Ahmedabad: Invoking the notion of Gujarati pride, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has set itself the ambitious target of winning all 26 Lok Sabha seats from Gujarat, the state that most opinion polls say is about to give India its next prime minister.

At the coming general election, the BJP’s idea is to replicate the 1984 success of the Congress, which, led by chief minister Madhavsinh Solanki, won 24 out of 26 Lok Sabha seats that year, creating a record that has remained unbeaten.

But, given Modi’s huge popularity in his home state, 1984 looks like history now.

The state BJP’s target of a clean sweep received a shot in the arm with the recent announcement that Modi will contest from the Lok Sabha seat of Vadodara, in addition to Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh.

Vadodara is seen as a BJP bastion with the party having won successive elections there since 1998. Balkrishna Shukla, who won the seat by a huge margin of over 136,000 votes in 2009, made way for Modi to contest in the April-May general election.

Boosting the BJP’s pre-poll confidence level, several state Congress legislators have left the main party of opposition in Gujarat to join the BJP.

On Tuesday, the Congress fielded its general secretary Madhusudan Mistry to take on Modi from Vadodara. The move came hours after Narendra Kumar Rawat, the Congress’s earlier choice, withdrew from the race.

Earlier, the BJP named Bollywood actor Paresh Rawal as its candidate for Ahmedabad East, rejecting the constituency’s veteran MP Harin Pathak, who is said to be close to sidelined party patriarch L.K. Advani.

The party has decided to appeal to the sense of Gujarati pride to win votes.

“After Morarjibhai Desai (India’s fifth prime minister), it’s for the first time that a person from Gujarat is going to be the prime minister and there is lot of excitement among six crore Gujaratis for this," said Vijay Rupani, the state BJP spokesperson.

“There is a lot of anger in the people against the Congress which is a sinking ship. In the last couple of months as many as seven MLAs have left Congress to join us. A lot of party workers at the grassroots level have also left Congress to join us. We are looking at winning all the 26 seats," he added.

Crowd pullers such as 3D holographic projections of Modi that were used in state assembly elections in 2012, will be used in the general election, he said. According to Rupani, Modi’s candidature from Vadodara will also have an impact in four-five nearby constituencies in tribal and central Gujarat.

However, the Congress too has decided to focus on its own strongholds in Gujarat, including the tribal belt and central Gujarat region. Party vice-president Rahul Gandhi chose to launch his strongest attack yet on Modi from a massive public rally held earlier this month in a tribal-dominated region of South Gujarat.

“We are confident of retaining our present number of seats in Gujarat and are expecting to add two more seats in the Lok Sabha elections," said Manish Doshi, spokesperson of the Congress party in Gujarat.

The BJP has 17 seats and Congress 9 in the outgoing Lok Sabha.

Elections in Gujarat have long been a two-way contest between the BJP and Congress and though parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP) have been fielding candidates they are yet to win a seat.

On Wednesday, the SP said it will field 10 candidates in Gujarat. The Aam Aadmi Party, whose chief Arvind Kejriwal is standing against Modi in Varanasi and has targeted the Gujarat chief minister with allegations of crony capitalism, has decided to field candidates in all 26 seats.

With the battle heating up in the western state, the BJP has already announced candidates for all 26 seats, while the Congress has named all but three. A Congress party politician said on condition of anonymity that the prime focus was to try and retain the seats it had won last time and the three seats were not top priority.

Despite Modi’s popularity, the task of making a clean sweep in the Lok Sabha polls in the state may not be easy.

Under Modi’s leadership, the BJP has scored impressive wins in the last three assembly elections in Gujarat, winning by thumping margins, and coming close to securing a two-third majority.

But it has failed to repeat the feat when it comes to Lok Sabha elections. In the 2004 Lok Sabha election, the BJP won 14 seats from Gujarat, while the Congress won 12. In 2009, BJP won 15 seats and the Congress 11.

“As per my calculations, BJP’s tally will surely increase but it will not get more than 18-19 seats," said Ahmedabad-based Ghanshyam Shah, a political analyst and former professor with Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Still, the Congress was dealt a major setback when former Congress MP from Porbandar, Vitthal Radadiya, infamous for pulling a gun on a toll booth attendant, joined the BJP in 2013 and won a byelection in June. Another of its MPs, Mukesh Gadhvi, died in March last year and his seat too was taken by the BJP in the byelection.

Last month as many as five MLAs left the Congress to join the BJP, reducing the party’s tally to 52 in the 182-member assembly.

But the BJP too faced major embarrassment when Advani, who has been winning from Gandhinagar since 1991, recently said he wanted to contest from Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh rather than Gujarat. However, the veteran leader, a critic of Modi in the BJP, later agreed to contest from Gandhinagar.

Modi seems to have ironed out differences with rebels such as former chief minister Keshubhai Patel and former home minister during the 2002 riots, Gordhan Jhadaphia. Both quit the BJP after differences with Modi and floated a new party, the Gujarat Parivartan Party, in the run-up to the 2012 state assembly elections.

Keshubhai Patel later decided to resign as MLA and quit politics after inducting his son into the BJP in February. And Jhadaphia too has re-joined the party and is helping Modi in his campaign.

As part of its agreement with the Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) will field a candidate from one Lok Sabha seat in Gujarat.

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