A short and succinct history of Gujarat elections


Ashish Mehta | December 19, 2017 | New Delhi

#Narendra Modi   #Congress   #BJP   #Assembly Polls   #Gujarat Elections   #Gujarat Polls   #Rahul Gandhi  

The first elections

After the British law paved the way for representational assemblies, the first elections were held in 1934. Gujarat was then part of Bombay Presidency. Ahmedabad elected Ganesh Vasudev Mavalankar (photo), who went on to become speaker of the Bombay Presidency, from 1934 till 1946 – when he became the president of the central legislative assembly, and in 1949 the speaker of the provisional parliament.

Formation of the state

With the culmination of the Mahagujarat movement, the state of Gujarat was carved out of Bombay state. (Saurashtra was a separate state, with its capital in Rajkot and chief minister – UN Dhebar – and it was merged into Bombay in 1956.)


*     Lok Sabha: Total 22 seats. Congress: 16, Swatantra Party: 4
*     Assembly: 1962: Total 154 seats. INC: 113, Swatantra Party: 26

Thanks to Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel among others, the Congress had a strong base in Gujarat during the freedom struggle, and that rapport continued in the early decades of independence, even if C Rajagopalachari’s Swatantra Party emerged as the chief alternative.

The early chief ministers of Gujarat were old-fashioned Gandhian Congress leaders with hugely respectable public life. However, notably, they all came from the traditionally influential communities: Patel and Brahmin: Jivraj Mehta (photo), Balvantrai Mehta, Hitendra Desai, Ghanshyam Oza, Chimanbhai Patel and Babubhai Patel.

Lok Sabha: Total 24 seats. Swatantra Party: 12, Congress: 11
Assembly: Total 168 seats. INC: 93, Swatantra Party: 66


Lok Sabha: Total 24 seats. Congress: 11, Congress (Organisation) (NCO or Sanstha Congress): 11, Swatantra Party: 2


Assembly: Total 168 seats. INC: 140, NCO: 16

The beginning of Hindutva

The 1960s was a tumultuous decade. The early indications of the coming rise of the Hindutva can be gleaned there. The state, in any case, had a history of fragile communal relations. The RSS established its presence here in 1940-41, the Bharatiya Jan Sangh a decade later. Electorally, Jan Sangh was a failure. In 1962, it contested 26 assembly seats, did not win even one. Five years later, it contested even fewer seats, 16, and won 1. In 1972, it contested 99, won 3.

* Balwantrai Mehta, the second CM, was killed when Pakistan shot down his plane near the Kutch border during the 1965 Indo-Pak war. It was apparently by mistake, but the event added to the resentment – against the neighbouring country during the war time, and for some people, against the minority community by extension.

* The 1969 riots in Ahmedabad, one of the worst in post-independence India, widened the chasm between the two communities. 
* The 1960s witnessed several mass rallies by the RSS and Jan Sangh leaders.

Navnirman Andolan

*   In 1974, the Navnirman Andolan, led by engineering students of Ahmedabad and triggered by the hike in hostel mess charges, spread across the state. People expressed their anger against inflation, Indira Gandhi, chief minister Chimanbhai Patel (“Chiman Chor”), corruption and mis-governance in general. The student wing of the Jan Sangh, ABVP, saw an opportunity and joined forces with the protesters.

* ‘Navnirman’ proved to be the precursor for the dramatic events of the mid-1970s: JP’s call for Total Revolution, the Emergency and the civic resistance movements. The RSS joined hands with civil liberty organisations in opposing the murder of democracy. (In Gujarat, the RSS representative on the frontal organisation spearheading JP’s agitation against the Emergency was a young Narendra Modi. He would pen memoirs of those days, Sangharshma Gujarat.)

* The RSS/ Jan Sangh soon found early indications of what it was lacking so far: acceptance among the urban, ‘upper-caste’ middle class.

Assembly elections: Total 182 seats. INC: 75, NCO: 56, Jan Sangh: 18

Lok Sabha elections: Total 26 seats. Janata Party/Lok Dal: 16, Congress: 10
Gujarat was once of those hotbeds from where the civil resistance against the Emergency began. It brought the alliance called Janata Party to power, with a soft-spoken Gandhian Babubhai Jashbhai Patel as chief minister. Jan Sangh made a mark in 1975 with 18 seats. It was part of the Janata Party in 1977, and for the first time, it had a minister in Gandhinagar: Keshubhai Patel, as agriculture and water minister.

Lok Sabha elections: Congress: 25, Janata Party: 1
Assembly elections: 1980: INC: 141, Janata Party: 21, BJP: 9
The Janata Party was over, and the Congress returned. Just like in Delhi. This was the beginning of a new era in Gujarat politics, humorously called the Solanki Yug.

