Arjun Modhwadia is a quiet man. It is hard to guess he is going into any contest, let alone a high-stakes one with chief minister Narendra Modi.
He shows no sign of nerves – even on a day he is to accompany Congress chief Sonia Gandhi to two crucial rallies. And he is a keen opponent, who picks his battles from the grassroots and counts his victories on his way up to the final do-or-die battle.
A mechanical engineer who resigned from his secure job in the Gujarat Maritime Board in 1997 to concentrate on his political career, Modhwadia could have — some say should have — seen this election as a make-or-break one, for himself as well as the Congress.
But Modhwadia sees it differently. “We will take Gujarat our own way,” he said.
So what is his assessment of Modi’s reign?
“It is a feel-good rule, with nothing concrete achieved. The feel-good factor is being marketed through a willing media. Modi has been working like a businessman, his profit is power,” Modhvadia said.
Aware of the odds, his focus has been on re-building the Congress in Gujarat — which means, among other things, getting rid of the “BJP’s B-team” tag.
“Over a year ago, we started on a course of agitational politics,” he said. “We took data to people and asked them to judge whether the government’s claims about development are true or not.”
Modhvadia, in fact, is emphatic about the “falsehoods” spread.
“Let me give you two examples,” he said. “The Garib Kalyan Mela organised in all districts cost this government crores of rupees through marketing, management and producing glossy literature. All that the poor people got were glossy papers and a food packet. Then take the industrial investment. Ten to 12 chosen industrialists have made it good but the marketed lie is that Gujarat got investment of Rs. 39,00,000 crore. Where is that?”
The people of Gujarat, he added, “can see the truth for themselves now, they know what they hear and see on television is hype”.
But will that translate to a victory? Modhwadia, along with key party leaders, believes that even restricting the BJP to a score below 100 in the 182-seat assembly will put brakes on the Modi juggernaut.
Will he be able to pull it off? His critics, both within the party and outside, feel he is too mild to take on Modi and the party would have been better off with “a typical, aggressive leader”.
But Modhwadia is confident. “I will retain my seat Porbandar though I am battling money power, muscle power and Modi power. I believe we will win the state,” he said.