The final destination might be Delhi, but Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi is taking the pit stop of a third stint in Gujarat seriously. A possible victory is expected to catapult Gujarat's longest-serving chief minister to a national level in the 2014 elections.
Modi kicked off his assembly poll campaign from Bechraji in Mehsana district, calling for a Congress-free Gujarat and launching a direct attack against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
In an arch reference to the SIT probe into the 2002 Gujarat riots, he dared the Prime Minister to face SIT probe in coal blocks allocations.
"I have faced multiple probes. Now let the Prime Minister face a SIT probe under the supervision of the Supreme Court into the coal block allocations," he said.
The month-long Swami Vivekananda Yatra is expected to pass through 24 districts, crisscrossing 150 of the 182 assembly segments in the state.
But will Modi's rhetoric carry him through? The chief minister has some cause to worry.
The low victory margin in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls has been ominous after the cakewalk he had both in 2002 - following the riots - and in 2007, despite archrival Keshubhai Patel's efforts to sabotage him.
In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP lost some of its bastions including Rajkot, Surendranagar and Dahod. Expected to win at least 20 of the 26 parliamentary seats, the party ended up winning just 15.
This time round, it does not help that former chief minister Keshubhai Patel has floated his own political outfit Gujarat Parivartan Party and ally JD(U)'s Nitish Kumar makes no secret of his opposition to Modi.
The Congress has lost no time in hitting back, reminding Modi of the recent graft allegations against his government.
"On June 19, a delegation of Congress MPs met the Chief Vigilance Commissioner and submitted a document detailing 17 scams worth Rs. 1.17 lakh crore in Gujarat," party spokesperson Manish Tewari said in Delhi.
"I want to ask the Gujarat chief minister whether he is ready for a SIT probe into these allegations. Is this the Gujarat model he is boasting of?"
In Gujarat, leader of opposition Shaktisinh Gohil too, slammed Modi.
"What did Modi do when 18 farmers committed suicide in Gujarat last month?" asked Gohil.
(With PTI inputs)
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