Youth discontent a challenge for BJP

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi showing the ink on his finger after casting his vote in the second phase of the Gujarat assembly elections in Ahmedabad yesterday. The results will be out on Monday. As Gujarat is Mr Modi's home state, a dip in pop
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi showing the ink on his finger after casting his vote in the second phase of the Gujarat assembly elections in Ahmedabad yesterday. The results will be out on Monday. As Gujarat is Mr Modi's home state, a dip in popularity in a BJP stronghold is expected to empower opposition parties.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Party expected to win election in PM Modi's home state of Gujarat but its margin may dip

At 24 years old, Mr Hardik Patel, a fiery orator, is not old enough to contest assembly elections in the western state of Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state.

Yet, as the second phase of voting got under way in Gujarat yesterday, Mr Patel, leader of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti, has garnered maximum attention for the rival Congress alliance, somewhat to the chagrin of the Prime Minister's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Mr Patel has entered into an alliance with the Congress Party for these elections.

Gujarat assembly elections, for which the minimum age to contest is 25, is held in two phases.

Voting in the first phase ended last Saturday. The second phase, which started yesterday, involves 93 seats. In all, 182 seats are at stake.

In the 2012 elections, the BJP won 115 seats and Congress, 61 .

At least five exit polls yesterday said BJP was on course to win between 108 and 120 seats, while Congress could take between 70 and 82 seats. The results, which will be out on Monday, will be closely monitored. As Gujarat is Mr Modi's home state, a dip in popularity in a BJP stronghold is expected to empower opposition parties.

  • 182 Number of seats at stake in Gujarat assembly.

    93 Seats being contested in second phase.

    115 Seats won by BJP in the 2012 assembly elections, while Congress won 61.

Mr Patel, who is from the influential Patel or Patidar caste, has gone all out, holding multiple rallies and meetings. He has attracted large crowds at rallies, with India's media noting that the attendance has matched, if not exceeded, that at Mr Modi's rallies.

"People flock in the thousands to my rallies because I speak the bitter truth... People feel I talk about their issues and that's why they come," he told India Today.

Mr Patel, who has been tapping into youth discontent over unemployment and the ruling establishment, entered the political scene in 2015, after protests among the Patels over affirmative action. Sections of the community have been seeking affirmative action in the form of getting government jobs and into education institutes.

The Patels, which make up 14 to 15 per cent of the population, could help decide the results in at least 50 to 60 seats.

Gujarat is one of India's most advanced states, with Mr Modi, who was its chief minister for 13 years, credited with turning it into an economic powerhouse.

BJP has been in charge for nearly two decades but the juggernaut is showing signs of vulnerability. For one thing, it faces discontent over the nationwide demonetisation of currency notes in November last year, a move intended to curb corruption but which ended up hurting businesses. Poor implementation of the goods and services tax also impacted the trading community.

Some analysts believe the BJP is looking most shaky in these elections, even though the party has predicted it will win 150 seats.

"Hardik Patel has had very large roadshows... and that is making the BJP jittery because he is attracting crowds. He is a voice for young people," said Professor Ghanshyam Shah, a political analyst. But it remains to be seen if the large crowds would translate into votes, he added.

Most opinion polls back a BJP win but by a smaller margin over its rivals, while one poll by news group ABP-CSDS has the BJP and Congress headed for a photo finish.

Congressis also looking to take advantage of the discontent among other social groups, like the Dalits.

It has also taken on board other young leaders: Mr Alpesh Thakor, leader of Other Backward Classes, consisting of middle-rung castes, and Mr Jignesh Mevani, a Dalit.

But some believe the BJP has little to fear, at least for now, from these young leaders. "BJP is quite stable in Gujarat," said political science professor Bidyut Chakrabarty of Delhi University. "Hardik Patel is just 24 years old. He is young, mercurial and has a long way to go."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 15, 2017, with the headline 'Youth discontent a challenge for BJP'. Print Edition | Subscribe