Outcome of 2002 Gujarat assembly elections: An Analysis

As Gujarat goes to the assembly elections, the question whether the BJP can continue to seek political mileage from the 2002 carnage in the State is often raised. The answer to this, as we saw in the previous posts (and in the comments section) , has been mixed. To seek further clarity on this issue, I sought to know how Yogendra Yadav interpreted his survey results in the 2002 elections.

In an article written in Frontline, prior to the polls, YY and P.M.Patel wrote:

In response to a direct question, as many as 19 per cent of all respondents say Godhra and post-Godhra developments influence their decision about voting. This figure alone is not enough to conclude that the swing-back towards the BJP is due to communal violence. A detailed analysis of the exact nature of the impact of the recent communal violence on voting decisions does not lead to clear conclusions, for many of these voters could not specify the exact nature of this effect. It would be too hasty and perhaps unjust to think that all these ordinary voters approved of the massacre of Muslims and jumped on to the BJP bandwagon. But it is clear that the BJP has succeeded to keep the Godhra incident as an unrelieved experience on an unresolved tension for a large number of Hindus and use it to its advantage. For many respondents Godhra and post-Godhra violence is something that can overpower all other considerations.

They further wrote:

On the face of it, an average Gujarati does not approve of the post-Godhra carnage (“ramkhan” or “hullad”). When asked directly to chose between three possible responses to this violence, two involving degrees of approval and one expressing complete disapproval, an overwhelming majority of 72 per cent said it was “completely unjustified”. This is as true of the Hindu respondents as of those who intend voting for the BJP. But this consensus breaks down as soon as we pick up the role of the State during this violence that invited widespread censure and condemnation. On balance more people disapprove the State government’s handling of the riots than approve of it, but this is a contentious arena where partisan differences begin to play a role. Similarly, the government’s cussed handling of the post-riot relief work also invites popular censure. A majority of the respondents, including a majority of Hindus, believe the government did not do enough or did nothing.

The survey attempted to probe deeper than these direct questions could and went into the popular psyche on the communal issue. A series of statements were read out to the respondents and they were asked if they agreed with them. The answers do not reveal as communally polarised a situation as is sometimes believed or projected. But it does bring out deep prejudices, social distance and hostility. On balance, most of the soft communal statements won approval from a majority of Hindu respondents. A majority agreed that one cannot have the same empathy for followers of other religions as one has for one’s own, and that democracy means the rule of the majority community, that religious conversions and inter-religious marriages should be banned by law. The majority of Hindu respondents are not directly opposed to democracy but hold a strongly majoritarian understanding of what democracy should mean. But all the responses do not fall in this line. A general statement about all religions being the same also gets approval, while the demolition of Babri Masjid invites more disapproval than approval. Besides, it should be noted that the approval for communal statements is seriously contested by a large number of Gujarati Hindus.

It would be hard to provide clear survey evidence that the BJP’s apparent comeback is directly related to the anti-Muslim carnage and the communal polarisation. But the survey does provide some clear pointers. If all the communalism-related questions are put together to form a measure of intensity of communal feelings, we see a direct association between this measure and the vote for the BJP


In an article in Frontline, explaining the post-poll findings in 2002, YY wrote:

Violence often serves to redraw boundaries of identity and affiliation. This is what seems to have happened with Gujarat. An analysis of the 65 constituencies that saw significant anti-Muslim violence in early-2002 brings out the dark shadow on this verdict of the widespread massacres.

Although the overall number of seats held by the BJP and the Congress has remained about the same, as many as 76 seats have changed hands between this and the previous round of Assembly elections. The BJP has lost 29 seats to the Congress, but has more than made up for it by snatching 35 seats. But it is important to note that 22 per cent of all voters mentioned the Godhra carnage or the post-Godhra violence as the decisive consideration. A quarter of the BJP’s voters and one-sixth of the Congress’ voters mentioned either of these considerations. Other secular considerations weighed more heavily for the Congress voters than those of the BJP, but there were no sharp divergences here.

What followed was a contradiction of YY’s initial finding that the violence-affected constituencies tended to return the BJP candidates. YY asked:

Did the riots play a role in swinging voters back to the BJP even in areas that did not see any riots? The answer, according to the CSDS post-poll survey, is a clear `yes’. The proportion of Hindu respondents who say that Godhra mattered a `great deal’ in their voting decision is about the same in the riot-affected regions as in the rest of the State. If anything, respondents in the riot-affected areas were more circumspect in discussing this and keener than the others to deny any connection with Godhra. The Sangh Parivar has succeeded in turning Godhra from a local event to a generalised icon; the proximity of Godhra to a voter has had nothing to do with the geographical distance.

