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HindustanTimes Sat,19 Apr 2014

Modi's twin threats: Cong and Keshubhai

HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times  Ahmedabad, September 11, 2012
First Published: 23:18 IST(11/9/2012) | Last Updated: 23:20 IST(11/9/2012)

The third battle for Gujarat is expected to be the toughest for chief minister Narendra Modi, whose growing stature at the national level has only raised the stakes for him in the state. The two earlier assembly polls had been practically a walkover for Modi.

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But this time, not only is he fighting a resurgent, aggressive Congress, but also his arch-rival Keshubhai Patel. Bent upon damaging Modi, he has launched his own political outfit, the Gujarat Parivartan Party.

Notwithstanding the "Gujarati asmita" and the cushy economy thanks to the benign investment scenario, the truant rains have spoiled Modi's parade in areas like Saurashtra, where the kharif crop has failed.

There is also the changed political landscape thanks to delimitation and vexing legal issues like convictions of BJP workers in the riots cases.

The involvement of senior police officers and former home minister Amit Shah in fake encounter cases has come as a further blot.

Come December and all these factors are expected to play a role, feel BJP leaders.

"If Modi delivers another victory, it would definitely put him on the top in the BJP," said a senior BJP parliamentarian.

"But it seems the margin would be too close."

While the Congress has not forgotten its whiphand - the 2002 riots - it has also moved forward to take on the chief minister on his own turf, governance.

Its populist card - affordable houses for women, free plots in rural areas, free laptops to students and slashing VAT on petroleum products - has been a hit too.

As for Saurashtra, which sends 58 legislators to assembly of the 182, it has become a special focus area for both Congress and Patel.

Saurashtra has always been a bastion of the BJP, which won 45 seats the last time. But at least 25 seats are dominated by the Patel community - an ace in Keshubhai's hands.

"The way Keshubhai's meetings are drawing crowds, it is obvious that the BJP will suffer losses in Saurashtra. To compensate, Modi is focusing on the tribal belt," said a BJP general secretary.

The trouble is, of the 26 reserved tribal seats in the assembly, Congress won 14 the last time.

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