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Does the voter in Gujarat have a choice after all?


Friday 6 February 2004, by MISTRY*Nikhil

AHMEDABAD: It really does not get any straighter than this. The winners of the 26 Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat will be decided by 3.35 crore voters a few weeks from now.

But unlike other states which have thrown up a plethora of options for the voters, politics in Gujarat will remain polarised between the Congress and BJP. Off and on, there are forces like the Swatantra Party (1962, 1967 and 1971), Praja Socialist Party (1962), Bharatiya Lok Dal 1977), Janata Party (1980 and 1984), Janata Dal (1989 and 1991) and the Rashtriya Janata Party 1998) which have given a third dimension to elections in the state.

However, since the emergence of the BJP as a singular formidable force since 1996 and the merger of the JD and the RJP with the Congress, the face of politics in Gujarat has been bipolar, notwithstanding some feeble and failed attempts to create a third force over the last decade. From winning just one seat in 1984, the BJP, which was earlier seen as an electoral ally of the more powerful Janata Party and Janata Dal, has come a long way, having established supremacy over the Congress in successive elections since then, securing 12 seats in 1989, 20 in 1991, 16 in 1996, 19 in 1998 and 20 in 1999. Its strength in the now-dissolved Lok Sabha rose to 21 because it has also wrested the Mehsana seat from the Congress since then.

The Congress, on the other hand, has played second fiddle in state politics for two decades now, from the high of 1984 when it secured 53.24 per cent of votes which fetched it 24 seats. Its best performance was, in fact, in the 1999 elections, following the merger with Vaghela.

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