Swing seats hold the keys to fortunes of BJP & Congress in Gujarat

Campaigning for the second and last phase of keenly contested Gujarat elections ended today. Both star campaigners Modi and Rahul held rallies and tried their best to muster in the extra votes which would help them cross the halfway mark. Voting for Phase 1 was held on Saturday for 89 seats of Saurashtra, Kutch and South Gujarat. Turnout for 54 seats in Saurashtra & Kutch was down 5.4% and South Gujarat down 3.1% despite a high pitched campaign.Campaigning for the second and last phase of keenly contested Gujarat elections ended today. Both star campaigners Modi and Rahul held rallies and tried their best to muster in the extra votes which would help them cross the halfway mark. Voting for Phase 1 was held on Saturday for 89 seats of Saurashtra, Kutch and South Gujarat. Turnout for 54 seats in Saurashtra & Kutch was down 5.4% and South Gujarat down 3.1% despite a high pitched campaign.

BJP has significant pockets of stronghold in Gujarat

There are 50 assembly seats which BJP has won in each of the past 4 elections in 1998, 2002, 2007 and 2012. 20 of these seats are in North Gujarat, 15 in Saurashtra & Kutch, 10 in South and 5 in Central Gujarat. These strong holds are one of the prime reasons for continued dominance in past 2 decades in Gujarat. They make up on an average 42% of seat tally of BJP in each elections and 54% of seats required for a simple majority. In contrast, there are only 4 seats which Congress has bagged in each of these 4 elections. 3 of them are reserved seats, where traditionally Congress has fared better than BJP.

BJP’s retention ratio is on a decline

Retention ratio is defined as number of seats a party is able to keep hold of in the next elections. BJP has been able to retain 87 and 88 seats in 2002 and 2007 elections. This came down to 74 in 2012. 50 stronghold seats discussed above help achieve this high ratio. Congress on the other hand is able to retain on an average 20 odd seats in each elections.

However, BJP’s retention ration is continuously on a decline path from 74% in 2002 to 63% in 2012. Resultantly, the percentage of seats it is losing in each election has been rising steadily from 26% to 37% during the same period. In contrast, Congress’s retention ratio doesn’t depict a clear trend, it increased in 2007 and then dipped in 2012. Its loss ratio is of course higher than BJP.

The number of swing seats have witnessed an increasing trend

The last 4-5 elections in Gujarat since 1995 have seemingly borne striking similarities.

• BJP seat tally in range of 115-125
• Congress seat tally in range of 55-60
• BJP maintaining a lead of 10% vote share over Congress

However, the elections are also characterized by a significant number of swing seats, seats which have been changing hands in each elections compared to previous elections. In 2002, 76 seats had different winners compared to 1998. This number has increased to 88 seats in 2012. In 88 seats, voters threw out the incumbent MLA of 2007 and voted for the other major party. Both Congress and BJP won 41 of these seats each. 48 of these seats are in rural while 40 in urban areas. This depicts anti-incumbency at constituency level. There are 26 strong swing seats which have voted alternately for BJP and Congress in each of the past 4 elections of 1998, 2002, 2007 and 2012. BJP won half of such seats in 2012 while Congress / Others the balance half.

Swing Seats & Winning Party 

swing seats.png

Swing seats hold the keys to results in 2017

The number of swing seats is likely to register an increase in these elections, as retentions are likely to reduce further. (To note, in 2012, 94 seats were retained by BJP and Congress combined while 88 seats changed hands.) BJP is facing Patidar wrath in 20 out of its 50 strong hold seats as they are based in Saurasthra, Kutch and Central Gujarat, hub of reservation agitation. On 10 strong hold seats in South Gujarat it is facing traders ire due to demonetization and GST. BJP’s performance in the swing seats is likely to determine its tally in the 2017 polls.

The article was first published here.


BJP’s 3 Pillar Strategy for #GujaratPolls

Image Credit: http://www.livemint.com

1. Playing the Gujarati Asmita Card

Modi during his visit to Vadnagar played the emotion card to the hilt. He was quoted by Economic Times as saying “Coming back to one’s hometown and receiving a warm welcome is special. I go back with your blessings and assure you that I will work even harder for the nation,” Modi said, adding. Whatever I am today is due to values I have learnt on this soil – among you all in Vadnagar.”

