The exit polls are out and it does seem as if the BJP has the edge in Gujarat, while Himachal Pradesh could go either way, between the BJP and the Congress. As for the Aam Admi Party, it will make an impression in Gujarat (while not dominating the main opposition space) and will wrest the MCD away from the BJP. Or, at least that is what the exit polls are predicting.
If we go by these trends then what does it say about the fate of the three leaders—Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal? As far as the Prime Minister is concerned, he has singlehandedly countered a 27 year old anti-incumbency against the BJP and the credit goes to him alone, with Amit Shah playing a major supporting role. It was not development but the emotional connect of “aukaad and asmita” that swung the vote for the BJP. While he campaigned in Himachal Pradesh as well and even there, the posters had the PM’s face dominating, there were other issues at play other than the PM’s image. And, at the end of the day, Gujarat is his karam bhoomi, it is also known as the laboratory of Hindutva hence the campaign mentions of the 2002 riots and the Congress handling of terror vs the BJP’s track record on terror. A loss in Himachal will not go so much against the PM as it will against the BJP chief J.P. Nadda. For the latter belongs to Himachal and a lot of rebels who were denied tickets from the BJP, blame it on factional politics within the state played by the BJP chief. As for Rahul Gandhi, his Bharat Jodo Yatra seems to be working wonders for his image. For instance, no one will refer to him as a Pappu anymore. But, the benefits of this still have to distill down on the ground and impact the party’s electoral fortunes. The Congress is faring more or less the same with or without Rahul Gandhi. Some would say that Rahul Gandhi giving the elections a miss may have helped the Congress for that stopped the BJP from making it a Rahul vs Modi narrative and focus on other issues. Especially if the Congress wins Himachal, for that is one state Rahul Gandhi has not entered during the elections, leaving it to Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Mallikarjun Kharge and local leaders.
Arvind Kejriwal will be the most interesting man to watch in these elections for he has made no secret of his national ambitions. It is to his credit that he dominated the initial phase of the Gujarat campaign, pitching his Delhi Model vs the BJPs Gujarat Model with local residents questioning Delhi journalists about the Delhi Model. The BJP was forced to talk about schools, mohalla clinics and welfare schemes like 300 units of free electricity. The Saurashtra region and the city of Surat would be the most interesting to watch and this is where the AAP has the most hopes. But even if AAP does not emerge as the principal opposition party, getting a foothold in Gujarat will give Kejriwal the opening he needs to make a bigger play in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
Wresting the MCD away from the BJP will help the AAP in its optics but with the MCD is a hot potato facing a fund crunch, union issues and other problems. These could go against the AAP if it doesn’t resolve them in time for the Delhi polls, which are not too far away. All in all, this week will be an exciting one decoding the results and their aftermath.