Brand Modi is BJP's best bet to weaken opposition, Congress pays for distractions like Yatra?

Shekhar Iyer
06 Dec 2022
Brand Modi is BJP's best bet to weaken opposition, Congress pays for distractions like Yatra?

Narendra Modi (Left); Rahul Gandhi with Swara Bhasker in his Bharat Jodo Yatra (Right)

New Delhi: Exit polls are supposed to be like trailers. Over the years, they have refined their craft and broadly confirmed some emerging trends that are later supported by the actual results--though varying in their projections.

As the elections to Gujarat concluded on December 5, the exit polls, which are based on what voters tell the pollsters after casting their vote, have indicated what is held to be true so far.

Big takeaways are that "Brand Modi" remains the best bet for the BJP in Gujarat as well as Himachal Pradesh where the polls were held recently.

The BJP is invincible in Gujarat despite being in power since 1995 and several anti-incumbency factors at work, thanks to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's special bond with the voters of the state.

In Himachal Pradesh, however, the Modi effect has enabled the BJP only to save itself from falling too far behind the Congress in a very close fight. If Modi is absent as the chief campaigner, the BJP will find Himachal Pradesh an uphill task to win. No party has won back-to-back in the assembly polls since 1993.

Overall, there is a relief for the BJP because the Congress continues to be in a perpetual state of crisis, paying for its organisational ills and distractions like Rahul Gandhi's Bharat Jodo Yatra.

The Congress has failed to build upon its 2017 gains in Gujarat or leverage its advantages in Himachal Pradesh --because of the central leadership's failure to contain factionalism and tackle the challenges head-on.

As far as Gujarat goes, Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) may be the new player if it works to build its organisational base in the longer run. But it has to travel far and wide literally in the state to eventually displace the Congress as the main opposition party to the BJP.

True, the AAP held a high-decibel campaign, focusing on the urban poor and the middle classes. Kejriwal had even predicted that the AAP will win over 90 seats.

But, in the absence of foot soldiers, the AAP can gain votes only in urban pockets. But for popular support to get converted into seats in the Gujarat assembly, the AAP has to go beyond seeking to divide the Congress votes, which is of help to the BJP but not for itself.

However, the magnitude of victory for the BJP in the 2022 assembly polls, which may be a big change compared to the 2017 results, should not become blinkers for its leaders.

If the AAP ends up winning 20 percent of the popular votes, Modi, Amit Shah and other central BJP strategists are bound to read a bigger warning in the rise of AAP at the expense of the Congress.

Even if the BJP wins close to 150 of the 182 seats, it will need to re-invent itself, overhaul its organisation and allow a new younger set of leaders to emerge and work for new goals.

Above all, it must strive to remove the ills of governance that have come to plague Gujarat since Modi shifted to Delhi as the PM. In the days to come, the AAP can only turn into the BJP's Achilles' heel. The AAP's potential for growth and expansion can only grow from here if Kejriwal and his team don't lose heart from this year's results.

There is also a very important lesson for the BJP in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.

As long as Modi is around, the BJP need not worry about its winning ability--but the future holds no promise. Bereft of Modi, the BJP may resemble the Congress.

That is why it surprises no one that Modi or no Modi, the AAP is firmly entrenched in Delhi even if some sheen is gone owing to the lure of office.

The Capital remains the BJP's soft underbelly when it comes to the assembly and municipal polls. Voters of Delhi make a clear distinction between the parliamentary elections and local polls.

The BJP's inability to revive itself and offer an alternative to AAP remains handicapped by the absence of the right kind of local leadership.

The albatross around the BJP's neck is its own track record in managing the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) for the last 15 years.

Its failure to tackle the civic issues of Delhi to the satisfaction of its citizens is oddly commensurate with the political dexterity of its central BJP leadership.

Fifteen years as the controller of the MCD is too long a period for any party to offer excuses.

Exit polls -- What they say

In Gujarat, the BJP is projected to secure its seventh consecutive term. News X-Jan Ki Baat has forecast 117-140 seats for the party, 34 to 51 for the Congresscombine and 6-13 seats for the AAP.

According to the Republic TV P-MARQ exit poll, the BJP may bag 128-148 seats, Congress 30-42 and the AAP may get 2-10 seats. TV9 Gujarati has predicted 125-130 seats for the BJP, 40-50 for the Congress and 3-5 for the AAP.

Aaj Tak-Axis My India has said the BJP may secure 129-151 seats, Congress 16-30 and AAP 9-21 seats.  ABP-CVoter has projected 128-140 seats for the BJP, 31-43 for the Congress and 3-11 for the AAP. Times Now-ETG has predicted 139 for the ruling party, 30 for the Congress and 11 for the AAP.

For Himachal Pradesh, the Republic P-MARQ exit polls predict 34-39 seats for the party, while 28-33 for the Congress and 0-1 for the AAP. Aaj Tak-Axis My India has projected that the BJP may get 24-34 seats and the Congress 30-40. Zee News-BARC predicted 35-40 seats for the BJP, 20-25 for the Congress and three for the AAP. Times Now-ETG states that 34-42 seats may go to the BJP and 24-32 to Congress. The News X-Jan Ki Baat exit poll puts it as 32-40 for the BJP and 27-34 seats for the Congress. The India-TV-Matrize poll suggests 35-40 for the BJP and 26-31 for the Congress. News 24-Today’s Chanakya has said33 each for the BJP and the Congress. TV9 Gujarati’s exit poll has declared 33 (plus/minus 7) seats for the BJP and 31 for the Congress.

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