a) Win without the shine: on BJP’s win in Gujarat and Himachal

If winning were the only thing, then the BJP has plenty to cheer about in Gujarat, where it recorded a sixth straight victory in what was practically a straight fight with its principal rival, the Congress. Together, with a comfortable win in Himachal Pradesh, this may, on the face of it, seem like another step towards its stated goal of a “Congress-mukth Bharat”. But, no. Whatever the BJP leaders may say, the victory — by an extremely slim majority and well short of the 150-plus seats it aimed to win — is a setback. After all, Narendra Modi’s home State was the centre piece of the BJP’s campaign in the last Lok Sabha election, where it was sold to the rest of India as the model for development. If Gujarat was the launch pad for the BJP’s national-level ambitions, it now seems to have held out a ray of hope for a Congress desperately looking to revive its political fortunes. Not having won in the State since 1985, the Congress put up its best showing in 32 years. Admittedly, the BJP was ahead by almost eight percentage points, but at the end of the day — thanks largely to the swing towards the Congress in the Saurashtra region — only about 20 seats separated the two parties. The Congress won by smaller margins in a vast swathe of rural Gujarat, where there is a palpable agrarian distress; as for the BJP, its relatively bigger wins in urban pockets were insufficient to convert its decent lead in overall vote share into a commensurate number of seats. In Himachal Pradesh, the difference in vote share was smaller, seven percentage points, but the BJP won a much higher share of the seats, close to a two-thirds majority. The caste or social alliances built by the Congress yielded rich dividends in its strongholds, allowing it to close the gap. The Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti led by Hardik Patel gave the Congress an edge in the Saurashtra-Kutch region. Alpesh Thakor, leader of a grouping of backward classes, and Jignesh Mevani, who organised Dalits against attacks by Hindutva cow vigilantes, won, giving the Congress the appearance of support from a wider social base. But the Congress probably failed to appear to be a cohesive formation with an alternative programme to challenge the BJP. If Gujarat shaded the BJP’s celebrations with a touch of grey, so in a way did Himachal Pradesh. Despite the big win, the party faced the ignominy of seeing its chief ministerial candidate, Prem Kumar Dhumal, lose to his Congress rival. In a State that has alternated between the Congress and the BJP in the last three decades, the vote was arguably as much against the Congress as for the BJP. With both States under its control, the BJP can be expected to push forward its reforms agenda with renewed vigour. It may well be tempted to believe that neither demonetisation nor the flawed roll-out of the GST regime has dented its support among traders and the middle class. But the heart-stopper in Gujarat has given enough reason for it to rethink, do a reality check and reconnect with the remote parts of India.

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B) How Gujarat was won

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has managed only a modest victory in Gujarat, confirming some earlier psephological predictions and ground reports of a close electoral contest. Two polls conducted by us at Lokniti, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), one in end-October and another in end-November, had found the electoral race between the BJP and the Congress to have tightened considerably. In fact, the November survey had found the race to be neck-and-neck in terms of vote share. That trend, however, did not hold entirely till Voting Day. It now seems that a last-minute swing by some voters towards the final stages of the campaign ended up giving the edge to the BJP. We say this based on evidence gathered from a post-poll, a survey of voters at their residences after they voted, conducted by Lokniti. The poll reveals that over two in every five voters (43%) took a final call on who they would vote for in the last two weeks of campaigning — and more than half of them (53%) said they voted for the BJP while only about 38% went with the Congress. In fact, a majority of these late deciders are those who decided at the last minute, either on the day of voting or a day or two before it. In 2012 the share of late deciders had been much lower, at 31%, and back then they had split their vote evenly between the BJP and the Congress. The question then is, what really happened, between the last week of November when our final pre-poll took place and the second week of December when actual voting took place that made some disaffected voters planning to vote for the Congress change their minds? The answer to this question is not so difficult to find.

The late shift

We believe that it is quite obviously Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaigning, which was for the most part controversial and divisive, that played a role in turning a section of voters towards the BJP, thus saving it from a possible defeat. This is the period when the Prime Minister, who is hugely liked in Gujarat (by 72% of those surveyed, post-poll), campaigned extensively in the State. Starting from November 27 right up till December 11, he addressed more than 30 election rallies across the State. Most of his speeches, especially the ones made at rallies post-December 5, focussed on divisive themes. Mandir-Masjid, Mughals, Pakistan, Ahmed Patel, Salman Nizami, etc., he practised classic dog-whistle politics by using coded language that might have stoked passions among some sections of the electorate. In our final pre-poll done in end-November, we had found only about 45% of Hindu voters to be voting for the BJP. In the post-poll, we noticed that eventually nearly 52% of them ended up voting for the incumbent party. This is also three points higher than the Hindu support that the BJP received in 2012. While our post-poll also suggests an increase in Muslim votes for the BJP compared to last time, at the same time it also points to a consolidation of Hindu votes behind the party in Assembly seats where the Muslim population is much higher than average. In constituencies where Muslims in the population are less than 10%, the BJP’s lead over the Congress among Hindu voters is only 4 percentage points. In seats where Muslims constitute 10-20% of the population, the gap is six times higher at 25 points. And in areas where Muslims are over 20% of the population, the BJP leads the Congress by 42 points among Hindu voters. In our pre-poll, these gaps had been minus-3, 16 and 11 points, respectively.

