The third consecutive victory for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India’s western state of Gujarat, was applauded as an extraordinary event for the BJP. However, a little research on the history of elections, in India, would reveal abundant examples of a party who won elections a number of times and have remained in power for many years. The recent election in Gujarat was distinct and could become a trend-setting event for the upcoming national election in 2014. A closer look at the history of Gujarat’s politics verifies this.
Historically, the state of Gujarat has always been a trend setting state. People of Gujarat have been derided, like those in Punjab, for their poor English and decorum, but when it comes to business and politics Gujaratis are extremely judicious and savvy. In last forty years, the people of Gujarat have set the following trends.
The first is the trend of forming coalition governments. In the 1975 assembly elections, for the first time, all the opposition parties in Gujarat came under one umbrella and united to put Congress Party out of power. This experiment was applied in the following national general elections in 1977 when all the opposition parties came together and ousted the Congress Party in New Delhi for the first time. The first non-Congress government was formed and Morarji Desai became the prime minister.
Gujarati voters realized the situation they created and in following years set a new trend of only two party politics. Smaller parties on the state level and regional parties on the national level started playing an in-and-out game for money and power because they learned that they are the balancing factors in creating a majority to form a government at both the levels. National parties like BJP and Congress became dependent on smaller and regional parties in order to form central and state governments. As a result coalition government leadership spent more time and energy in keeping coalitions together instead of working on real issues. Some of these regional leaders started dreaming of becoming prime minister with 20-30 members of parliament in the house of 545 members. Chaudhary Charan Sing set this example in 1979 with only 65 MPs in the parliament. In recent years, Mayavati, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Sharad Pawar are still waiting for that dream to come true and lately Bihar Chief Minister, Nithsh Kumar, has joined the group of these dream chasers.
The people of Gujarat witnessed these “dancing” smaller and regional parties who were insulting the core value of democracy “the people’s choice” by toppling central and state governments as routine. In Gujarat, people smartly reversed the previous trend of having a coalition government. Voters rejected smaller parties again and again and sent a message that they would not tolerate the “monkey business” of smaller parties in Gujarat’s politics. In the past, a former Congress Party leader, Chimanbhai Patel, started his own new party after leaving Congress, but it did not survive for a long time. This time people rejected former BJP leader and Chief Minister of Gujarat, Keshubhai Patel, who formed his own new regional party after leaving the BJP. The people of Gujarat sent a strong message that politics in Gujarat is not a joke and there is no place for spoilers.
Gujarati voters want to give time and opportunity to the elected governments, and in return, they want answers from them. Once the five-year term is over, politicians have no reason to say that they did not have enough time to show results because a smaller party toppled the government prematurely.
The next new trend was the abolition of vote bank politics and caste based voting in Gujarat. Vote bank politics was a proven winning strategy for the Congress Party for many years and caste based voting was introduced in the 1970s and 1980s, by one of the Congress leaders and former Gujarat Chief, Madhave Singh Solank. He was a four term Chief Minister who articulated a strong KHAM formula bringing the four biggest communities of Gujarat, Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim, onto one stage. This equation left some upper caste and some other smaller communities in isolation making their votes worthless. The people of Gujarat snubbed these dividing proposals and started thinking as people of Gujarat, not people of different castes, and desired progress in Gujarat.
The latest trend highlights the voters disregarding the incumbency factor. If the government performs, it stays on. There are many examples where people change government in every election. Uttar Pradesh is such an example where Mayavati and Mulayam Sing take regular turns and Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha have changed places in Tamil Nadu since 1989. In these states, the losing party knows that it will be back in power in the next election no matter how well or poorly its government performs. This is not the case in Gujarat, where voters punish the non-performers either as a party or as an individual. Here is such an example. The Congress Party was out of power for 15 years in Gujarat for non-performance. BJP Chief Minister, Keshubhai Patel was replaced because of his poor performance as a Chief Minister, but the BJP party is ruling the state for more than 15 years based on the performance of government. Smart voters!!
This election in Gujarat was not all about the politics and the victory of a party or a person. It was about the victory of the people of Gujarat. It was also about the peoples’ choice and they astutely filtered out facts from fallacy and showed their wisdom by electing the “government of their choice”. National and international media and political strategies and alliances were unable to hoodwink the people who were determined to elect the government based on its performances. Last year’s Gujarat assembly election was a supreme example of a strong and clean democratic process and a genuine victory for the people.
Parliamentary elections are to be held soon in India and the people have an opportunity to analyze the trends in Gujarat politics and apply them to upcoming national elections in 2014 elevating Indian politics and the value of a democratic system for future generations.