Clear lines of cleavage in Gujarat

Print edition : November 27, 1999

EVEN as several incumbent State governments were taken to task by the voters in the latest round of elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party survived the anti-incumbency factor in Gujarat. It won 20 seats, improving on its 1998 tally by one seat. Congress ( I) won six seats, one fewer than its 1998 tally.

There was some consolation for the Congress (I) because its vote share, relative to 1998, increased by nine percentage points. As the BJP too improved its vote share - by 4.2 percentage points - the Congress (I)'s gains did not translate into seats. The deciding factor was that the BJP had big margins to defend, which the Congress (I) did not have to do.

Gujarat was one of the few States where the Congress (I) was on a stronger footing since 1998 because Shankarsinh Vaghela, who has a significant political base in the State, had joined its fold. This paid dividends in the north, where the Congress (I) ca ptured three seats and increased its vote share by 16 percentage points.

The sharp decline in voter turnout since 1998 may have played an important role in determining the outcome. The low turnout may have favoured the BJP.

The BJP's ascendancy in Gujarat politics occurred in the 1980s, when the party rode on successive waves of communal violence. It appears that these scars still remains. Deep social cleavages have manifested themselves as the support bases of the two part ies. As expected, the BJP fares well among the upper castes and Patidars, the Chief Minister's caste, and also among the more backward sections of the Other Backward Classes (OBC). Conversely, the Congress (I) has done well among the Scheduled Castes, th e Scheduled Tribes and Muslims. The Vaghela factor worked with the peasants among the OBCs.

The divisions are evident even more strikingly with respect to class: a considerable degree of class polarisation was evident in the elections.

Gujarat thus seems to be one State where the line of partisan conflict maps the cleavage lines of social and economic conflict very closely.

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