On Tuesday when the Lok Sabha election results came contrary to most opinion polls, Gujarat, Bharatiya Janata Party’s model state, did not remain an exception. The BJP was aiming at a hat-trick of winning all the 26 seats, but it had to remain satisfied with 25 seats.

The Congress finally broke its decade-long jinx and its candidate Geniben Thakor won from Banaskantha seat in North Gujarat by a margin of 30,000 by defeating Dr. Rekha Chaudhary of the BJP.

In this Lok Sabha election, the opposition Congress had nothing to lose in Gujarat and even one seat was to be a bonus, but for the BJP, which has been ruling the state for almost three decades winning all the seats was a prestige issue. It was more so because the party’s model state is also Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s home state and a dent in a tally in Gujarat would be a reflection on both Modi and the BJP’s popularity.

The Congress contested on 24 seats, leaving two – Bhavnagar and Bharuch – to the Aam Aadmi Party under the INDIA alliance. The BJP’s Surat candidate Mukesh Dalal was declared victorious on technical grounds even before the elections took place.

A year ago, when Rajya Sabha MP Shaktisinh Gohil was appointed state party president, he had an uphill task to enthuse the rank and file of the party that has been demoralized as the party has been out of power for almost three decades in the state.

As compared to the past, the Congress had good candidates. Unlike in the past, there was no discontent over ticket distribution. Albeit it is a different story that many were not wanting to contest elections due to paucity of funds and almost certainty of losing.

Anti-incumbency to a certain extent, the change in attitude of the masses to look at Congress leader Rahul Gandhi after his two Bharat Jodo Yatras and the BJP under pressure to win all the seats by a margin of 5 lakh votes, as declared by its state party president C R Paatil, set the election tone.

But a statement by Union Fisheries Minister Purshottam Rupala that did not go down well with the Kshatriyas angered the community and as the election progressed, the community gave a call to boycott the BJP in the entire state as the BJP did not pay heed to their request of changing Rupala as a candidate from Rajkot.

However, the Kshatriyas in Gujarat are not in large numbers that can reverse the fortunes of the candidates. Moreover, in the 2019 LS election, the margins of the BJP candidates was so high that it is difficult to come from behind and go on to win.

Booth management of the Congress has never been anywhere near to that of the BJP. Had there been a bit of more planning and better booth management, the Congress could have also won Patan seat and the Bharuch seat under INDIA bloc. Chandanji Thakor of the Congress lost to sitting Patan MP Baratsinh Dabhi of the BJP by a margin of 31,876 votes. In 2019, Dabhi had won by a margin of 1,93,879 votes. In Bharuch, Chatar Vasava of the AAP lost by 85,696 votes to six-time BJP MP Mansukh Vasava. In 2019, Mansukh had won by a margin of 3,34,214 votes.

Political analyst and former vice chancellor of Bhavnagar University Dr. Vidyut Joshi pointed out that this is the beginning of opposition to Modi. He also felt that the Congress would have won five seats if it had better booth management. Joshi also observed that the Congress has not been able to come up with a revival plan and does not have full-time politicians. Politics, he said, is not a part-time job.

Despite a few negatives against it, the BJP could still get 24+1 (unopposed) seats. Narendra Modi’s image and the popularity may well have taken a beating in Uttar Pradesh or states like Maharashtra, but in his home-state Modi is still popular, Ketan Trivedi, Editor (Digital) Chitralekha, felt.

Modi consolidated the BJP after he came in electoral politics in 2001, but the strong base of the party was laid by people of the likes of former chief minister Keshubhai Patel and former Union Minister Kashiram Rana. Both are no more.

As Dr. Joshi pointed out, Modi knew what would work and so he parallelly focused on fast development and religious slogans.

Trivedi also acknowledged the BJP’s booth management and at the same time added that the electorate is not finding an alternative in Gujarat.

About two and a half years ago, Paatil had introduced page committee members and page presidents. Here, the page refers to one page of the electoral roll. The BJP selects five to six persons from the page as members of the page committee and then one of them is selected as a page president. The role of these members is to ensure that the voters on their respective pages have voted. They also remain in live contact with the masses 365 days, convey them various government schemes and act as a bridge between them and the administration should the former face any difficulties. However, this time around there is a murmur that the page committee members did not remain active as at many places they were not happy with the candidates selected by the party.

Moreover, in Gujarat the roots of the BJP and more so that of Modi became more firmer after the post-Godhra violence of 2002. The majority Hindus in Gujarat see Modi as their saviour. The already existing divide between the Hindus and the Muslims in Gujarat widened further after 2002 and there isn’t any need for Modi to use the word Hindutva. It is there, everywhere.

Also, the way Congressmen have left the party, especially in the last one decade, has eroded the party's vote bank as each leader also has his supporters. One of the classic examples is that of former Gujarat Congress vice president Arjun Modhwadia, who joined the BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.

Modhwadia, who contested assembly by-election from Porbandar, won with a whopping margin of 1,16,808 votes. In the 2022 assembly elections, Modhwadia had won Porbandar from a Congress ticket by a margin of just over 8,000 votes.