BJP will play the card that a win for the party in the state is validation of Modi’s tenure both as Chief Minister of state and Prime Minister of the country. It would also spread the message that any loss in home state will not only be an embarrassment to Modi but would also hurt Gujarati pride.

2. Highlighting Modi’s achievements as PM

BJP will highlight Modi’s achievements at the centre. From surgical strikes to taming China in Doklam, from fighting corruption with demonetization to simplifying tax structure through GST. How Modi has raised the stature of country internationally, how he is working for ‘Gareeb Kalyan’, make a ‘Swachch Bharat’, provide Housing to all by 2022. How he is building a New India! How he has taken up to cleanse system by targeting shell companies and benami properties!

Modi will be portrayed as a man on a mission against corrupt parties and leaders. Some of the slogans being tested are “yeh imandari aur beimani ke beech ladai hai” (it’s a fight between the honest and corrupt”) and “Fakir versus Shehzada” (a dig at Rahul Gandhi).

3. Making the elections Presidential style

The elections is all about Modi for the BJP. He is occupying the big space on posters, he will be holding big rallies, drawing big crowds. After all it was his ‘Gujarat model of governance’ which attracted voters nationally and propelled him to PM’s chair. PM Modi is expected to travel four times each month for next two months till polls.

BJP’s successful top down strategy

With Modi at the helm, BJP has been successfully following the ‘top down’ campaign style. Modi and Shah finalize candidates, knit alliances, draw campaign designs and lead from the front. Votes are sought in the name of Modi. Simple and clear message disseminated is ‘Modi at the centre and through his representative in the state will ensure development of the state’. Campaign material mostly has pictures of the central leadership. bjp-ktDG--621x414@LiveMint.jpgModi will be holding 32 rallies in the 32 districts of Gujarat starting today.

This works well for Modi who then runs state government through remote control from Delhi. This way Modi ensures nobody could challenge him or Shah in the near future.

Adivasis turn saviour as Patidar support drops for BJP in Gujarat

While social media is agog with Rahul’s NavSarjan Yatra and how his team has trumped BJP in the field in which they are masters, opinion polls predict a win for party similar to 2012. While Axis predicts 120 seats, CSDS predicts 117 for BJP. Axis predicts BJP will maintain a vote share lead of 10%, CSDS sees it shrinking to 6%. Will Gujarat which catapulted Modi to national scene become his nemesis and start his downward graph or will it be an easy victory for BJP?

Both polls suggest a common theme which has not caught the attention of analysts

Both Axis and CSDS predict massive decline of Patidar support to BJP. This is not surprising considering Patels have been at odds with the govt. since long demanding reservations. Patel votes account for one-fifth of total vote share of BJP (approximately 10% out of 50% vote share of BJP). As per Axis-India Today survey, BJP is seen losing 43% support among Kadwa and 25% support among Leuva Patels. 

Even as per CSDS-ABP News survey, the lead of BJP over Patel votes is expected to decline from 65% in 2012 to 20% in 2017. BJP support is intact among upper caste and Other OBCs. BJP is also seen losing support among Kolis and OBC Kshatriyas, due to efforts of Congress to reconstitute its traditional KHAM support.  Party is also seen losing some of its Muslim support which is fairly natural given the current national political dynamics.


This results in a loss of 10%-11% vote share for BJP, thus eliminating its entire traditional lead over Congress. 

If BJP is losing support among most of its anchor voting segments where is it actually gaining and still managing to win the elections?

BJP is gaining significantly among ST voters (Adivasis) who have been traditional supporters of Congress. In 2007 and 2012 state elections, BJP won 14 and 15 seats respectively out of the 26 reserved for Scheduled Tribes.

BJP is leading with 18% among Adivasis as per CSDS while in 2012 Congress was leading with 14% among the community. This translates into a swing of 32% in favour of BJP. Among Dalits too, BJP has managed to close the gap with Congress despite the Una incident and Jignesh Mevani led protest. The lead of 42% of 2012 is expected to reduce to 8% as per CSDS. This better show among SCs and STs is compensating for the loss among Patidars and Kolis.

