The Bharatiya Janata Party is trying to make history in the upcoming assembly polls in Gujarat as the party completes 27 years in power and is striving for another five-year term in the high stakes battle. If it manages to win the state elections this time, the BJP will be in power in Gujarat for 32 years.
The electoral battle in Gujarat is also crucial for the BJP because it is the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has been at the helm of leadership in the state for the past 21 years, and the people of the state have expressed their unflinching support for him for over two decades.
The Election Commission of India on Thursday announced that Gujarat elections will be held in the first week of December in two phases. The first phase of polling is scheduled to take place on Dec. 1, and the second phase is on Dec. 5. The counting of votes will happen on Dec. 8.
“For me, this election is not about who is going, I think the BJP is far ahead of both Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party. We know who is going to be the number one party, the real question for me is who is going to be the number two party in this election. The difference between the vote shares of BJP and Congress is 9-10 percentage points, so BJP enjoys a comfortable lead against Congress. This vote share difference between BJP and Congress has been there for a very long time,” said Sanjay Kumar, professor and co-director of Lokniti, a research programme at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.
While the BJP is striving for milestones in the Gujarat election, the party is also preparing for another electoral battle as the polls will start a series of direct electoral contests between BJP and its archrival Congress, which has recently elected a new party president.
Starting with Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, there will be at least nine direct electoral contests between Congress and BJP till May 2024, when general elections will be held to decide the fate of the ruling party. Among the ten states that go to the polls before the national elections, the BJP will have to defend its state governments in at least five states which include Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, and Tripura.
Apart from these, the party will also face contests in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh where it wants to oust the ruling Congress governments and return to power. The BJP is also preparing to play a decisive role in the Telangana elections, where it wants to form a government by defeating Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao of Bharata Rashtra Samithi.
Even as both the BJP and the Congress are contesting against BRS in Telangana, the ruling party has been keen that Rao become a member of National Democratic Alliance but so far it has not succeeded in its attempts.
The cordial relations between the BJP and Bharat Rashtra Samithi leadership soured after Rao announced that there was a need to form a pan-India anti-BJP alliance and all opposition parties must come together. The Congress party has so far not shown interest in forming an alliance with TRS in both the state and at the national level. Telangana is the only state where the BJP and the Congress are both contesting against the BRS and each other. Rao recently changed the name of his party Telangana Rashtra Samithi to BRS to indicate his national ambition.
“The battle between the BJP and Congress would be interesting before the general elections, but Congress can put up a fight against the BJP only in the presence of a strong regional leader, like in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. The Congress is also facing the problem of a divided leadership in states, especially election-bound states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh. The organisational strength of BJP along with the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is difficult challenge for Congress,” said Amit Dholakia, head of the department of political science at Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda.
The polls in both Meghalaya and Nagaland are also significant because of the growing tension between chief minister Conrad Sangma-led National People’s Party and the BJP. While the BJP led National Democratic Alliance is functioning well in Nagaland, the party has to put its house in order in Meghalaya and streamline its alliance with NPP.
The importance of these ten state elections can also be gauged from the fact that these states comprise 145 Lok Sabha seats, and BJP won 122 seats in the 2019 general elections with a strike rate of 84 percent. If the BJP wants to return to power in the 2024 general elections, these state polls can act as a prequel to the final electoral battle against its opponents, especially the Congress.