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All eyes on Gujarat election

All eyes on are Gujarat as the 2019 Indian General Elections rapidly approach. In 2014 the success of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took everybody by surprise with phenomenal political gains at the national and state levels in the country. A victory in Gujarat for the party could build momentum going into the campaign season. A defeat could show the beginning of the cracks in the perceived BJP invincibility. A recent and reliable poll has the BJP and the Congress neck and neck with 43% of the vote each.

As indicated below, the BJP has moved steadily from the peripheries to prominence in the national political landscape. However, the 2014 result showed an absolute dominance of the BJP. Especially, in the context of a very poor showing by the Indian National Congress in 2014, many suggested a BJP-dominated era may have arrived.

Lok Sabha Year % of Vote Share Lok Sabha Seats Won
8th Lok Sabha 1984 7.74 2
9th Lok Sabha 1985 11.36 85
10th Lok Sabha 1991 20.11 120
11th Lok Sabha 1996 20.29 161
12th Lok Sabha 1998 25.59 182
13th Lok Sabha 1999 23.75 182
14th Lok Sabha 2004 22.60 138
15th Lok Sabha 2009 18.80 116
16th Lok Sabha 2014 31.00 282

 Table 1: BJP’s performance in the Lok Sabha Elections 1984-2014

Source: Compiled by the author based on data available on the Election Commission of India.

The BJP is a party which espouses a Hindu fundamentalist ideology and has known-links to other nationalist organizations. The country’s current prime minister Narendra Modi has been previously denied entry into the US because of his alleged complicity in the 2002 anti-Muslim riots when he was the chief minister.  The state was also the site of the 1998 anti-Christian riots in the Dang region. The BJP’s return to power in 2014 has created a perceived threat among Indian Christians. On March 15th, 2015, the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (the apex body of the largest Christian denomination in India) and the National United Christian Fellowship issued a statement warning that “the cultural DNA of India, of pluralism and diversity is being threatened. We are anxious about the implications of the fundamentalist political thesis that India is ‘one nation, one people and one culture’”.

Despite what polls say, the popular sentiment is that the BJP is expected to win the elections, bolstered by successful results in state elections earlier this year and the recent municipal elections in Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state. However, the inevitability of their victory has been questioned in the past few months; primarily due to their poorly-implemented economic policies at the national level. Additionally, we are witnessing a resurgence from the Indian National Congress which could potentially pose a threat to the BJP in a state they have held for the most part of the last three decades. This resurgence has come in the form of a more polished Rahul Gandhi being appointed as the head of the INC and significant endorsements from political groups in the state for the Congress party.

If all goes well for the BJP they will win Gujarat handily cementing Modi’s popularity and the trust of Indians to allow him another term at the helm of the country’s affairs till 2024. However, even a strong showing by the Congress could expose the cracks in the BJPs armor and allowing the Congress to make a case for their return to power in 2019. This is not to say that represents the best option for Christians in the country, however, at the national level, they remain the only political party which has the necessary appeal and political infrastructure to check the BJP.

Considering these high stakes for the future of the country and the state’s history of strong anti-minority (Christian and Muslim) violence, all eyes must be on Gujarat.