From these two segments, BJP is seen gaining 5%-6% vote share, thus leading Congress by 6% on an overall basis  as per CSDS.

This is the biggest story of 2017 Gujarat polls

Despite loss of anchor voting segments, BJP is seen winning as it has further expanded its base through social engineering. While Congress was busy rejuvenating KHAM and adding Patidars to make it KHAMP, BJP seems to have snatched ‘A’ from the alliance reducing it to KHMP. Since STs and Patidars represent similar percentage of the population, Congress vote share does not show a significant jump.

Among Dalits too, BJP has been able to make a dent and reduce Congress lead. This is in line with the national trend of Dalits considering BJP as an option after the decline of BSP. RSS has been silently doing a lot of work amongst Adivasis (Shishu Mandirs, hospitals etc) which seem to have helped BJP. 

If polls are true, then Congress here has failed to manage the contradictions in its ambitious alliance. STs are generally at odds with Patidars and Kshatriyas and they share a history of antagonism. The Adivasis have turned out to be the saviours for BJP as per both surveys.

While Congress has managed to make a dent in BJP camp, it seems it has not been able to keep its flock together hence losing the gains made through acquisitions. Congress needs to focus on its traditional vote base of STs and devise a strategy to keep their support intact. Else it will be difficult to dislodge BJP. A repeat of 2012 can’t be ruled out as of now…..

The Caste Calculus in #GujaratElections

Key Highlights:

  • While BJP will try to make it a Hindu vs Muslims contest
  • Congress is trying to make it a caste based contest and divide the Hindu vote
  • Congress has to not only revive the KHAM alliance but also expand its anchor voting segment groups
  • It also has to successfully manage the contradictions within this alliance


Caste plays a dominant role across states, in elections all over India, and Gujarat is no different. Different caste blocks have voted either for the BJP or the Congress over the years. There have also been significant shifts in the preferences of these voting blocks.

Upper caste account for 15%, Patidars 16%, Kolis 8% and Other OBCs 27% of population. SC / ST represent 25% of population and Muslims 9%. Kolis are part of OBCs.

The Upper caste, the Baniyas, the OBCs, and the Patels have been traditional supporters of BJP accounting for two third of population. Dalits, Muslims, Scheduled Tribe have been traditional supporters of Congress accounting for one third of population.

Patels, historically voted for the Congress till late 70’s – mid 80’s, then drifted towards BJP due to reservations plan of Congress and have been continuously voting for the BJP since then. Congress under Solanki formed the KHAM alliance (Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasi and Muslims)and won in 1980 as well as 1985 riding on their support.

The Ram Janmbhoomi movement galvanized the Hindus across caste groups and broke the KHAM alliance once and for all. BJP has been growing from strength since then almost doubling it seats from 67 in 1990 to 127 in 2002. The Godhra riots in 2002 has converted the contest into a Hindu vs Muslim contest and bolstered the party’s fortunes.

Caste Wise Voting for INC & BJP Based on Average of 2002, 2007 & 2012 Results


Source: CSDS Post Poll Reports (2002-12)

BJP has been maintaining an overall lead of 10% vote share over Congress. Support for BJP from Upper Castes, Patels, Kshatriya, Kolis and Other OBCs is much higher compared to Congress. The range of lead is between 10%-70%. Congress outclasses BJP in securing support from SCs, STs and Muslims. The range of lead is between 10%-50%.

This time, due to the Patel agitation, and Hardik’s declared support for Congress, there are doubts over whether BJP will be able to secure the 2/3rd support of the community as in the past. In fact, Axis – India Today poll suggests BJP might lose 25%-30% support of the community.

To win the elections, Congress needs not only a significant proportion of votes from Patels, but also through Alpesh Thakur, it needs to make a dent in the OBC vote bank of BJP. This is not going to be easy as Modi himself is an OBC and enjoys significant support among the community.

Until and unless the Congress is able to form a caste coalition accounting for 55%-60% of the population, it will be difficult for it to win the elections. It needs to convert a Hindu vs Muslim contest into a caste based contest. Through the induction of Alpesh, Jignesh and Hardik, it has managed this to some extent. 

