As is known, if Narendra Modi wants
to play a larger role on the national stage, the Bharatiya Janata
Party (BJP) will have to record a thumping victory in the
forthcoming Gujarat elections. What this means in real terms is
that the party will have to win at least 117 seats, its tally in
2007, out of the state's 182 assembly seats.
But will this be enough considering that it had won 127 in 2002?
Arguably, if Modi wants to demonstrate his total command over the
state before moving on to greener pastures, the party will have to
reach or overtake the higher figure. Otherwise, any shortfall will
be grist to the mills of the chief minister's critics since it
will suggest a decline in his popularity.
Ironically, the two figures of 117 and 127 seats, which give a
comfortable majority to the ruling party in normal circumstances,
can no longer seem enough where Modi's ambitions are concerned.
The disadvantage of a larger-than-life personality, who also likes
to equate himself with the state, is that the political
expectations about him are inordinately high. What is enough for
ordinary mortals can no longer seem sufficient for a poster boy.
However, what may be of some concern to the BJP is that between
2002 and 2007, its number of seats and vote share dropped from 127
to 117 and from 49.8 percent to 49.1. Although the voting
percentage fell only marginally, it has to be seen against the
fact that the Congress's tally of seats rose from 51 to 59 while
its vote share also rose marginally from 39.2 percent to 39.6.
The scene changed quite a lot in the 2004 parliamentary elections
in which the Congress won 12 seats (equivalent to covering 90
assembly constituencies), with a voting percentage of 43.8 percent
against the BJP's 14 seats with a vote share of 47.3 per cent. In
the 2009 parliamentary elections, the BJP won 15 seats, which is
equivalent to 105 assembly constituencies, with a vote share of
46.5 percent while the Congress won 11 seats with a vote share of
While the Congress has evidently fared better in the parliamentary
polls than in the assembly elections, it is worth noting that the
BJP's tally of seats in the assembly fell from 127 in 2002 to 92
in 2004, if the results in the assembly segments of the Lok Sabha
elections are taken into account, then the total went up to 117 in
2007, and finally down to 105 assembly constituencies in the 2009
It has to be remembered that the decline has taken place despite
the widespread belief that the Congress does not exist in Gujarat,
as Prof. J.S. Bandukwala, who was nearly killed in the 2002 riots,
once said. In any event, the Congress's political weakness in the
absence of a leader to match Modi's stature is an accepted fact
although its vote share hovers around a respectable 40 percent.
Irrespective of whether this base of support is enough or not,
several other factors can be taken into consideration. One is the
fact that the BJP's tally in recent years was the highest in 2002,
when the riots polarised the communities as never before and led
to a surge of support from the communal-minded Hindus for Modi.
That kind of polarisation is no longer there. Besides, Modi's
overtures to the minorities during his sadbhavna or goodwill fasts
may have confused the more virulent of his admirers.
His run-in with former fellow pracharak Sanjay Joshi, when the
chief minister sulked for months, staying away from the election
campaigns in UP and elsewhere and from the party's national
conclaves, did not show Modi in a favourable light. If anything,
the episode highlighted the perception of him as a loner, which
was confirmed by the final parting of ways between him and former
chief minister Keshubhai Patel after a long period of
estrangement, during which the latter accused the chief minister
of imposing a reign of terror in the state.
Clearly, the conditions have changed considerably from what they
were in 2002, when he won on what can be called a communal tide,
and in 2007, when the remnants of the earlier anti-Muslim feelings
were still there and may have been exacerbated by Sonia Gandhi's
jibe against him of being a "maut ka saudagar" or a merchant of
Now the focus is more on his suspected prime ministerial ambitions
with the result that it has caused a rift in the BJP-led National
Democratic Alliance (NDA) with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar
of the Janata Dal (United) openly opposing any move by the BJP to
select Modi as its prime ministerial candidate. But it isn't only
the JD (U) which is against Modi in this respect, the PM wannabes
in the BJP itself may not be too unhappy if the party fails to win
117 seats, the benchmark of Modi's approval ratings.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at