The coming weeks are expected to see Modi undertake a vigorous campaign where he will address rallies in Gujarat rather than giving speeches in Hindi when he has inaugurated projects in the state recently.
The Election Commission lifted the suspense over Gujarat poll dates, announcing voting on December 9 and 14 and setting the stage for a pivotal contest seen as a mood setter for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The Gujarat results will be declared on December 18.
Congress will be going to ride on resentment over GST implementation in a business-friendly state and demonetization and local incumbencies such as the Patel reservation demand. So, the saffron party will have reasons to believe that it can get the better of its rival despite a contentious and bitter poll. According to the President of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, Raj Thackeray, “I wonder why so many Ministers, including the Prime Minister, are holding so many rallies in just one state. Though it is the home state of the PM, it does not look nice that the country’s head is campaigning for one state. If the BJP-led government in Gujarat had done a good job, there was no need for so many Ministers to campaign for the party in the State.”
The contests in Gujarat since PM Narendra Modi first became chief minister in 2001 have always been hard fought even though BJP has come out on top and this will be the first time since 2002 that he will not be CM. With Gujarat being the power base that pushed Modi to the national stage, the election revolves around him and he is BJP’s biggest poll card.
A BJP loss in the bastion will give the opposition which has not made much headway since Modi’s big win in 2014, a serious boost and help soften the blow caused by Bihar CM Nitish Kumar’s turn towards BJP. It will lift the opposition ‘s spirit ahead of elections in Karnataka next year where Congress is facing a stiff challenge. Elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan are also due towards the end of 2018, and an upset for BJP in Gujarat will help Congress better exploit the incumbency of BJP regimes in those states.
Even the re-tweets of anti-BJP handles have also gone up and BJP has now begun to hit back with greater effects in its strategy for social media. The first phase of polling in Gujarat will be held on December 9, exactly a month after polling gets over in Himachal, and will cover 89 assembly seats across 19 districts. In the second phase, 93 seats spread over 14 districts will go to polls. In the window that was available since the Himachal Pradesh polls were announced, schemes and projects worth nearly Rs. 11,000 crore were announced in Gujarat. BJP defended the time gap saying that the EC had acted to ensure that the state does not have to suffer an exceptionally long spell of the model code of conduct.