The Hindu card

Among the major worries of the BJP all throughout the campaign had been the Patidar disaffection with the party as well as the Congress’s attempts to build a rainbow coalition of different castes by roping in young Patel, Dalit and OBC (Other Backward Classes) leaders on its side. By giving communal overtones to the campaign, the Prime Minister seems to have ensured a subsuming of some of these caste identities within the Hindu fold, thus helping the BJP hold on to its bastion. We notice a shift away from the Congress among all Hindu communities, be it Patidars, Kshatriyas, Dalits, and Adivasis, between the pre-poll and the post-poll. To be fair, it wasn’t just the BJP that played the Hindu card; the Congress tried doing it too, albeit covertly. All throughout the campaign, Rahul Gandhi, who led the party campaign, steered clear of raising issues concerning Muslim voters and instead chose to appeal to majoritarian sentiments by visiting temples across the State. However, eventually it seems that in this competition to woo the Gujarati Hindus, most Hindu voters, particularly urban ones, were more convinced by Mr. Modi’s insinuations than by Mr. Gandhi’s attempts at asserting his Hindu-ness. The Congress’s strategic abandonment of its pluralistic legacy for electoral gains is to our mind as worrying as the communal rhetoric in Mr. Modi’s campaign. Also, the fact that a seemingly neck-and-neck election can be turned around in such a short span by appealing to the majoritarian impulses of voters raises troubling questions about the health of our electoral democracy. A section of the Gujarati press may have also played a role, perhaps inadvertently, in effecting the late swing of some voters. A day after Mr. Modi raised a hue and cry at one of his rallies about Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s remark calling him a “neech kisam ka aadmi (a low type of man)”, the hugely popular Gujarati newspaper, Gujarat Samachar, which has otherwise been quite critical of Mr. Modi over the years, ran a headline on its front page: “Modi neech jaatino maanas chhe: Mani Shankar Aiyar (Modi is a man from a lower caste says Mani Shankar Aiyar)”. While Mr. Aiyar had described Mr. Modi as “neech”, the newspaper chose to give the remark its own spin, or rather Mr. Modi’s spin, by adding the word “jaati” to it. Such misreporting of Mr. Aiyar’s comment in sections of the press just a day before voting was to take place in Saurashtra-Kutchh and South Gujarat may well have affected the mood of a significant proportion of voters. Our series of surveys in Gujarat suggest that on an average about one-third of voters in Gujarat are daily readers of newspapers. Among such voters, the BJP’s lead over the Congress widened from 8 points in the pre-poll to 14 points in the post-poll.

Uncomfortable questions

Winning the trust and confidence of a majority of voters election after election is no mean achievement, and there’s no doubt the BJP should be commended for this. But at the same time the uncomfortable question we must be asking is this — was this trust of voters won by the BJP fairly and squarely on the performance plank alone or whether a large part of it was also won through divisive innuendos, falsehoods and fear mongering?


Words/ Vocabulary

1) Plenty

Meaning: A large or sufficient amount or quantity; more than enough.

Example: “I would have plenty of time to get home before my parents arrived”

Synonyms: Many, Enough

Antonyms: Insufficient

2) Desperately

Meaning: Used to emphasize the extreme degree of something.

Example: “he desperately needed a drink”

Synonyms: Seriously, Gravely

Antonyms: Slightly

3) Swing

Meaning: Move or cause to move back and forth or from side to side while suspended or on an axis.

Example: “her long black skirt swung about her legs”

Synonyms: Sway, Vibrate

4) Swathe

Meaning: Wrap in several layers of fabric.

Example: “his hands were swathed in bandages”

Synonyms: Wrap, Swaddle

5) Palpable

Meaning: (of a feeling or atmosphere) so intense as to seem almost tangible.

Example: “a palpable sense of loss”

Synonyms: Perceptible, Visible

Antonyms: Imperceptible, Intangible

6) Agrarian

Meaning: Relating to cultivated land or the cultivation of land.

Example: “Brazil is rapidly diversifying its agrarian economy”

7) Commensurate

Meaning: Corresponding in size or degree; in proportion.

Example: “salary will be commensurate with age and experience”

Synonyms: Equivalent, Equal

Antonyms: Disproportionate

8) Cohesive

Meaning: Characterized by or causing cohesion.

Example: “each parish was formerly a cohesive unit”

9) Ignominy

Meaning: Public shame or disgrace.

Example: “the ignominy of being imprisoned”

Synonyms: Shame, Humiliation

Antonyms: Honour

10) Vigour

Meaning: Effort, energy, and enthusiasm.

Example: “they set about the new task with vigour”

Synonyms: Hardness, Strength

Antonyms: Weakness, Lethargy

11) Tempted

Meaning: Entice or try to entice (someone) to do something that they find attractive but know to be wrong or unwise.

