Gujarat elections: BJP plays the Modi trump card in final phase of campaign
New Delhi: With less than a fortnight to go for Gujarat elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is going into an overdrive—its star campaigner Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be holding 27 more public meetings to wrap up a list of 35.
While eight of them in Rajkot, Surat, Morbi, Somnath, Bhuj, Bhavnagar and Amreli have already been ticked off, the rest have been scheduled till campaigning concludes on 12 December. The two-phase Gujarat elections is scheduled for 9 and 14 December while counting of votes is to take place on 18 December.
By making Modi the centre stage, the BJP is clearly looking to refocus the contest with its principal rival, the Congress. At the moment, the Congress has tended to focus on the anti-incumbency, especially with the BJP being in power in the state for 22 years, and caste politics.
“The idea is to organize one public meeting for every 5-6 assembly constituencies so that the prime minister is able to personally address voters of a limited area. Modi has a direct connect with the people and that is the biggest advantage for the BJP because the campaigner is the most popular leader in the state and the country,” said a senior BJP leader who is part of the planning process.
The same leader added that the party is keen that Modi becomes the talking point of the Gujarat election campaign. “It will benefit the party more if the focus is on prime minister because the election would then become Modi versus the opposition. The prime minister has repeatedly said in his public meetings in Gujarat that people should rise above caste differences and development must become the main discussion point of the elections,” the BJP leader added.
The Congress has sought to tap the disquiet among a section of voters by trying to string together caste alliances. Accordingly, it has reached out to Hardik Patel-led Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), other backward classes (OBC) leader Alpesh Thakor-led Gujarat Kshatriya Thakor Sena and Chhotubhai Vasava-led Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP).
Interestingly, apart from the public meetings of Modi, the BJP has also requested senior cabinet ministers Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj and Nitin Gadkari to join the campaign.
Similarly, chief ministers Yogi Adityanath of Uttar Pradesh and Vasundhara Raje of Rajasthan will also hold public meetings in Gujarat.
“Gujarat is the home state of prime minister and BJP president Amit Shah so that state is very important for us. The election is also crucial because the BJP government in Gujarat is the longest-serving state government for the party and we would like to keep it that way. We are confident that there is no space for caste based politics in Gujarat and people will opt for politics of performance and not caste,” the BJP leader said.
In the 2012 Gujarat elections, when Modi was the incumbent chief minister, BJP had won 115 out of 182 seats with a vote share of 47.85% while Congress was a distant second with 61 seats and 38.93% vote share.
Political analysts feel that the BJP is facing a challenge in Gujarat elections this time around because of the agitations by communities like Patels, OBCs and Dalits. In addition, the disruption arising from back-to-back policy manoeuvres of demonetization of high value currencies and the roll out of the goods and services tax from 1 July has also stoked resentment among a section of the electorate.
“Since 2002, the entire election and politics of Gujarat has revolved around Prime Minister Narendra Modi. There is no other mass leader either in the BJP or in opposition who can replace Modi, so it is obvious that BJP would try to benefit from public meetings of Modi,” said Ghanshyam Shah, an Ahmedabad-based political analyst.