The historic Solanki Yug

Madhavsinh Solanki, a former journalist and avid literature buff, was the first CM from ‘Kshatriya’ community that later came to be counted among the OBC. He had four terms. The first, of 108 days during the emergency, was uneventful. During the second term, 1980-85 (making him the first and only CM before Modi to complete a full term), he changed the caste equations drastically, reflecting the rise of OBC and decline of the so-called upper castes. He was successful beyond measure: in 1985, the Congress won 149 seats. This was thanks to a formula, devised by him and veteran Congressman Jhinabhai Darji, called ‘KHAM’: wooing Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslims voters instead of Patels, Baniyas and Brahmins. His 1980 cabinet did not have a single Patel. The new strategy also entailed enlarging quota benefits, which in 1982 and 1985 backfired with caste agitations that turned into communal riots. That finally gave an opportunity to the BJP, and ever since the ‘upper castes’ have seen that party as their saviour.

Solanki had a fourth term, for 85 days in 1989-90, before he moved to Delhi. He was external affairs minister in the Narasimha Rao government but he had to resign for ferrying a letter in connection with the Bofors case.

Unusual for an Indian politician, Solanki happily went into retirement in March 1992, though he was only in his mid-60s. (He is 90 today, same age as LK Advani.) He has, going by reports, not intervened in state politics all these years, though his son, Bharatsinh Solanki, is a Congress leader in the state. Those who know him speak of his courtesy, grace, elegance, and a highly cultivated taste in literature. He’s also an avid bird-watcher.


BJP’s first victory, Rajkot Municipal Corporation


Lok Sabha Elections: Congress: 24, BJP: 1, Janata Party: 1
Despite the post-Indira assassination sympathy wave, the Congress failed to make a clean sweep (which BJP did in 2014). For BJP, this was one of the only two seats it could win across India – Dr AK Patel from Mehsana.


Assembly elections: INC: 149, Janata Party: 14, BJP: 11
Congress’s 149 is the highest tally for any party in the state, not crossed despite history-making years of Modi. Solanki’s move to announce a sharp increase in the OBC quota on the election eve also helped.


BJP’s second victory: Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation. Thus, Solanki and his Congress were making waves at the state level, but the BJP was making inroads in urban pockets. Inducted by the RSS into the BJP, for Modi the strategist, the Ahmedabad election was the first electoral success. This is where he reportedly put into practice his theory of majoritarianism: if one focusses on 84 percent, one need not bother about 10 percent. That formula came against the backdrop of a highly polarized Ahmedabad amid frequent bouts of riots, where a bootlegger named Abdul Lateef (the original of the Shah Rukh starrer ‘Raees’) could win from not one but five Muslim-majority wards – while being lodged in a jail.

Hindu mobilisation

Solanki’s KHAM pitchforked ‘upper castes’ in the BJP camp, and the communal riots pushed the ‘lower castes’ too out of the Congress fold. Alongside, there was a series of yatras or religious campaigns throughout the decade. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) organised the Gangajal Yatra in 1983, Ram-Janki Dharma Yatra in 1987, Ramshila Pujan in 1989 (Achyut Yagnik and Suchitra Sheth in their indispensable book, ‘The Shaping of Modern Gujarat’ call it “the most impressive mobilisation since the freedom struggle”), and Ram Jyoti and Vijaya Dashmi Vijay Yatra in 1990. Then, of course, there was LK Advani’s Somnath-to-Ayodhya Yatra 1990 (with Modi as the coordinator or organiser of its Gujarat leg). These campaigns immensely helped in mobilising Hindus politically.

Lok Sabha elections: Janata Dal: 12 + BJP: 12, Congress: 4


Assembly elections: Janata Dal: 70 + BJP: 67, INC: 33
The first decisive debacle for the Congress, not counting the post-Emergency bump. To gauge the size of it, consider this: the Congress has not gone below 33 in the state yet despite the Modi wave. The reasons were obvious: Bofors, VP Singh, riots, Ram Janmabhoomi campaign, and the excess of Solanki’s success. The state was ripe for another brief but memorable turn as Chimanbhai Patel launched his second innings as CM.

The brief but eventful Chimanbhai era

Chimanbhai is one of those colourful characters who make Indian politics so dramatic and exciting. In his first term, in 1973-74, he was booted out by the Navnirman agitation. Gujaratis had mostly forgotten him, when he sprung up from nowhere – as the Gujarat leader of the ragtag army VP Singh was putting together against the Congress in the name of Janata Dal. The anti-corruption plank made VP the PM, and in one of those paradoxical turns of history, it also made Chimanbhai the CM, with the BJP’s support.

With Chimanbhai around, you can expect more twists and turns. After Advani’s arrest in Bihar in 1990, the BJP withdrew support to the VP government – and that meant withdrawal of support to the Chimanbhai government too. An unruffled Chimanbhai just changed the name of the party to Janata Dal (Gujarat), and found support from the Congress, in alignment with the Congress’s support to Chandra Shekhar in Delhi. JD-G was to eventually merge into the Congress, but not before adding a knot to the messy conundrum Solanki had left for the party.

