With his international travel commitments taken care of and his government ensuring there would be no winter session of the Parliament for another three weeks, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is unencumbered enough to launch a blitzkrieg of a campaign in Gujarat.
The PM is expected to address a rally in each of the 33 districts of Gujarat
from now to December 12, the last day of campaigning for the second phase of polling.
on December 9 and 14. Both the Congress
and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are busy finalizing their list of candidates for the 89 of the 182-seats that poll in the first phase. These seats are in the Saurashtra-Kutch and South Gujarat
regions. The lists are likely to be announced by Thursday evening.
However, the BJP
is on a sticky wicket in terms of the political narrative in the state. For once, the BJP
election strategy in Gujarat
had become defensive. Until now, it has relied on the Congress
to make a mistake. Unfortunately for the BJP, that hasn’t happened. Whatever the eventual results, political observers in the state say the Congress
campaign has seldom been run as efficiently since 2002.
Vice President Rahul Gandhi
has shown consistency in attacking the BJP
and the Modi government on economic issues, and how the Gujarat
model of development
is a “hoax”. He has studiously avoided engaging the BJP
on emotive issues of nationalism and religion. He has resisted from indulging in calling the PM names. The Congress
leader has also respected the religious sentiments of the Hindus in Gujarat
by visiting temples often.
If the BJP
top leadership believed the common Gujarati would get upset by the Congress
playing “caste politics” by aligning with Patidar leader Hardik Patel
and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani
and inducting OBC leader Alpesh Thakor, that is yet to come about. The support to the Congress
is being driven by anger towards the BJP.
The Vijay Rupani
government has announced sundry sops before the Election Commission announced poll dates. The Modi government has tried to reach out to the business community by lowering GST
rates on key items, but has finally reached the conclusion only Modi himself could save the party from an embarrassing result.
Of the five standalone campaign videos posted on the BJP's accounts, four talk about Modi. The party has attached the #ModiCheNe hashtag to the videos which say 'Modi che ne, Gujarat safe che'
(Modi is there, Gujarat
is safe). The PM may or may not be able to lead the party to victory, but the state of affairs has already put a question mark on party chief Amit Shah’s ability to lead Gujarat.
Until August, Gujarat
elections were supposed to be a walk in the park for the BJP, which Shah was expected to single-handedly deliver to the PM. It would have vindicated Shah after Anandiben Patel was unceremoniously forced out of the chief ministerial chair, and Vijay Rupani, considered close to Shah, installed.
In August, after his win in the Rajya Sabha polls and quitting his Gujarat
assembly seat, the BJP
chief had announced that the party’s campaign would rest on three planks – BJP
government’s ‘garib kalyan’
, or the welfare of the poor, its outreach to OBC (Other Backward Classes) and delivering the Narmada waters to water-scarce areas. The BJP
started with organizing district level meetings on these three issues but soon discovered poor resonance for any of the three among the people. The attendance at these meeting was bad. The party also had to face the wrath of Dalit, Patidar and Thakor youths.
then switched to it’s tried and tested ‘vikas’
, or development
plank. Here again, it failed to strike a chord. The business community had been reeling because of the twin blows of demonetisation
and GST, and conveyed its anger. Apart from the Congress, activist groups and former Gujarat
chief minister Suresh Mehta-led Lokshahi Bachao Andolan, save democracy movement, have also reached out to the people to “sensitise” them how most of the claims on ‘development’ were ‘false’, how the Narmada waters were yet to reach farmers and there were increasing number of farmer suicides, while the successive BJP
governments have failed to deliver on ‘garib kalyan’
. Senior BJP
leader Yashwant Sinha has also contributed his bit by speaking against Modi government’s economic policies in Gujarat.
now needs to heavily rely on the PM. Its social media campaign betrays that. It is a crucial battle for Modi and Shah to win. If they lose Gujarat, considered to be their citadel, it would be a huge blow to their ambition to lead BJP
to an encore in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.