It will also have to successfully manage the contradictions in this alliance, between OBCs and the Patels, between the Patels and Dalits. If Patels get reservation, do they get it from the OBC / SC / ST quota? If not, it will be very difficult, to get it approved by the courts.

Politics is the art of managing the contradictions and taking everybody along. This, the BJP has mastered over the years. This came to the forefront specially during the UP elections, where it managed to pull together all caste groups of Hindus. This included upper caste, lower caste and extremely backward caste despite some of these caste blocks being antagonistic to each other.

Whether BJP is able to retain Gujarat with 2/3rd of seats or Congress makes a severe dent in its citadel, only time will tell. Caste blocks and polling behaviour of anchor voting segments will determine the result. Interesting times in Gujarat…

#GujaratPolls: Even with support of young turks troika, it’s an uphill task for Congress

Image Credit: http://www.news.raftaar.in

The three young Turks of Gujarat politics, Hardik Patel, Jignesh Devnani, and Alpesh Thakur, have joined the Congress or openly declared their support for the Congress party. These three individuals represent the Patidars, Dalits and OBCs of Gujarat, accounting for half of population of the state.

All the three were frustrated with BJP’s inaction on their demands. The bigger question is, “Can these three individuals make a bigger dent in the BJP’s vote share?“ For this we will need to find out whether these three
people are true representatives of the communities they claim to be leaders of.

There have already been a lot of criticism of Hardik Patel for declaring support to Congress and section of the community are alleging a sell-out. Similarly, in case of Alpesh Thakur, there have been accusations of him always being in the Congress, so, his joining the party is nothing new.

Can these three people rejuvenate their faith in the community and get them to vote for Congress? Do they have the sizable influence, which can turn the tables in favor of Congress? These are the things which one will need to keep an eye on in the run-up to the elections.

Jignesh Devnani’s support to Congress also may not get additional votes to party as Dalits anyways have been supporting the party as seen in the chart below.


Axis and India Today did an opinion poll on Gujarat elections and they reported that 10% of Patels support Hardik. This support roughly translates into 1.5% vote share. Even with this support, Congress would be lagging behind BJP by 8%-8.5% as historically BJP has enjoyed a lead of 10%.

The real question is about the OBCs. OBCs generally all over India after Modi, at the helm of BJP, have backed BJP in large numbers. Modi is himself an OBC and hence, is able to draw votes from the community. So how much dent Alpesh can make is questionable.

Nonetheless, these three young Turks along with Rahul Gandhi will give some sleepless nights to the BJP in the run-up to the elections. Its only natural to have some sort of anti-incumbency after a long 25-year rule. Modi doing 50 rallies is a testimony to the fact the the contest is close. But even with the support of these young turks, Congress has an uphill task at hand.

Its also interesting to see how Congress will manage the contradictions within the three support groups. Patels and Dalits have had an acrimonious relationship on the issue of reservations. OBCs see Patels with suspicion and eyeing their pie of the reservations. If Patels get reservation they could most likely get it from Dalits and OBCs share.

Interesting times ahead in Gujarat…

#GujaratPolls: Patidars are the kingmakers & that’s why every party is wooing them

With elections round the corner, the Patidar community is in demand in Gujarat. BJP acted tough on the Patidar demand for reservations under Anandiben rule, even filing case of sedition against their leader Hardik Patel. However, realizing their political clout, BJP government recently invited major representatives of community for talks. On 27th Sep., BJP government announced a slew of measures to placate Patidars.

How far this will assuage the community members remains to be seen? Hardik’s group has vowed to continue the agitation and support whichever party in polls that will provide reservation to Patidars in government jobs. Congress party is also sending feelers to the caste block in a bid to en-cash their disenchantment with BJP setup. Rahul Gandhi begun his Navsarjan Gujarat Yatra by visiting Patidars dominated areas during his recent three day visit.

Patidars or Patels are an economically and politically influential group of Gujarat.Until late 1970s they had complete political dominance over the state and were ardent Congress supporters. However in 1980s the Congress shifted focus and formed the famous KHAM alliance (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim) given the reservation dynamics and Indira’s Garibi Hatao slogan. This peeved the Patels who shifted allegiance to BJP. Today, one-third of BJP MLAs are Patels and so are seven senior cabinet ministers.