When asked to agree or disagree with a series of statements concerning Godhra and its aftermath, a majority of Hindu respondents endorsed the post-Godhra riots while trying to distance themselves from their consequences. A clear majority of 55 per cent of Hindu respondents (73 per cent of those who had any opinion on the matter) agreed with the suggestion that the post-Godhra riots were “necessary to teach a lesson to anti-national elements” (read Muslims). While this category includes a larger proportion of BJP voters, it is worth noting that 47 per cent of the Congress voters (69 per cent of Congress voters who have any opinion on this question) also agreed with this communal statement. At the same time, it is also true that an ordinary Hindu does not want to look back now. Two-thirds of them agree that both Hindus and Muslims should now forget Godhra and its aftermath. Oddly for a people who are prepared to endorse the massacre of Muslims, nearly everyone agrees that those found guilty of violence in the riots must be punished.

On a simple reading these are contradictory answers. But these contradictions bring out the state of the mind of an average Gujarati Hindu. A Congress supporter could use these as the justification of the soft-Hindutva line that was deliberately adopted by the Gujarat Congress during the election campaign.

Does the truth lie behind these contradictory findings? I doubt.

(Those interested in knowing the methodology adopted by CSDS in these surveys may read this report which appeared in The Hindu in 2003)

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1 comment
  • Dear VV,

    A couple of comments on your last post first. First of all, one couldn’t help but agree that a better survey with more specific questions is required to draw authoritative conclusions. As for question 62, I concede that the explanation you offer is more convincing than mine. YY comes to the same conclusion from the 2002 pre-poll survey here. On question 64(b), a direct and natural reading of the question does support the interpretation you stated. The reason for reading it more broadly is because the Sangh had widely campaigned that responsibility for the riots lay primarily with the perpetrators of Godhra (Modi’s action-reaction statement is part of this). Had a separate question been asked ‘Who is responsible for the riots? Choices: (a) perpetrators of Godhra (b) Sangh Parivar organizations’, there is a good chance that a significant number would choose (a). As for question 64(c), it is possible that ‘whatever happened after the riots’ refers also to the arrests but the riots having been the predominant event in the aftermath, having shaken the state, affected daily life, captured, and having had such lasting consequences, I would bet that it is the one thing that people would think of when that phrase is mentioned.

    In these two articles, several interesting points emerge. In the pre-poll survey, BJP-Congress difference is 24% in riot-affected areas and 10% in the rest. In the post-poll survey, this is what they say: “…The BJP has won 52 of these 65 seats (which they analyzed), which represents a success ratio that is considerably higher than in the remaining constituencies. Its lead over the Congress is about 19 percentage points, compared to 5 percentage points in the remaining constituencies. It is not that the BJP was always stronger in these constituencies. There has been a 12-point swing in its favor since the last election, compared to the less than one-point swing that has occurred in the rest of the State…” (The disparity between pre- and post-poll findings is perhaps not statistically significant). This data is suggestive that the carnage had a positive effect on the BJP’s fortunes.

    In the pre-poll survey, they say that only 19% (22% in the post-poll survey; the difference is again quite small) were influenced by the Godhra/post-Godhra developments in their voting decision and this number is not sufficient to explain the swing towards the BJP owing to communal violence. They argue, as you pointed out, that if all the communalism-related questions are put together to form a measure of intensity of communal feelings, a direct association between this measure and the vote for the BJP. I am not sure how this calculation is worked out and why they believe that Godhra/post-Godhra developments are insufficient given the numbers (5 – 24%) that we are talking about here (also note that where the BJP lost, they do not seem to attribute it anywhere to Godhra but to other bread and butter issues. They even said, “Constituencies with a significant (more than one-fifth) proportion of Muslim voters do not show any significant difference from the rest. The turnout in these constituencies was at the same level as the rest. The BJP picked up a majority of these seats and enjoyed the same 10 point advantage here as it did in the State as a whole”). Conceding this point however, the explanation may be that long and deeply held prejudices get accentuated by an acute episode of this kind so that the reason for the electoral impact of the carnage is more indirect.

    Finally, if the overwhelming majority indeed believe that the riots were ‘totally wrong’ and yet by a similar margin feel that the post-Godhra events were necessary to teach ‘anti-national elements’ (YY believes and I concur that the reference is probably understood to imply Muslims) a lesson, what explains this seemingly schizophrenic attitude? Perhaps it is like eating meat: many who love their plate of chicken do not know, want to know or think about the gory details of the abattoir (I am not trying to get into the humane killing debate here). Likewise, even if retributive justice delivered collectively to the community is thought to be morally necessary and justified, the blood and gore that putting this judgment into action entailed is something they would prefer to do without.