt formed with outside support). Lowest tally in 42 years by a party that won the elections.

B. Its vote share has come down by over a massive 10% compared to 2014, when it swept the Lok Sabha polls 26-0. BJP has lost even in PM Modi’s hometown Vadnagar! As also in Sanand, the Tata Nano area, once the showcase of that mythical #GujaratModel. BJP also lost in the Patel Statue of Unity constituency in the tribal belt.

C. BJP won 35 seats with a margin of over 40,000 votes. Congress just 1. In these 34 seats alone, the vote difference is nearly 14 lakh votes! It explains much of the vote share difference of 7% separated by a total of just 23 lakh votes in the entire state. Also see F below.

D. BJP did not win a single seat in 7 districts and got only 1 seat in 8 other districts. That’s a washout in 15 districts of the state! It has lost 5 seats in Ahmedabad, its citadel. 8 of its Ministers have lost elections.

But BJP still scraped through.

E. Rural-Urban divide: Gujarat is a highly urbanised State compared to its neighbours. The map has to be looked with more nuance than the mere binary of Rural vs Urban, like the semi-urban or part-urban constituencies. Congress has done well across the entire range, except for the 4 major cities. BJP got 46/55 seats in just these – Ahmedabad (16/21) Surat (15/16), Baroda (9/10) and Rajkot (6/8).
Of the other 127 Assembly seats, Cong got 71, while BJP got 53.

F. Just 23 lakh votes separate the BJP and Congress (interestingly 5.5 lakh opted for NOTA). If we add the votes polled by Cong alliance partners Bhartiya Tribal Party (won 2 seats) and the Congress-supported independent candidate Jignesh Mevani, the gap is narrower by about 300,000 votes. The other 2 independents who won in Lunawada & Morva Hadaf constituencies are Cong rebels who contested against and defeated the BJP. That’s another 100,000 votes. None of this is rightly reflected in EC’s Congress voteshare data, but must be added up in the Congress column for the fuller picture.

G. BJP is slipping among the young demographic, while Congress is inching ahead. Anyone under 40 has only seen a BJP government as a voter. Anyone under 30 has only seen the Modi era. It is also the demographic that was first sold the #VibrantGujarat lemon, and later promised the #Vikaslollipop as per the mostly mythical #GujaratModel. This demographic was promised jobs, skills, ease of business, a booming economy and the #AspirationalIndia – instead, India has suffered massive job losses, an overall economic slowdown, shrinkage of credit offtake & consumption and no dazzling scope for anything other than sluggish recovery over the next 6-8 quarters (and crucially, 4 crop cycles to revive the rural economy). In addition, #DemonetisationDisaster and #GSTmess have dealt serious blows to the informal sector and small businesses, factories & establishments. The restlessness across the young demographic is also being reflected countrywide in a spate of university election results where ABVP has been suffering terrible losses. This makes 2019 challenging, as India will have 140 million first-time voters, added to 2014’s 120 million first-timers. 26 crore voters under-26. They could be game changers.

H. Methinks Amit Shah electoral management snatched a victory from the jaws of defeat. The “management“ takes many forms:

1. Proxy support to the rival party’s rebels.

2. Dummy candidates with the same name as the rival.

3. Exclusion of the rival’s supporters from electoral rolls.

4. Propping up ‘vote-cutting’ candidates, from other parties (especially NCP in Gujarat 2017) or from the same & other caste groups to chip away at blocks of even 1000 votes, quite significant in constituencies with keen fights & thin margins of under 10000! So, if the rival party candidate is a Rajput, time to prop up a Rajput Independent who takes away 2-3000 votes. And other independents to splinter the Muslim/ OBC/ Tribal votes that might consolidate against their Rajput candidate. (This was the Congress playbook for years, but Shah has turned this into a fine art)!

5. Cause disruption in voting, especially when the rival has mobilised his voters. A 2-3 hour disruption = long waits = impatience = voters going away, some not able to return. A more scientific version of this is EVM replacement after 2-3 hours of polling.

Gujarat elections, too, have seen this bagful and other tricks. More later, as further details & data come in. Browse the links in the comments section below – I’ll keep adding relevant/ interesting pieces.

ps: I deliberately do not mention EVM hacking, as that’s a rather contentious can of worms. But news reports suggest that the EVM manufacturer has stated on affidavit in court that EVMs can be hacked! Who am I to dispute the manufacturer? See link in comments section.

pps: In a sense, I’m happy that the so-called Congress heavyweights, 4-5 of them who occupied top positions for years, have lost (Gohil, Modhwadia, Siddharth “Chimanbhai“ Patel and ex CM Amarsinh Choudhary’s son Tushar). Bharat “Madhavsinh” Solanki did not even contest. Perhaps a younger & newer state leadership will resuscitate and energise the party’s ground-level structure and sharpen its attacks & campaigns as a strong opposition party, a role it hasn’t played effectively in Gujarat for 20 years.

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Frank Huzur is a poet, playwright, biographer and editor of Socialist Factor. He has written political biography of Imran Khan, Imran Versus Imran-The Untold Story and The Fighter. He has also written political biography of socialist patriarch and former defence minister of India, Mulayam SIngh Yadav, The Book is titled, The Socialist. Frank Huzur has written biography of youth icon charismatic socialist leader and former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Akhilesh Yadav. Frank has also published his memoir, titled, Soho-Journey from Body to Soul and three plays, including the much controversially popular, Hitler in Love with Madonna. He is currently working on his poetry anthology and first novel, The Boca Harem. He is editor of international English magazine, Socialist Factor and its fortnightly Hindi edition.