NEW DELHI: The Gujarat elections have become quite interesting even as the campaigning kicked into high gear ahead of the first phase of polling. The surveys so far have predicted the BJP government in the state. However, all eyes will be on the number of seats that the saffron party wins. Now, the ruling party does not appear to be in a position to give the best ever electoral performance of the state. It means earlier there was speculation that the BJP would manage to surpass the Congress’ record of 149 seats in 1985. But under the changed circumstances now, improving its position, the Congress is in direct fight with the BJP.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which was being projected by the media to be on number two position due to announcement of freebies, is lagging behind the Congress. Now, the newbie party would hardly be able to touch even a two digit mark. However, the AAP might cut into Congress’ votes in some segments. If Arvind Kejriwal’s outfit manages to dent Congress’ vote share by 15-16%, then the grand old party might stop short of its performance in the last elections. In this case, the AAP might get the number two position in Gujarat.
The Congress could have emerged as a formidable challenger like 2017, if it had put in all its might in the elections. But the high command did not show much interest earlier. As a senior observer for Gujarat polls, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot made all possible efforts to ensure that Congress is a force to reckon with. He succeeded in this mission as well. His colleagues general secretary Mukul Wasnik, state in charge Raghu Sharma, former general secretary Mohan Prakash and B.K. Hariprasad are also playing a key role in the electoral mission. The silence of voters is keeping Congress’ hopes alive. The perceptible lack of enthusiasm and silence among the voters is worrying the BJP. So, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and other heavyweights of the saffron brigade have descended in the state for the campaigning. But still, there is doubt about BJP’s landslide victory.
Despite being in power for 27 years in Gujarat, the BJP is not highlighting its developmental works. The party is focussing on voters’ emotional bondage with Gujarat’s iconic figure Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Moreover, the party is referring to “the abusive terms” being used for PM Modi by the political opponents.
The Congress does not unfortunately have any significant leader in Gujarat. The party leaders also made objectionable statements against PM Modi or other senior leaders. This gives the BJP much-needed opportunity to make an issue that directly impacts the public opinion. The BJP always managed to capitalise on objectionable remarks that Congress leaders made against PM Modi since 2002. When Congress was close to winning Gujarat polls in 2007, the then party president Sonia Gandhi made the “Maut Ke Saudagar” remark that went to the advantage of the BJP. Similarly, Congress senior leader Mani Shankar Aiyyar addressed PM Modi as “Chaiwala” in 2014 and won a big applause from the party high command. But PM Modi added an emotional twist to this Chaiwala word to turn public opinion in his favour. The Congress lost the polls badly. Again, Aiyyar addressed PM Modi as a “neech aadmi”, resulting in BJP turning the tables on the Congress in 2017. Rahul Gandhi did sack Aiyyar from the party for a brief period of time, but made him join back.
This time, Rahul Gandhi’s loyalist Madhusudan Mistry helped BJP by using the word “aukat”. PM Modi immediately hit back, saying those in the Congress aiming to show him his “aukat (place)” ought to move on from name-calling to taking on BJP in elections on the basis of performance. The Gandhi family was under attack for the remarks that Mistry made.
Rahul Gandhi, who has been reluctant to campaign for assembly polls this time round, somehow took a break from Bharat Jodo Yatra to address a couple of rallies in Gujarat. But the Gandhi scion kept his focus on the stuff related to yatra only. The Congress president Mallikarjuna Kharge, however, spoke about unemployment and price rise. The Congress is working silently in Gujarat, trying to woo voters of rural and urban pockets alike on the local issues. Congress believes that AAP would cut into BJP’s votes in urban areas. PM Modi’s popularity continues to be what it was earlier. But the voters are not that enthusiastic about the state government. If Rahul Gandhi had focussed on states, the Gujarat elections could have become a close contest between Congress and BJP.