The 2012 assembly polls were the dullest of the three election campaigns ran by Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. The frenzy he managed to whip up in 2002 and 2007 was evidently missing.
Compared to last two times, Modi's ability to stir up the crowd appears to have declined,
his oratory laboured and repetitive. The campaign even suggested that he is past his popularity peak. So, what did Modi miss out on?
Back in 2002 and 2007, he was successful in converting the elections into a referendum on himself. It was the cornerstone of his winning strategy.
This time too, he tried to lift the campaign above local and sectarian factors to a single question: Do you want Modi as chief minister?
But the strategy is not clicking, as much as earlier. And there are several reasons.
Modi's macho image as the savior of Hindus works best when there is an enemy, real or imagined: in the communally charged atmosphere of 2002, he created an enemy in "Mian Musharraf"; in 2007, Sonia Gandhi became his opponent for her "Maut ka saudagar" line.
The image of Muslims as the 'other' was played up in his speeches. In 2007, it was less direct, but still unmistakable.
But this time, with Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi not joining issue with him and his followers considering the "Muslim question" settled, there is no enemy to fight and finish.
Modi may still be a hero, but what is a hero without a villain? So the campaign has become diffused, and local factors have become key issues.
Also, after a decade's BJP rule, anti-incumbency has become a factor to be counted.
While anti-incumbency against Modi is limited, the same is not true of individual MLAs. But Modi's 2002 and 2007 solution for it - axing dozens of MLAs - was no longer possible.
To top it all, Modi's success in demolishing the erstwhile power structure in the BJP has come to haunt him in the form of a Patel rebellion.
As Modi built a party leadership at the local level, Patels - who held sway in the party before Modi took it over - became the biggest losers.
In 2007 too, the Patels had rebelled, but Modi had overshadowed them, but now, Keshubhai Patel's Gujarat Parivartan Party is expected to eat away Modi's votebank among the Leuva Patels.
Modi has catered well to the emerging Hindu middle class of Gujarat and played on their insecurities to win twice.
He has been promising more of the same, and may well win a third time. But the emotional connect, the essence of branding, was missing this time.
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