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Gujarat elections: PM Modi says Mani Shankar Aiyar gave ‘supari’ in Pakistan, Rahul Gandhi targets BJP on manifesto

The BJP and Congress targetted each other ahead of the first phase of Gujarat elections, in which 89 of 182 seats go to polls on Saturday.

GujaratElection2017 Updated: Dec 09, 2017 07:42 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Gujarat elections,Gujarat assembly elections,Narendra Modi
A life-size digital cutout of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was set up at Sabarmati Riverfront in Ahmedabad.(Kunal Patil/HT Photo)

The campaign trail in Gujarat heated up on Friday ahead of the first phase of polling in the state with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP’s star campaigner accusing Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar of issuing a “supari” (contract) in Pakistan to have him “removed”, even as Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi criticised the BJP for waiting till the 11th hour to release its manifesto.

The first phase of elections to the Gujarat assembly is scheduled for Saturday, as 89 of 182 seats go to the polls, in what is perhaps the most watched and closely contested election in the state in two decades.

The BJP has ruled the state for 22 years, but the Congress has always had a significant presence in the state, with its vote share never going below a third, and it is expected to do better this time. In the 2012 assembly elections, the BJP won 119 seats and the Congress 57. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won all 26 Lok Sabha seats in the state.

This time, opinion polls give the Congress anything between 37 and 85 seats, and the BJP 92-141. Modi, the former chief minister of Gujarat, has been leading the campaign from the front. He has spent much of the past week in the state, and is expected to spend the first part of the coming week (campaigning for the second phase, scheduled for December 14, ends on December 12) here too. BJP president Amit Shah has also camped in the state.

The Congress campaign, overseen by veteran Ashok Gehlot, has had Rahul Gandhi, who will be announced as the party’s next president on December 11, as its face. The Congress has been supported by the Patidars, led by Hardik Patel, some backward classes, led by Alpesh Thakor, and the Dalits, led by Jignesh Mewani.

All three are young and charismatic leaders, and strong orators, with a significant following among the young people of their respective communities. These young people want jobs, and better education that leads to such jobs.

The Congress is hoping that its partnership with the three – Patel is supporting it but not contesting the election himself; Thakor has joined the Congress and is a candidate; and Mewani’s candidature is supported by the Congress – will help.

As will angst over the fallout of last year’s demonetisation and this year’s Goods and Services Tax on small traders in the state who have traditionally voted for the BJP.

The BJP is hoping its focus on Other Backward Classes (OBCs) who are worried that any quota for the Patidars will come at their expense, its track record in the state, superior planning and constituency management, and the Modi magic will see it through. Modi and the BJP have also been quick to latch on to missteps by the Congress. Earlier this week, Congress leader Kapil Sibal, appearing in the Ram Janambhoomi case in the Supreme Court asked for the hearing to be deferred till after the 2019 polls claiming that the outcome of the case could have significant implications on the 2019 parliamentary polls.

There has been confusion over who he appeared for. And on Thursday, Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar called Modi “neech” or low class, prompting the Congress to suspend him from the primary membership of the party. The BJP has milked both to its advantage.

Modi continued to do so on Friday, recalling a 2015 visit by Aiyar to Pakistan during which he had said in a talk show that relations between India and Pakistan would not improve until Modi was removed from the way.

On Friday, the BJP released its so-called vision document or manifesto, promising a better deal for farmers, sops for people belonging to the Other Backward Classes, and better housing, health, and education for all, although it stopped well short of promising the quotas in jobs and educational institutions that the Congress has promised the Patidars.

The BJP maintains that the Congress formula isn’t legally tenable (a Supreme Court judgment mandates that quotas must not cross the 50% mark).

First Published: Dec 08, 2017 23:06 IST