Example: “there’ll always be someone tempted by the rich pickings of poaching”

Synonyms: Persuade, Induce

Antonyms: Discourage, Deter

12) Psephological

Meaning: Psephology merited election as the name for the work of analysts of elections, or psephologists, because pebbles were used by the ancient Greeks in voting.

13) Neck-and-neck

Meaning: If two competitors are neck and neck, they are level with each other and have an equal chance of winning.

Example: “opinion polls showed the two major parties neck and neck”

Synonyms: Level, Equal

14) Dog-whistle

Meaning: A subtly aimed political message which is intended for, and can only be understood by, a particular demographic group.

Example: “dog-whistle issues such as immigration and crime”

15) Stoked

Meaning: Encourage or incite (a strong emotion or tendency).

Example: “his composure had the effect of stoking her anger”

16) Electorate

Meaning: All the people in a country or area who are entitled to vote in an election.

Example: “75 per cent of the electorate voted for a Scottish parliament in some form”

17) Eventually

Meaning: In the end, especially after a long delay, dispute, or series of problems.

Example: “eventually, after midnight, I arrived at the hotel”

Synonyms: Finally, Ultimately

Antonyms: Immediately, Never

18) Incumbent

Meaning: Necessary for (someone) as a duty or responsibility.

Example: “the government realized that it was incumbent on them to act”

Synonyms: Biding, Obligatory

Antonyms: Optional

19) Consolidation

Meaning: The action or process of combining a number of things into a single more effective or coherent whole.

Example: “a consolidation of data within an enterprise”

Synonyms: Combine, Integrate

Antonyms: Separate, Unit

20) Coalition

Meaning: A temporary alliance for combined action, especially of political parties forming a government.

Example: “a coalition between Liberals and Conservatives”

Synonyms: Alliance, Union

21) Roping in

Meaning: To persuade someone to do something for you.

Example: At the last minute, we roped in a couple of spectators to complete the team.

Synonyms: Persuasion, Persuade

22) Overtones

Meaning: A subtle or subsidiary quality, implication, or connotation.

Example: “the decision may have political overtones”

Synonyms: Connotation, Undertone

23) Subsuming

Meaning: Include or absorb (something) in something else.

Example: “most of these phenomena can be subsumed under two broad categories”

24) Albeit

Meaning: Though.

Example: “he was making progress, albeit rather slowly”

25) Covertly

Meaning: Without being openly acknowledged or displayed; secretly.

Example: “a transcript of a covertly taped meeting”

26) Steered

Meaning: Guide the movement or course of.

Example: “he had steered her to a chair”

Synonyms: Guide, Conduct

27) Asserting

Meaning: State a fact or belief confidently and forcefully.

Example: “the company asserts that the cuts will not affect development”

Synonyms: Declare, Maintain

28) Abandonment

Meaning: The action or fact of abandoning or being abandoned.

Example: “she had a feeling of utter abandonment and loneliness”

Synonyms: Desertion, Neglect

Antonyms: Adoption

29) Pluralistic

Meaning: Relating to or advocating a system in which two or more states, groups, principles, sources of authority, etc., coexist.

Example: “a multicultural pluralistic society where people’s values are respected”

30) Rhetoric

Meaning: Language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect, but which is often regarded as lacking in sincerity or meaningful content.

Example: “all we have from the Opposition is empty rhetoric”

Synonyms: Bombast, Pomposity

31) Impulses

Meaning: A sudden strong and unreflective urge or desire to act.

Example: “I had an almost irresistible impulse to giggle”

Synonyms: Urge, Instinct

Antonyms: Premeditation

32) Hue and cry

Meaning: A loud clamour or public outcry.

Example: “her relatives raised a hue and cry after the accident”

Synonyms: Commotion, Outcry

33) Proportion

Meaning: A part, share, or number considered in comparative relation to a whole.

Example: “the proportion of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is rising”

Synonyms: Part, Portion

34) Widened

Meaning: Make or become wider.

Example: “we should widen the scope of our investigation”

Synonyms: Broaden, Spread

Antonyms: Narrow, Restrict

35) Uncomfortable

Meaning: Causing or feeling unease or awkwardness.

Example: “he began to feel uncomfortable at the man’s hard stare”

Synonyms: Uneasy, Tense

Antonyms: Relaxed, Comfortable

36) Squarely

Meaning: In a direct and uncompromising manner.

Example: “they placed the blame squarely on the president”

Synonyms: Direct, Straight

37) Plank

Meaning: A fundamental point of a political or other programme.

Example: “the central plank of the bill is the curb on industrial polluters”

38) Innuendos

Meaning: An allusive or oblique remark or hint, typically a suggestive or disparaging one.

Example: “she’s always making sly innuendoes”

Synonyms: Intimation, Suggestion

39) Falsehoods

Meaning: The state of being untrue.

Example: “a downright falsehood”

Synonyms: Lie, Falsification

Antonyms: Truth

40) Mongering (-monger)

Meaning: A person who encourages a particular activity, especially one that causes trouble.

Example: They’re nothing but a bunch of war-mongers.

Synonyms: Cheer, Promote





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