Patidars account for close to 16% of state population. The caste break-up of the state is such that both BJP and Congress enjoy equal support among excluding Patidars, i.e., 42% each. While traditionally KHAM have voted in large numbers for Congress, upper caste and OBCs have voted for BJP. It is Patidar support which has been clinching the deal in favour of BJP for past two decades.

Traditional Support Blocks

BJP – 42% Congress – 42% King Makers
Brahmins 3%,Other Upper Caste 12%,

OBCs 27%

Khastriya 8%,Adivasi 18%,

Harijan 7%,

Muslims 9%

Patidars 16%Not yet clear who they will support


Source: CSDS, NES, Gujarat Calculus 2012

Amongst Patels there are two sub communities – Leuva and Kadva. Hardik is a Kadva Patel. Keshubhai Patel is a Leuva Patel. More than 2/3rd have been voting for BJP since the 1990s. Leuvas account for 60% while Kadvas account for 40% of community population. Congress has higher support amongst Leuvas compared to Kavdas.

The community is strongly united and votes en-block. 63% Leuvas and 82% of Kavdas voted for BJP in 2012 exhibiting significant consolidation. The only other category which shows such high support for any party is Muslims, 72% voted for Congress in 2012. Patidars can decide the fate of 73 assembly constituencies, 40% of total assembly strength of Gujarat.

Voting Pattern of Patels in Last 3 State Elections

patel 1 patel 2

Source: CSDS Post Poll Surveys

Congress has witnessed a significant fall in fortunes from 55.6% vote share in 1985 to 38.9% vote share currently. BJP’s graph has been consistently rising from 15% to 48% levels during the same period. In the last three elections it has hovered between 48%-50%. Congress has also been improving its performance from a low of 30.7% in 1990 to 39% in 2012. The demise of Janata Dal in the state has helped improve performance of both parties. The contest is very bipolar in nature with these two parties capturing 90% of total votes. On an average BJP-Congress have maintained a gap of 10% vote share as shown below.

Performance of BJP-Congress in last 3 Decades in State Polls








Source: http://www.indiavotes.com

The break-up of BJP vote share over the years shows that c.one-fourth of it can be attributed to Patidar support. OBCs including Kolis form the largest chunk of voters of BJP, followed by Patidars and then Upper Caste. Out of 48% vote share BJP received in 2012, 11% came from Patidars voting for party. If one removes the Partidar votes from BJP graph above, the two lines of Congress and BJP will merge, leaving both the parties with almost equal vote shares. So the 10% advantage which BJP enjoys is essentially because of Patidar support.

BJP’s worry is just not limited to entire community switching to Congress. Even if a section of Patidars (around one-third) don’t vote for the incumbent, and switch sides, it will become a very tight election and too close to call out the winner.

In 2012, Keshubhai Patel rebelled against BJP and contested elections under Gujarat Parivartan Party. Though it bagged only 3.6% vote share, it led to the defeat of BJP candidates in 23 seats in Saurashtra and Kutch. People would agree that the current Patidar agitation is much bigger in comparison to Keshubhai revolt.

To conclude, Patidars with 16% of population hold the keys to government formation in Gujarat. While other caste / community blocks have already firmed up their minds, Patels are keenly watching the developments / announcements of parties on reservations. They know the caste-population dynamics makes them ‘kingmakers’.

While there are talks of Third Front, at this moment, Patidars backing any such front looks improbable, as it has minimal chances of winning. Enjoying the fruits of power for more than last two decades makes it very difficult for Patidars to remain out of power. So they will bargain with the two prominent parties, get their fair share of demands met and back such party to the hilt.

BJP has started Gujarat Gaurav Yatra from October 1st from Karamsad, Sardar Patel’s birth place, in continuation of its efforts to woo Patidars. It will over the next few months intensify efforts to create divisions within the community if Hardik doesn’t come on board. Interesting times ahead, watch out this space for more on Gujarat polls…

The article was first published in The Quint.

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