In what was the closest fight Gujarat has witnessed in the past 22 years, the BJP barely managed to cross the halfway mark in the recently-concluded Assembly election. While the BJP managed to win 99 seats, the Congress registered its best performance in 27 years to bag 77 seats.
However, amid the nerve-wracking contest between the BJP and the Rahul Gandhi-led Congress what may have been lost in the mix was the presence of the significant ‘others’ in Gujarat’s electoral arithmetic.
Gujarat has essentially been a two-party system since 1995, with the BJP and the Congress locking horns in most, if not all, of the 182 constituencies of the state. Nevertheless, the close contest between the two parties this time ate into the voteshare of the ‘others’.
The combined voteshare of the BJP (49.1 percent) and Congress (41.4 percent) this election came to 90.5 percent. If one adds the 0.7 percent voteshare polled by the Bharatiya Tribal Party — an ally of the Congress, then the total rises to 91.2 percent.
This squeezed the ‘others’ to just seven percent of the voteshare, the lowest the group has ever garnered in the past three elections. However, the loss of the ‘others’ loss was the BJP and Congress’ gain. While a resurgent Congress added 2.5 percent additional votes to its kitty, the BJP gained 1.2 percent of votes.
In the 2012 elections, the two parties had a combined voteshare of 86.8 percent. But if Congress ally NCP’s 0.95 percent voteshare is added, the total goes up to 87.75 percent.
In 2007, when the NCP and the Congress joined hands for the first time, the combined voteshare of the Congress alliance and the BJP was 88.15 percent.
Nevertheless, in both the elections, the “others” had managed to garner nearly 12 percent of the voteshare.
But who constitutes the ‘others’?
Independent candidates have garnered nearly half the total voteshare in the ‘others’ category since the 2007 elections. That year, 480 Independents polled 6.6 percent of the total votes. Five years later, 641 candidates garnered 5.83 percent of the total votes.
A 24 percent rise in Independents between 2012 and 2017 saw a whopping 793 candidates bagging 4.3 percent of total votes.
Not just Independents, but even established ‘national parties’ have a marginal presence in the state.
Take the case of the Bahujan Samaj Party. The Dalit-centric party garnered 0.7 percent of the voteshare this election, which was a 78 percent decline from 2012, when it captured 1.25 percent of the total votes.
The NCP, fighting the election alone this time, too saw a dip in its votershare dip by 58 percent — from 0.9 percent in 2012 to 0.6 percent in 2017.
The Samajwadi Party and the JD(U), both with less than one percent of the total voteshare, too have faced a rout in the recently concluded election.
But the decline in the ‘others’ category could also be attributed to the lack of a strong anti-BJP ‘third front’ this election.
The Shankersinh Vaghela-backed AIHCP failed to place itself as a credible alternative to the two national parties. The party failed to open its account and could not poll more than 0.3 percent of the votes.
Ahead of the 2012 election, a group of disgruntled former BJP leaders formed the Gujarat Parivartan Party. Fighting the polls as an alternative to the BJP and Congress, GPP could win only two seats but managed to garner 3.63 percent of the total votes. Nevertheless, BJP’s prospects were dented in as many as 23 seats across Kutch and Saurashtra.
Representational image. APRepresentational image. AP
However, one factor, completely absent in the 2012 elections, but had a significant impact in several seats was NOTA (None of the Above). NOTA garnered 1.8 percent of the total votes polled in the state. Such an impactful debut in the Gujarat elections relegated the ‘others’ to the point of irrelevance.
The NOTA effect on the recently concluded election could be gauged by the fact that there were 30 seats where NOTA votes were more than the margin of votes polled by the winner and the runner-up candidate.
According to The Hindu, BJP won 15 out of the 30 seats, while the Congress scrapped through in 13 constituencies.
Had there been no NOTA option this election, there could have been three scenarios in these 30 constituencies:
1) Votes would have been split between the BJP and the Congress
2) Votes would have gone to the Congress
3) Votes would have gone to the BJP
Any of the above three scenarios could have offered a different result for the two parties.
In the first scenario, it would be difficult to predict the seat tally. However, the second scenario would have helped the Congress cross the magic figure of 92. The final scenario would have helped the BJP win a comfortable majority in the Gujarat Assembly.
However, it is safe to say that NOTA played the saviour as well as the tormentor for both parties.