With only five days left for campaigning for the first round of voting on December 13, the low key-vote consolidation election strategy of Congress has left the ruling BJP fearing low turnout of voters on the polling day leading to tighter electoral contests.
Zipping on the expressway from bustling Ahmedabad to Nadiad in heart of Amul belt, the Congress poll strategy is quite evident with the absence of photographs of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and party general secretary Rahul Gandhi from party posters hoisted by individual candidates.
The central leadership is missing from the advertisement campaigns with chief minister Narendra Modi, whose posters are all over the two cities, and Rajya Sabha Opposition leader Arun Jaitley publicly questioning the use of brand ambassadors instead of Nehru-Gandhi family in Congress publicity campaigns.
While Modi tried to provoke the Congress by saying that Rahul Gandhi was afraid to campaign in Gujarat as he feared electoral defeat, Jaitley derided the Congress at a rally in Karmsad, birth place of Sardar Patel, for running election campaign as sales promotion for shoes, soaps and shampoos.
Last weekend there was a blitzkrieg of BJP leaders with no less than 12 national leaders campaigning for Modi all over the state.
The Congress fort was held only by Union power minister Jyotiraditya Scindia over the weekend and Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit making an appearance in Ahmedabad for the release of manifesto.
However, the coming weekend may see action with Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi slated to address rallies across the state and BJP central leader descending on Gujarat from Friday in support of Modi.
Congress party sources said the poll strategy of keeping the campaign on a low key was deliberate and designed to prevent Modi from polarizing voters on communal lines as in the past.
“We are consolidating our voters with the hope that Gujarat Parivartan Party of Keshubhai Patel will dent Modi in Saurashtra, resulting in the BJP shedding some seats,” said a senior Congress state leader.
While Modi is confident of his numbers and told Hindustan Times that “only 20% of his campaign strategy had been unveiled”, other BJP leaders like Amit Shah feel that the Congress strategy will backfire as Keshubhai party will eat into votes of both the main parties.
The BJP campaign managers perceive that non-strategic voting by the minority community this time will balance out the dent made by Keshubhai GPP party.
Despite electorate turning out in large numbers to hear BJP leaders at evening rallies across the state, the cold campaign strategy of Congress has slightly unnerved the ruling party as it is finding difficult to calibrate its campaign.
Even though Modi is very confident of voters coming out in large numbers, a section of BJP leadership feels that Congress ploy is two-fold : keep the voter turnout low and help Keshubhai to dent Modi vote.
According to BJP sources, this way Congress plans to consolidate its traditional 35-38% vote of minority and dalits, cut into BJP’s 48-49% vote through GPP and hope that Modi sheds seats in the forthcoming Assembly.
With more than 10 days left to final round on December 17, last word on campaign strategy is still to be said in Gujarat polls.