The Congress, after Solanki, had lost the support of Patels, Baniyas and Brahmins, who were now with the BJP. The Ram Janmabhoomi campaign had sealed that deal, and the BJP had even co-opted the ‘lower castes’ into the project. Against this backdrop, the Congress could have at least consolidated what Solanki brought home. Instead, it was vainly chasing the Patels again. (This messed up the Congress caste calculations so much that it is yet to set them right. Maybe, three young caste-campaigners can prove helpful this time around.)

Chimanbhai, an economics lecturer originally, was aware of this anomaly. He prefigures Modi in several ways: he sought to overcome caste complexities by foregrounding economy and development. For example, he organised a month-long grand mela in Ahmedabad, a precursor of sorts to the Vibrant Gujarat jamboree, showcasing Gujarat’s industries and development. Unlike his predecessors, he knew what a hot-button issue the Sardar Sarovar could be. He repeatedly spoke of the Narmada being the “lifeline of Gujarat”, and glavanised public opinion for the project with ample help from some hugely respected Gandhian NGOs. He left little option for the opposition but to join his cause.

His industry-friendly, development-oriented outlook was, of course, a façade for a new caste politics: his policies arguably promoted the interests of the urban, upper-caste middle class, while giving new dreams for the rest to dream.

That was the stage set for the BJP. But for his untimely death in February 1994 at the age of 64, he might have tried a few more somersaults but he might not have lasted long in the face of the rising Hindutva.  His widow the late Urmilaben, who was a Rajya Sabha member, and son Siddharth Patel, who is a senior Congress leader, failed to carry on his legacy.

The arrival of BJP

Lok Sabha results: BJP: 20, Congress: 5, JD(Guj): 1
Thanks to the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign, the BJP had finally won the upper hand in 1991. Gujarat was so receptive to Hindutva that Shankarsinh Vaghela (1989) was to magnanimously offer his Gandhinagar Lok Sabha constituency to Advani in 1991. (Advani has retained it all these years. It was such a VVIP seat that when Advani did not contest due to the Jain hawala allegations in 1996, Vajpayee had to fill in. The Congress has not seriously bothered to offer contest, putting up ‘celebrity’ candidates here like Rajesh Khanna and TN Seshan.)


Assembly elections: BJP: 121, INC: 45
It was only a matter of time. BJP came to power in Gandhinagar, with the old stalwart Keshubhai Patel [PHOTO] (with Jan Sangh rights from early 1950s) as CM and Modi, the strategist as BJP’s state general secretary (organisation), playing the kingmaker.

Soon, as the victory booty was distributed, the Vaghela camp was left with nothing – no ministers, no board chairmen. His rebellion and the move to take his followers to Khajuraho were the stuff of high drama, and led to a rare breakup in the party, then known for its cadres’ discipline. (The kingmaker Modi was sent in exile, to Haryana, Himachal and finally in the BJP national headquarters.) He launched his own Rashtriya Janata Party, ruled for a year or so with the Congress support, passed the baton to his colleague, Dilip Parikh, who too ruled for a year or so, and then it was time for mid-term polls. Keshubhai, and stability, returned.


Lok Sabha elections: BJP: 16, Cong: 10


Assembly elections: BJP: 117, INC: 53
Lok Sabha elections: BJP: 19, Cong: 7


Lok Sabha elections: BJP: 20, Cong: 6

The PM in the making

The BJP had made Gujarat its home ground, and the state was routinely called the ‘laboratory of Hindutva’. But after the 2001 quake, Keshubhai was losing one by-election after another, one local body after another. The Congress was in revival, mostly despite itself in the absence of any tall leaders. That was when the BJP’s national leaders decided to beat anti-incumbency with a new CM ahead of the 2002 polls.

At 10, Ashoka Road, there were day-long interviews of or consultations with Gujarat leaders. Modi was chosen, he said he was tasked to play one-day international instead of a test match. At his swearing-in, conspicuous by their presence were numeral Patels. The first few months were the only time Modi did not make news. His first preference for his January by-poll was Ahmedabad’s Ellis Bridge, among the safest seats. He eventually settled for a seat in Rajkot, equally safe.
The post-right history, since 2002, is too recent to need any recap. The in poll terms:


Assembly elections: BJP: 127, INC: 51


Lok Sabha elections: BJP: 14, Cong: 12
The near 50:50 result is counter-intuitive given Modi’s supreme popularity then, unless you consider that this was one of those rare times when the BJP was in power BOTH in the state and at the centre for sufficiently long time to engender anti-incumbency. Just like this time.


Assembly elections: BJP: 117, INC: 59


Lok Sabha elections: BJP: 15, Cong: 11


Assembly elections: BJP: 116, INC: 60


Lok Sabha elections: BJP: 26, Cong: 0.

(The article appears in the December 31, 2017 issue)




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