Gujarat election results: Rural-urban divide behind BJP’s big Saurashtra setback

Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByRoshan Kishore and Samarth Bansal
Dec 20, 2017 10:18 AM IST

Gujarat election results show the Congress outdid the BJP in the 2017 assembly polls in the Saurashtra region, where nearly 75% seats fall in the rural belt.

If one looks at the assembly constituency (AC) maps of Gujarat in 2012 and 2017, Sauurashtra shows the most remarkable change. In 2012, the BJP had won 35 out of the 54 seats in the region. This has come down to 23 in the 2017 elections. That is not all. Saurashtra is the only sub-region in the state where seat-share gap between the BJP and the Congress goes from positive to negative between 2012 and 2017 (see Chart 1).

BJP supporters celebrate the party’s win in the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assembly elections in New Delhi.(Sonu Mehta/HT Photo)
BJP supporters celebrate the party’s win in the Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assembly elections in New Delhi.(Sonu Mehta/HT Photo)

What explains this change? Economics rather than geography might be the reason.

The BJP has suffered a major setback in the rural areas in these elections. The share of rural seats varies across the four subregions in the state.

Ninety per cent of north Gujarat’s seats are rural. This figure is just 50% in south Gujarat. For Saurashtra and central Gujarat, the share of rural seats is 75% and 63%. As expected, the Congress leads the BJP in terms of seat share in the predominantly rural sub-regions of north Gujarat and Saurashtra (see Chart 2).

The regional differences in performance of the BJP and the Congress are a manifestation of the rural-urban divide across states. A simple statistical exercise confirms this claim. The seat-share gap between the BJP and the Congress is 12% at the state level.

There is significant regionwise variation in these figures. This variation comes down drastically if we look at the gap in seat share for rural and urban areas separately. The region-wise difference in seat share is the lowest in rural areas, which is in keeping with the larger narrative of rural discontent against the BJP (see Chart 3) .

This was not the case in the 2012 elections. Even in rural areas, the BJP’s performance was better than that of the Congress in Saurashtra (24 out of 40 seats) and south Gujarat (9 out of 15 seats). What changed this time?

Saurashtra is the main cotton-producing belt in Gujarat. Cotton prices have crashed in the post-2012 period. An earlier analysis by Hindustan Times argued that farmers in south Gujarat might not have suffered similar pain, as sugarcane is the dominant crop in the region. Sugarcane prices did not drop as much as cotton and groundnut. South Gujarat is the only region where the BJP and Congress are equal in terms of seat share in rural areas.

Those undertaking a region-wise analysis of the Gujarat verdict would do well to keep this big political economy picture in mind.

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