Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi flashes a victory sign during an election campaign at Viramgam in Gujarat (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)
It is a sign of the bechara-pan of the Congress Party that Narendra Modi can choose the terms of contest in all his elections. In 2002, the Congress attacked him for allowing the riots to happen. This did not redound to their advantage in a state that was still violently divided. Modi was defensive, much more then than he is now, but got away.
In 2005 he did not fight the Congress at all. His target was "Mian Musharraf". What that poor fellow, now a pathetic exile in London, had to do with the supply of water and power in Gujarat, and the issues concerning the state's farmers and businessmen is a mystery.
But the hapless Congress did not know how to turn this bizarre campaign around. As a result the front pages of newspapers, and the evening news spots on television channels, were taken by Modi's attack on jihad and terrorism, issues which affected Gujaratis, peripherally, if they affected them at all.
After the election was won, Modi dropped the Musharraf theme, showing that it had been purely to dominate the media that he had deployed this strategy of internationalising what was a provincial election. He gambled and succeeded, but because the Congress let him.
This time Modi has deigned to at least make his campaign national instead of international. But local? No chance. The very thought of Modi competing against the state leaders of Congress is out of the question. Modi's ego will not allow that.
He has no words, even of scorn, for either Gujarat Congress leaders like Arjun Modhwadia, his opponent (though few outside Gujarat have heard of him) or the rebels in the BJP who are campaigning against him. Keshubhai Patel may hold his rallies and threaten to take away the Patel vote (that won't happen), but Modi is not affected, bothered or even concerned.
And so, in this election, he attacks the "Delhi Sultanate", his carefully chosen description of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. The fact is that the Sultanate cannot even get a bill passed, so pathetically dependent it is on the kindness of its allies. It is in fact Modi, with 14 ministries of his own, who is a sultan. But the Congress has no strategy to take him on.
Modi will talk about what suits him. And the others are unable or unwilling to set the terms for a proper debate and they will follow him, not lead. This has deprived the Gujarati voter of choice. He doesn't have the information to help him decide. And, as we have seen, this is the third successive election in which this has happened. For this stupidity, the Congress can congratulate itself.
It is normally the opposition in India that is on the attack. It is the opposition that gets to pick the issues of an election. Here it's the opposite. And it's not about performance, I must clarify. Modi's talking of Sonia's foreign tours are not a boast of his economic performance.
But like a deer hypnotised by Gujarat ka sher, the Congress is trembling, stupefied and immobile, awaiting what will be certain death.
(Aakar Patel is a writer and a columnist. The views expressed are personal.)