Are Exit Polls Congruent With Voter Sentiments in Gujarat?
On Friday, 15 December, a day after the second and final phase of Assembly elections, the mood across Gujarat was tranquil. After almost two months of high-pitched campaigning by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress, Gujaratis have cast their vote and exercised their mandate, though the turnout was lesser than the 2012 Assembly polls.
Yet, as soon as curtains were drawn on polling, a series of exit polls flashed across millions of TV sets across the country and unanimously declared the BJP as the winner. Some exit polls offered BJP a ridiculously high margin of victory, while others stuck to conservative estimates.
Chief Minister Vijay Rupani still believes that the BJP will win 151 seats.
After weeks of mudslinging over reservation and development, temple and caste politics, as well as allegations of involvement of a foreign hand in the Gujarat elections, the media pitched the battle between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and soon-to-be Congress president Rahul Gandhi as a “clash of titans.”
The exit polls have superseded all speculation and given a one-sided result. What is the real picture behind the spiked numbers in favour of the BJP? Has the average Gujarati voter relegated themselves to the BJP’s rule in the state yet again? Have the exit polls truly captured people’s sentiments?
Exit polls from the recent Assembly elections held across the country have had a record of portraying wrong statistics. The Bihar elections of 2015 showed the BJP as a clear winner, only to be proven horribly wrong. However, BJP national president Amit Shah made amends earlier this year and brought Chief Minister Nitish Kumar under the NDA banner.
Style of Campaigning
The BJP called in all its big guns from across the country. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, BJP MP and actor Manoj Tewari, and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, among others, campaigned to garner support.
The saffron party also held a host of rallies in various cities and localities, which were led by state leaders like Vijay Rupani, Nitin Patel, Jitu Vaghani, and Bhupendrasinh Chudasma, among others.
Local BJP workers had also canvassed in the deeper, rural parts of the state, which the Congress had been quite lax about after they won most of the local body elections in 2015.
On the the other hand, the Congress relied heavily on Gandhi, who left a strong impression among the electorate. However, no other Congress leader from the state took the lead in campaigning. This reflects the Congress ideology of falling back on the Gandhi-Nehru legacy to win votes.
Besides, the infighting in the Gujarat Congress became evident after Shankersinh Vaghela quit the party before the Rajya Sabha elections.
The general sentiment in Gujarat has always been that the Congress cannot be trusted. Even though the people’s manifesto has made some loud promises, whether it was successful in garnering votes for the Grand Old Party is debatable. If the exit polls are to be taken into consideration, then the Congress (who have outrightly rejected all exit poll predictions) are going to keep their fingers crossed, hoping to at least hold on to a respectable number of seats for a stronger Opposition in the Assembly.
Starting With South Gujarat
South Gujarat was one of the first regions in the state to openly revolt against the goods and services tax (GST) regime. When The Quint reported from the region, traders and businessmen, especially from diamond and textile industries, were enraged with the GST. Many units remained shut after the implementation of the GST, and businessmen and workers took to the streets in large numbers to demand its immediate rollback.
Gandhi made repeated visits to the region, and for the first time it seemed that he had finally got the support of the traders. Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader Hardik Patel’s last rally in Surat’s Yogi Chowk area rivalled PM Modi’s rallies. Yet, after the first phase of polling ended, reports flooded in that BJP would retake Surat.
Local exit polls have predicted that the BJP would win 19 out of 33 seats in South Gujarat, sparing the remaining for the Congress.
Fingers were pointed at Dinesh Kachadiya, the North Surat Congress candidate, after his sex tape went viral a day before the polls. However, it was Modi’s one statement – “Your man is running the state and running the nation” – that helped the BJP retain votes.
Such a simple yet powerful political ploy was enough to convince traders and businessmen in South Gujarat to put their faith in the incumbent government, despite rising unemployment and inflation.
Saurashtra and Rajkot
The BJP, for the first time, looked weak in the Saurashtra region when campaigning started two months back. Patidars, OBCs, and Rajputs turned their backs on the saffron party, as did farmers, who had complained of getting lower returns on their produce.
Once again, Gandhi was at the helm of affairs, assuring reservation for the Patidars and bringing OBC leader Alpesh Thakor into the Congress fold as well. Meanwhile, the BJP placated angry Rajputs in Bhavnagar to ensure that the state BJP president Jitu Vaghani doesn’t lose his seat.
Gandhi gave assurances to farmers and promised them higher returns on their produce. Yet, local exit polls have predicted that out of 54 seats in Saurashtra, 37 would go to the BJP.
Yet again, the trader community in the region played a major role in setting the mandate for the saffron party, except in Rajkot West.
Rajkot West has predominantly been a BJP bastion, as the party has never lost the seat since 1984. However, this time the richest candidate in the first phase of polling, Indranil Rajguru from the Congress, had openly challenged Chief Minister Rupani.
Insiders in the traders’ circle in Rajkot have claimed that Rupani could lose the BJP fortress this time, as he was never the first choice to replace former chief minister Anandiben Patel. It was Nitin Patel who was meant to be the CM in Anandiben’s stead, but Amit Shah intervened and pushed for Rupani, who had won the Rajkot West seat in the 2014 bypoll.
Rupani was visibly distressed during the campaigning. Audio tapes of him purportedly calling an independent Jain candidate from Wadhwan constituency in Surendranagar district to back out from the race, went viral. Rupani is the only Jain CM in the country.
Whether Rupani and BJP manage to hold Rajkot (W) or whether Amit Shah and the BJP suffer a symbolic defeat in their bastion, the questions will be answered on Monday, 18 December.
If there is one region where the Congress has been on an even footing with the BJP, it’s North Gujarat. Both parties had won 16 seats each in the last Assembly elections, and this time, according to local exit polls, the Congress has a slight edge over the BJP.
There are several reasons for this, including the Patidar agitation which originated in Mehsana. A lot of animosity was projected towards Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel, who is the sitting MLA from Mehsana, after he flayed Hardik Patel following his alleged sex tapes went viral.
Yet, North Gujarat is the only region in the state where the Congress has a slight advantage over the BJP, but it is not enough to retake power from the saffron brigade after a 22-year blockade.
Ahmedabad has been the face of Gujarat’s development model, as the city has seen itself rise from the ashes of the 2002 riots and stake claim as the country’s first World Heritage City. In fact, Ahmedabad has been repeatedly brought into limelight by PM Modi as he, time and again, hosts international leaders in the city instead of New Delhi.
The BJP has held Ahmedabad firmly in its grasp all these years; yet, in the surrounding areas, the Congress has managed to leave a mark. However, during the second phase of polling, the turnout in Gujarat’s mega city was poor as compared to rural areas of the Ahmedabad district, which is an indicator of anti-incumbency.
However, the exit polls claim BJP’s grip on the city has tightened and the saffron party will take all seats home.
The mood in the city a day before the elections was quite indecisive, as for the first time in many years the Opposition Congress managed to hold PM Modi at bay during campaigning. Amdavadis also remember 25 August 2015, when Hardik’s Patidar rally, yet again, ended with the police lathicharging the crowd.
With such confusing sentiments in the air, one wonders how the exit polls managed to project BJP as the clear winner. Exit polls can go wrong as it has been observed in the past several elections.
Who has the last laugh will only be decided on Monday, 18 December. Gujarat has only seen one party in power for the last 22 years without a strong Opposition. If the margins set by exit polls are to be trusted, then once again the Opposition in the state will be weak.
However, the pre-poll analysis has called it a close race between the two major parties, projecting a slight edge for the BJP. It would mean that the BJP will return to power, but the Opposition too will be in a strong position, and this is a healthy sign of democracy.