There was a lot of drama in Gujarat a few days ago. True to the BJP high command’s penchant for springing surprises, chief minister Vijay Rupani was suddenly removed from his post. No one saw it coming, perhaps including Rupani himself. It is unsurprising, though, given that Gujarat’s handling of Covid-19 pandemic was worse than other developed states.
Incidentally, in the CM popularity survey in July, we saw that Rupani was ranked third from the bottom. This was preceded by the replacement of the Karnataka CM, who also ranked poorly. The Uttarakhand CM was similarly poorly ranked. Rupani’s replacing, after a similar action in Uttarakhand and Karnataka, shows that the BJP has its ears to the ground and is proactively removing unpopular CMs.
As typical of Delhi media, political analysts began expounding various theories on the motives behind the sudden ouster of Rupani. And, expectedly, “veteran” political journalists on primetime news shows speculated with supreme confidence on who the next chief minister will be. They ‘informed the nation’ that the next CM of Gujarat would be a well-known Patidar leader and rolled out various names that fit the bill. Few of them told us that there may not be any CM at all, and early elections could be called in Gujarat.
Unsurprisingly, all these analyses proved hollow once again. The BJP high command announced a rank new, first-time MLA, Bhupendra Patel, as the next CM of Gujarat. Almost no one from the political commentariat class expected this appointment. The consensus was over Nitin Patel, the deputy chief minister and veteran Patidar leader.
With Bhupendra’s appointment, the BJP leadership seems to believe that an unknown Patidar is enough to woo voters of that community than a known Patidar or even a non-Patidar. What do voters of Gujarat feel about this selection? Is an unknown Patidar more acceptable as the CM candidate for the BJP in the next election than a known face? Prashnam decided to find out.
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Voters of Gujarat: Patidar or non-Patidar
Just three hours after the swearing-in of Bhupendra Patel as the new CM of Gujarat, Prashnam, using its proprietary technology platform, ran a survey among 2,232 voters in Gujarat across all districts and assembly constituencies. The survey sample’s caste stratification was as follows – 26% Scheduled Tribes, 18% Patidars, 18% OBCs, 8% Muslims, and 31% Kshatriyas and Other Hindus.
The question asked was: Who among these leaders should be the BJP CM candidate for the next election?
The options: Vijay Rupani, Pradipsinh Jadeja, Bhupendra Patel, and None of the Above.
Remember, the purpose of the survey was not to find out the most popular CM candidate but to test if voters prefer an unknown Patidar to a known non-Patidar as the CM candidate, which is what the BJP gamble seems to be.
As such, the names were carefully and deliberately chosen – Vijay Rupani, a known non-Patidar Bania former CM; Pradipsinh Jadeja, a known Kshatriya three-time MLA and current home minister of Gujarat; and the new unknown Patidar CM Bhupendra Patel.
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A known non-Patidar preferred over an unknown Patidar
More than 32% of respondents were not excited by any of the choices in the survey and chose None of the Above/No Opinion.
But 30% of overall voters in Gujarat preferred Vijay Rupani as the next CM candidate among these three choices, indicating that an incumbent always has a big advantage over others, which is well established in political studies.
But more important is the question – what do Patidar voters feel since the selection of Bhupendra Patel has been supposedly done to woo Patidar voters?
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Patidar voters in Gujarat not excited by the CM choice
About 38% of Patidar voters said they were not excited by any of the choices. Patidars were the most unexcited group among those surveyed after Muslims, which is perhaps understandable since they are unlikely BJP voters anyway. So, among the likely voters of the BJP, Patidars are the most agnostic of an unknown Patidar as CM candidate while STs OBCs, Kshatriyas and other Hindus seem to have clearer choices among the names mentioned.
It must also be said that 26% of Patidar voters preferred the new CM while only 20% chose Rupani despite his incumbency advantage. So, there is some truth to the theory that an unknown face from a specific caste is better to attract voters of that caste than a known face from another caste. Caste politics still reigns, even in developed states.
Moreover, 41% of STs chose Rupani while OBCs surprisingly seemed to prefer the new CM, probably because they didn’t care as much for the CM candidate as they did for the BJP as a party to vote for and went with the party high command’s choice. But clearly, Kshatriyas and other Hindus preferred Rupani and Jadeja much more over the new CM.
So, the takeaways are clear – the BJP’s gamble of appointing an unknown Patidar as CM to woo Patidar votes is still unproven as most Patidars seem unexcited by this choice.
But the strategy could pay off in the longer run to woo Patidars if the new CM establishes himself and builds an incumbent advantage since Patidars clearly prefer an unknown Patidar to a known non-Patidar.
Prashnam, in keeping with its principles of transparency and integrity, makes available the entire raw data of this survey here for analysts and researchers to verify and analyze further.
Note: This column was written with help from Prashnam’s team members.
Rajesh Jain is founder, Prashnam, an AI technology start-up that aims to make opinion gathering more scientific, easy, fast, and affordable. He tweets @rajeshjain. Views are personal.
The article is part of ThePrint-Prashnam Vox Pop series.
(Edited by Prashant)