The Congress party appears to have gained tremendous ground in Gujarat, if a recent pre-election survey conducted by ABP-CSDS is anything to go by. The difference in vote share between the two parties is just 6%. The data shows that BJP's vote share is likely to be 47% as against the Congress' 41%. This indicates that this is the most closely fought election in the state since 1990.
ABP-CSDS argue that the Congress has made major gains in the past two months alone. In another survey released by them in the second half of August, the BJP's vote share was a whopping 59% while the Congress was just 29%, a huge gap of 30%.(Source: ABP/CSDS and Election Commission of India)
The fact that in the latest survey conducted by the same agency the gap has narrowed to just 6% shows that the Congress' 'Vikas Gando Thayo Chhe' campaign and its 'alliances' with young caste leaders like Alpesh Thakor, Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mevani, appear to be working well on the ground.
Interestingly, the BJP’s losses are the maximum in sections are areas where it was strongest: Kachhch and Saurashtra regions, and sections like youth, Patels and traders.
A few more significant aspects of the survey are:
- 50% farmers prefer Congress, an improvement of 19% since August
- Congress’ popularity among traders has increased by 13%, narrowing the gap with the BJP to just 4%. This is extremely significant as this is BJP’s traditional support base. Congress seems to have tapped into the traders’ anger against the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
- BJP’s losses are the maximum among the youth. 63% young voters had voiced their preference for the party in August. It is now down 19 points to 44%.
- Chief Minister Vijay Rupani’s popularity has fallen from 24% to 18% while the popularity of Congress leaders like Bharatsinh Solanki has increased.
- Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani enjoy high popularity among their respective communities, indicating that Congress will gain by joining hands with them.
Story lies in the regional variations
The biggest turnaround is in Kachchh and Saurashtra, two regions which have been BJP strongholds since the 1990s, even before Narendra Modi became the chief minister of the state. According to the survey results, the Congress has jumped from a vote share of 26% to 42% since August, while BJP has been brought down from 65% to 42%.(Source: ABP/CSDS and Election Commission of India)
Another region where the Congress has made major gains since August is North Gujarat, which includes BJP strongholds like Ahmedabad and Mehsana besides Patan, Gandhinagar, Sabarkantha, Banaskantha, where the Congress did well in 2012. Mehsana happens to be the home district of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, former Chief Minister Anandiben Patel and Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel.
The survey predicts that the Congress has taken a 5% lead over the BJP in this region. This is a significant jump not just from August, but also from the 2012 Assembly elections.(Source: ABP/CSDS and Election Commission of India)
Saurashtra and North Gujarat are regions where the Patidars as well as Thakors are present in significant numbers and this turnaround can partly be attributed the entry of Alpesh Thakor in the Congress and the party’s tacit understanding with Patidar leader Hardik Patel.
In Central Gujarat, the survey predicts that while Congress has gained ground since August, it has lost support since the 2012 elections. Apparently these losses have been in its tribal-dominated strongholds in Dahod and Panchmahals as well as its rural pocket boroughs in Kheda and Anand.(Source: ABP/CSDS and Election Commission of India)
The data from South Gujarat is most surprising. It shows both BJP and Congress losing ground since 2012. Others are estimated to get 16% votes, the highest in any region. The survey didn’t specify who others were.
It could be Janata Dal (United) faction led by Chhotubhai Vasava which has since aligned with the Congress. Vasava, an adivasi, enjoys significant clout in the tribal-dominated areas in Bharuch district.
The ‘other’ votes in this region could also be Aam Aadmi Party and Nationalist Congress Party, both of which have some presence here. NCP is inching towards a tie-up with the Congress.(Source: ABP/CSDS and Election Commission of India)
It is interesting that the BJP’s biggest losses in vote share are in areas like Saurashtra and Kachhch, where the party gained ground in the early 1990s. Its organisation is the strongest in these regions while the Congress has traditionally weak here. Saurashtra also happens to be the epicenter of Patidar anger. The population of Patidars is comparatively higher in this region and Saurashtra Patels are said to be comparatively more backward than their counterparts in North and Central Gujarat.
On the other hand, the BJP seems to be doing better in South and Central Gujarat, which were Congress strongholds till the late 1990s. These Congress citadels were breached by Modi in 2002. He maintained and even expanded his hold in these areas through extensive building of infrastructure and other development work.
It must be noted that CSDS merely gives vote share predictions and the seat tally estimate is usually done by the respective channel in consultation with other agencies.
The survey predicts a 1% fall in BJP’s vote share since 2012 and an increase of 2% in the Congress’ vote share. In terms of seats, ABP predicts a repeat of 2012 with the BJP ending up with 113-121 seats and Congress with 58-64 seats. In 2012, BJP and Congress won 117 and 61 seats respectively.
However if one breaks down the change in vote share in the respective regions with respect to 2012, it shows that nearly 42 seats might change hands. Even though the swing in vote share won't be uniform across all the seats in the region, this is the closest estimation one can make.
For instance, the survey’s vote share prediction means that in North Gujarat , BJP’s vote share has fallen by 5.6% for BJP and Congress’ has increased by 8.8% since 2012. If this vote share change takes place uniformly across the region, as many as 14 seats won by the BJP in 2012 are likely to go the Congress’ way. Most of the Congress’ gains would be from Banaskantha, Patan, Ahmedabad and Gandhingar districts.
Similarly in Kachhch and Saurashtra, BJP vote share is estimated to have fallen 2.9% while the Congress’ gain is pegged at 4.8%. This would mean another 14 seats shifting from the BJP to the Congress, most significantly in Kachhch and Jamnagar districts.
Going by the survey results, the BJP’s vote share has increased by 8% in Central Gujarat while Congress’ has fallen by 2.9%. This would mean a shift of 13 seats from Congress to BJP, mostly in Kheda, Panchmahals and Anand districts.
Similarly in South Gujarat, the BJP’s vote share is estimated to have fallen by 2.5% and the Congress has reduced by 5.8%. Since both parties are losing votes, the only seat that is likely to change hands if this is played out across the region is Dangs, which the Congress had narrowly won in 2012.
Adding up these predictions, the final tally could be 103 seats for BJP and 75 for the Congress.
The tally might be very different from this. But the main take away from the ABP-CSDS survey is that the momentum is firmly with the Congress. It also shows that Hardik Patel has successfully managed to take away a significant chunk of BJP’s Patidar vote base, particularly Kadwa Patidars. If Congress seals a deal with Hardik, it can narrow the gap with the BJP even further.