Gujarat Déjà Vu: Back To Three-Cornered Contest


There is a sense of déjà vu in the run-up to the crucial Gujarat polls, which are headed for a three-cornered fight for the first time in more than three decades.

The electoral contest between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress as a challenger has remained the main focus of state polls for nearly 25 years, but it is likely to change this time. The emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party in Gujarat has the potential to drastically alter the outcome of the elections and also the performances of both the BJP and the Congress.   

It was in the year 1990 when the BJP emerged as a serious player in Gujarat politics after it became the second-largest party and took control of the principal opposition space in the state’s legislative assembly. The year also witnessed the last time Gujarat voters experienced a three-cornered contest in the state polls. For 32 years since 1990, it is only now that a serious threat to both the Congress and the BJP has emerged in the state elections.

“The last time Gujarat saw a three-cornered fight was in 1990, when the Congress, Janata Dal, and BJP contested elections. Since 1995, elections have primarily been fought between the BJP and the Congress. There have been smaller parties that have contested against the BJP and Congress, like the parties that were formed by former chief ministers Keshubhai Patel and Shankersinh Vaghela, but these parties were never serious players. They were just smaller parties with little impact,” said Amit Dholakia, head of the political science department at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda.

The rise of the AAP in Gujarat politics has reignited interest in state elections, which had become more or less predictable in the 27 years since the BJP came to power. The contest in Gujarat has been straightforward for many years, sometimes to the point of being boring and predictable. Simply put, the electoral contest can be described as an election where the outcome of the polls was known even before the start of campaigning. Even though there was a contest between the BJP and Congress, the latter may fight valiantly but will end up on the losing side.

However, the real question in the Gujarat elections is who AAP will hurt more. What needs to be seen is if the presence of AAP can become a boon for the BJP by dividing anti-BJP votes to favour the ruling state government. So far, the Congress has been on the receiving end of the AAP’s growing strength in both Delhi and Punjab. The BJP is hoping to make history by retaining power for a seventh consecutive term.

If the last election in 2017 can be taken as the starting point of this debate, then the BJP is all set to gain in Gujarat because of AAP. In the previous state elections, there were at least 46 seats, which happen to be 25% of the total 182 seats in the Gujarat assembly, that witnessed a close contest between the BJP and Congress. The difference between the winner and loser was less than 5,000 votes in these 46 seats.

To make it even more interesting, of these 46 closely contested seats, 26 were won by Congress, 17 by the BJP and only 3 by independent candidates. The Congress emerged as a major beneficiary of the vote consolidation against the BJP. The movement started by the Patel community to demand inclusion in the list of Other Backward Classes helped the anti-BJP votes consolidate in favour of Congress in the state.

The presence of AAP can spoil the dream of the Congress leadership, which wants to yet again benefit from the consolidation of anti-BJP votes in its favour. The division of anti-BJP votes between the Congress and the AAP may only help the BJP gain more seats in the assembly elections.

“If we look at the performance of the BJP, it won 99 seats in the 2017 polls, and its vote share was 49%. In the 2012 elections, the BJP won 115 seats with a vote share of 48%. I believe the AAP will be a spoiler in this election due to a lack of organisational strength and cadre. The BJP is likely to benefit because of AAP acting like a vote spoiler. The Congress can suffer because of the division of anti-BJP votes. It is possible that the BJP improves its tally from last time,” said Dholakia.          


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