With chief Minister Narendra Modi's comments at his public meetings in Godhra on Wednesday and Mangrol on Tuesday, the focus of the poll campaign has dramatically shifted from development to terrorism and communalism.
Both the BJP and the Congress seem to have realised that an election cannot be won in the absence of an emotive vote catching issue, political analysts and feel.
“In the 2002 elections, Hindutva forces were united," said well known social scientist Achyut Yagnik.
"But during the past five years, three shades of Hindutva emerged — hardline, Modi’s own brand and soft Hindutva. Modi carried on with Gujarati pride factor for a long time, but he has now realised that his development plank is not working and he would have to speak the language of the hardliners. After all the cadre are mostly hardliners."
Yagnik saw Modi’s statements about Sohrabuddin or Hindus being terrorists as an expression of his frustration at the poor response his campaign had been receiving. It was a bid to boost the sagging morale of his partymen. "But it was also an arrogant response which showed blatant disregard for law," said Yagnik.
Suresh Patel, a shopkeeper and staunch Modi supporter saw it very differently. “Sohrabuddin is not an election issue. The security of 5 crore Gujaratis is. That is what Narendra Modi is fighting for. If a community is bent on creating trouble, it must be exposed. We support Narendrabhai’s language and politics.”
Social activist Raiskhan Pathan felt that Modi's earlier emphasis on development was only to present a respectable face before the world. The real issue always was communalism.
“If you look carefully at the newspaper advertisements, initially the BJP was talking about development and Congress was contesting its claims. As the date for elections nears, the language in the ads has grown much more aggressive. There is a feeling in Gujarat that use of strong language gets you more votes,” he remarked.
Vithal Pandya, father of slain BJP leader, Haren Pandya and a known Modi critic said the chief minister stressed terrorism, because it helped him to play the communal card with ease.
"Modi needs to rake up controversial Muslim names to ensure votes, which are otherwise not coming his way," he said.
A rare contrary view among intellectuals was expressed by research scholar Diksha Mehta. She felt there was nothing wrong in talking about religious issues during elections.
“When a leader of the stature of Congress President challenges the undisputed leader of Gujarat, it was but natural for him to react and tell the world about his views. I see nothing wrong in it,” she said.
(with inputs from Rathin Das)