Despite feverish speculation, the election result in Gujarat is not unexpected. Electorally speaking, Gujarat has been synonymous with the Bharatiya Janata Party since 1995. It has, the murmurs of disenchantment notwithstanding, returned the BJP to power with its best ever mandate in the state on this occasion. This goes to show that Narendra Modi’s appeal and his brand of politics remain unchallenged in his fief. The Congress, which focused on bread-and-butter issues, has been decimated, with its vote share dropping by about 14 percentage points. Unsurprisingly, the Aam Aadmi Party has been the principal beneficiary, mostly cutting into the Congress’s vote share. That the AAP failed to create a dent in the BJP’s support base is borne out by the rise in the latter’s vote percentage. This raises the possibility of the AAP replacing the Congress as the BJP’s principal challenger in Gujarat in the long run. The haemorrhaging of the Congress even among traditional supporters — tribals and Muslims — could be an indicator that Gujarat, eventually, could emulate Delhi’s disenchantment with the Congress.
But it would be erroneous to draw broader, pan-India conclusions on the basis of the BJP’s astounding success in Gujarat. Himachal Pradesh has slipped out of the party’s hands — and into the Congress’s — keeping intact the state’s tradition of rotating power between the BJP and the Congress. What worked in the BJP’s favour in Gujarat did not reap dividends in the smaller state. Mr Modi, who campaigned in Himachal, failed to deliver in the face of such local factors as anti-incumbency, an unpopular chief minister, as well as factionalism, the latter usually being the trademark of the Congress. Matters of governance — the ones that the Congress had banked on in Gujarat — such as its promise of resurrecting the old pension scheme as well as its opposition to the contentious Agnipath programme, seemed to have worked in the Congress’s favour in Himachal. The AAP, even though it won neighbouring Punjab, has drawn a blank: perhaps there were no minority votes to chip away at. The AAP’s ambition of stepping into the role of the BJP’s foremost challenger nationally remains far-fetched — at the moment. Indeed, 2023 would see elections in nine states, four among which would be a two-way contest between the BJP and the Congress. The Congress can take heart from its success in Himachal and hone its strategies for Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan accordingly.