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Gujarat has been witnessing heightened political activity in the past month with elections approaching nearer. Prime Minister Modi has made three visits in the past month to the state. PM launched his soft campaign by holding a road show with Japanese PM Abe on his visit to inaugurate bullet train project last month. He was in his home town Vadnagar launching many welfare projects couple of days back. He will be attending the concluding function of party’s Gujarat Gaurav Yatra on 16th Oct. FM Arun Jaitley also announced sops in GST focused on small and medium traders of the state who were reportedly unhappy.  Rahul Gandhi is in Gujarat for three day tour holding rallies and interacting with voters as part of second leg of NavSarjan yatra. While opinion polls suggest a BJP sweep, as per some reports internal polls indicate party will not have it easy.

BJP is completely banking on Modi’s charisma and Amit Shah’s organizational skills to sail it through. After all neither Vijay Rupani nor Nitin Patel nor Jitu Vaghani have similar fan following across the state. Most candidates will be seeking votes in name of local lad Modi who went on to become Prime Minister. BJP has carefully crafted a strategy to win the polls for fourth consecutive time.

BJP’s three pillar strategy is centered on:

  1. Playing the Gujarati Asmita Card

 Modi during his visit to Vadnagar played the emotion card to the hilt. He was quoted by Economic Times as saying “Coming back to one’s hometown and receiving a warm welcome is special. I go back with your blessings and assure you that I will work even harder for the nation,” Modi said, adding. Whatever I am today is due to values I have learnt on this soil – among you all in Vadnagar.”

BJP will play the card that a win for the party in the state is validation of Modi’s tenure both as Chief Minister of state and Prime Minister of the country. It would also spread the message that any loss in home state will not only be an embarrassment to Modi but would also hurt Gujarati pride.

  1. Highlighting Modi’s achievements as PM

BJP will highlight Modi’s achievements at the centre. From surgical strikes to taming China in Doklam, from fighting corruption with demonetization to simplifying tax structure through GST. How Modi has raised the stature of country internationally, how he is working for ‘Gareeb Kalyan’, make a ‘Swachch Bharat’, provide Housing to all by 2022. How he is building a New India! How he has taken up to cleanse system by targeting shell companies and benami properties!

Modi will be portrayed as a man on a mission against corrupt parties and leaders. Some of the slogans being tested are “yeh imandari aur beimani ke beech ladai hai” (it’s a fight between the honest and corrupt”) and “Fakir versus Shehzada” (a dig at Rahul Gandhi).

  1. Making the elections Presidential style

The elections is all about Modi for the BJP. He is occupying the big space on posters, he will be holding big rallies, drawing big crowds. After all it was his ‘Gujarat model of governance’ which attracted voters nationally and propelled him to PM’s chair. PM Modi is expected to travel four times each month for next two months till polls.

BJP’s successful top down strategy

With Modi at the helm, BJP has been successfully following the ‘top down’ campaign style. Modi and Shah finalize candidates, knit alliances, draw campaign designs and lead from the front. Votes are sought in the name of Modi. Simple and clear message disseminated is ‘Modi at the centre and through his representative in the state will ensure development of the state’. Campaign material mostly has pictures of the central leadership.

This works well for Modi who then runs state government through remote control from Delhi. This way Modi ensures nobody could challenge him or Shah in the near future.

While BJP would want to turn this elections into Presidential style, Congress should not fall for this trap. If Gujarat elections is converted into a contest between Modi and Rahul, BJP would win hands down.

Congress should run a much localized campaign:

Congress party should run a very localized campaign. They should refrain from attacking centre and Modi. Modi is very popular in state despite reports of anti-incumbency. Even section of critics feel state was doing wonders till he was at the helm. Successors have not been able to keep pace with his development model giving clean chit to Modi.

Congress needs to attack the sitting MLAs of BJP for their non-performance. It should try to take advantage of anti-incumbency against these MLAs. It should highlight the bankruptcy of top leadership of state and try to portray that they cannot take the state forward on development path. Modi cannot run the state as well as he did from centre through his representative. The focus has to be on how Gujarat has slipped in rankings on HDI and economic parameters post Modi.

Constituency specific detailing will help the party. Strategy should be tweaked depending upon seat demographics. Wherever traders are in majority, exploit anger against govt. on demonetization and GST. Wherever Patels are in majority, focus on measures to pass on reservation benefits to economically poorer sections of community. For farmers focus should be on agrarian stress. In Ahmedabad, focus on condition of road infrastructure post heavy rains.

To conclude, Congress cannot win a Modi versus Rahul contest in Gujarat. However, it has a better chance if it succeeds in converting elections into 182 mini elections, fought on local issues, focused on non-performance / weak links of BJP MLAs. While BJP talks of nationalism, national security, corruption, foreign affairs and other national issues, Congress should focus on roads, drinking water, education, heathcare, jobs, farmers, traders, dalits and other regional issues. Go Local should be the mantra of Congress if it wants to improve its tally and give BJP a run for their money. It’s an uphill task though!

The article was first published here.

 

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