BJP set for big win in Gujarat

Print edition : February 21, 1998

THE 1998 elections to the Gujarat Assembly will be more like an action replay of the February 1995 elections. The BJP is all set to win a two-thirds majority despite a split in the party since the last elections. The elections are likely to prove disastrous for the ruling Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP) which came into being 10 months ago as a result of the split in the BJP.

The findings of a Frontline-CMS poll in Gujarat suggest that both the BJP and the Congress(I) are likely to repeat their 1995 performance - in terms of vote shares and number of seats. The BJP is likely to secure 42.9 per cent of the popular vote and win between 117 and 121 seats in the 182-member Assembly. This is an increase of 0.4 percentage points over the party's vote-share in February 1995, when it won 121 seats with 42.5 per cent of the popular vote.

The Congress(I), with a vote share of 31.8 per cent in the Assembly elections, is likely to win between 43 and 46 seats. In 1995, it secured a vote share of 32.9 per cent and won 45 seats. Other parties, among them the RJP and the two Communist parties, and independents, are likely to secure a combined 25.3 per cent of the vote, winning between 25 and 28 seats. About 9 per cent of the voters have not decided which party to vote for.

The survey reveals that voter perception of the RJP Government is largely negative. Half the respondents have a negative perception of the RJP Government's performance. The RJP, which was floated by BJP rebel Shankarsinh Vaghela, has been marginalised in Gujarat electoral politics. It may get 2-3 per cent of the votes. Its strength in the Assembly is thus likely to decline sharply from 45 to 3 or 4 seats after the elections. A survey finding is that even an alliance between the Congress(I) and the RJP would not have made any material difference to the electoral outcome.

The Frontline-CMS Public Opinion Poll on the Gujarat Assembly elections was carried out between January 27 and 29. It was conducted in 16 Assembly segments and 1,030 registered voters were interviewed in 41 villages and 16 urban clusters. At the time the survey was conducted candidates for some of the Assembly constituencies had not yet been announced. However, BJP leaders had done one round of campaigning in the State and Sonia Gandhi had visited the State once for a public meeting.

The survey reveals that the State's Muslims are divided into three equal segments. While one segment backs the BJP, the second will vote for the Congress(I). The third segment was yet to make up its mind at the time the survey was conducted. While members of the Patel community are already with the BJP, the party has attracted some Scheduled Caste voters too. The majority of Kshatriya, Koli and Scheduled Tribe voters, however, continue to support the Congress(I).

Another interesting finding of this opinion poll is that the Sonia Gandhi factor is unlikely to make any difference to the outcome of the Gujarat Assembly elections.

The inner-party bickerings in the BJP in the State have not affected the party's image among voters. Fifty per cent of voters in Gujarat think that the BJP will emerge victorious in the elections and form the government in the State. In fact, a higher percentage - 58 per cent - think that the BJP will form the government at the Centre.

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