Urban voters stick to BJP, Congress wins rural hearts

Urban voters stick to BJP, Congress wins rural hearts

Even a cursory look at the results of Gujarat elections suggests that it is back to square one for the BJP after two decades - the preferred choice of urban electorate vis-a-vis rural voters.

A party that was once perceived to be an urban phenomenon over the years worked hard to get acceptance in rural regions. However, the results have seen the electorate divided into two halves - urban Gujarat and rural Gujarat, with the former strongly backing the BJP and the latter swinging towards the Congress.

Of the 55 seats in four major urban pockets - Ahmedabad, Surat, Vadodara and Rajkot - BJP has won 44 seats, with the Congress at a distant 11.

On the other hand, of the 127 rurban and rural seats, BJP has won only 55, with Congress and its allies bagging the remaining 72 seats. Even here, the BJP has won a major chunk from rurban constituencies vis-a-vis pure rural constituencies.

This trend is reflective of the 2015 local government body elections that were held in Gujarat, wherein the Congress had performed well in rural pockets, while the BJP had retained all urban local self government bodies. The results are also indicative of the fact that the impact of demonetisation, farm distress and GST was more in rural belt, while he BJP appears to have somehow managed to pacify the trade and business community in urban areas.

This is also reflected in four demographic regions - Saurashtra-Kutch, North Gujarat, Central Gujarat and South Gujarat.

Saurashtra-Kutch region

The dominantly rural Saurashtra-Kutch, that sends a maximum of 54 legislators to the 182-seat Gujarat Assembly, has been a BJP stronghold since late 1990s. This is for the first time that that Congress has been able to make a sizeable dent in this bastion. The BJP, that had won 35 of the 54 seats here in 2012, lost almost 12 seats now. The Congress that had 16 seats from Saurashtra in 2012, bagged 30 seats this time, winning the region.

It appears that the farmers in the region have expressed displeasure over non-availability of support price for their farm produce - especially groundnut and cotton. This reflects in results of Amreli, where Congress won all the five seats; all four seats of Gir Somnath, four out of five seats in Junagadh, three out of five seats in Surendranagar. Other than farmers, the dalit and Patel factor too appear to have played a major factor in parts of Saurashtra. The Patels did influence most of the seats in farming-dominated districts, but also uprooted BJP from Morbi, the ceramics industry hub and key Patel quota stir stronghold. The Congress won all the three seats in Morbi.

The saving grace for BJP in Saurashtra has been Rajkot and Bhavnagar districts, led by its chief minister Vijay Rupani and state party chief Jitu Vaghani. BJP won 10 of the 13 seats in these two districts. While saffron party won six of the eight seats in Rajkot, it maintained its stronghold on Bhavnagar, winning six of the seven seats like last time.

South Gujarat region

The urban-rural divide is equally stark in South Gujarat, where BJP retained 15 of the 16 seats in Surat city, despite massive wave of protests post demonetisation. The city had seen swathes of people on the streets protesting and agitating against BJP government in the state as well as the Centre. However, BJP eventually appears to have swung the mood in its favour in this commercial capital of the state, retaining 15 of the 16 seats. The BJP even won in constituencies as Varachha Road in Surat that had 1.10 lakh Patidars among the 1.5 lakh electorate. The Patels were expected to do well in the constituencies of Kamrej, Katargaam, Limbayat, Olpaad, Udhna and Varachha. Hardik had great success during his rallies in these areas. However, they all went with the BJP.

In Bharuch, BJP won in urban areas, bagging three of the five seats. BJP also retained its hold on the relatively well-developed and rurban areas of Valsad and Navsari. It won seven of the nine seats in these two districts. What also helped BJP's cause is its hold on sugar cooperative and Modi's appeal of having neutralised terrorists from Jammu & Kashmir who had attacked and killed pilgrims from South Gujarat region on a pilgrimage to Vaishno Devi and Amarnath.

The Congress on its part did well in rural and tribal-dominated constituencies of South Gujarat, including in Dangs, Tapi and Narmada districts, winning all the seven seats. Its performance was also better in the rural seats of Surat district as well as Bharuch.

The Congress' alliance partner in the region - Bharatiya Tribal Party - led by tribal strongman Chhotubhai Vasava, too, bagged two seats. Chhotubhai retained his traditional Jhagadia seat for the seventh time.

Central Gujarat

In Central Gujarat, BJP appears to have marginally gained by the cracks in Congress party. The Congress, that had won 17 of the 40 seats in 2012, saw its seat tally dip by two. BJP won 21 seats from the region. The Congress had lost its stalwarts as Shankarsinh Vaghela, Mansinh Chauhan, cooperative giant and Amul chairman Ramsinh Parmar, C K Raulji and Mahendra Vaghela to BJP fold. Though none of these turncoats were able to retain their seats, their absence definitely seems to have benefitted BJP.

The positives for Congress in the region is that it was able to hold its grip on tribal seats, as well as have a foot in the door by bagging two seats in Vadodara city. Last time, the Congress had failed to even open its account in this city.

North Gujarat

This was said to be one of the most volatile and 'on the edge' regions for both the BJP and the Congress. North Gujarat, with its 53 seats, including 21 from Ahmedabad, was going to a test case for politics witnessed by the state over the last two and a half years. Other than being the birth place of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP National president Amit Shah, karmabhoomi of former chief minister of Gujarat Anandiben Patel and outgoing deputy chief minister Nitin Patel, North Gujarat was also home to three agitationists who had taken BJP's bastion by storm - Hardik Patel of Patel quota stir, Alpesh Thakor from OBC community and Jignesh Mevani from the dalit community.

While BJP was banking on the charisma of Modi, Congress was relying primarily on the consolidation of OBC-Patel and dalit vote bank in its favour, courtesy three young turks. However, Congress appears to have failed to make much headway, winning only two seats more than it did in 2012. The BJP saw its tally at 30 this time.

Interestingly, the BJP has been able to retain key seats in pockets that witnessed massive protests by Patels, including Mehsana by deputy chief minister Nitin Patel, and birthplace of Patel quota stir Visnagar, where Rushikesh Patel of BJP won.

Thakor and Mevani

Meanwhile, Alpesh Thakor, who began OBC consolidation against Patel quota stir and later joined Congress, won his maiden elections from Radhanpur constituency, even as dalit youth leader Jignesh Mevani, who got backing from Congress, won his first-ever elections from Vadgam constituency.

The BJP also appears to have faced difficulty in the flood-affected districts of Banaskantha and Sabarkantha in North Gujarat. Over a lakh people were relocated in the region last monsoon. The Congress, that was expected to lose heavily as its legislators from the district were herded off to Bengaluru during Rajya Sabha polls, causing discontent among electorate. However, Congress appears to have pacified the voters, even as BJP failed to win over electorate here. Congress won six of the nine seats in Banaskantha, even as it shared the six seats in Sabarkantha with BJP.

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