Modi aims for Guj sweep to keep PM dreams alive

If he can put up a dazzling show, his supporters believe, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi will be in the driver’s seat to lead the BJP’s war against a weakened Congress-led UPA in the next LS polls. Shekhar Iyer and Mahesh Langa report. | Assembly polls | The mother of all poll battles

india Updated: Oct 10, 2012 17:50 IST
Shekhar Iyer,Mahesh Langa,Keshubhai Patel

For Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, it’s not just about winning a third straight term. As Modi has shown by resuming his fierce campaign against Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, he is making an all-out bid to sweep the polls in the state in order to stake claim for a bigger role at the Centre in 2014.

A mere win or even a repeat of the BJP’s performance of bagging 117 of the 182 seats of 2007 will hardly be of comfort to Modi, who feels that his moment of reckoning is close at hand.

If he can put up a dazzling show, his supporters believe, Modi will be in the driver’s seat to lead the BJP’s war against a weakened Congress-led UPA in the next Lok Sabha elections.

This time, Modi is looking for 150 seats, beating Congress leader Madhavsinh Solanki’s record of leading the Congress to victory in 148 seats in 1985 on the back of the KHAM (Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims) alliance. That was also the last time the Congress won in Gujarat.

Modi knows he is facing a silent formidable challenge from the Patels, led by former CM Keshubhai Patel, whom he had dethroned.

The Patels have traditionally been loyal voters of the BJP but Keshubhai can influence them at least in 20 constituencies of Saurashtra. So, Modi is chasing the Congress vote bank, namely dalits and tribals. He is counting heavily on first-time voters and the youth.

Tribals make up 15% of Gujarat’s population. In line with this, 26 seats are reserved for them. Moreover, their vote plays a decisive role in 12 others. Modi is banking on his personal charisma to win them over. Further, in the run-up to the announcement of the elections, Modi has been holding Garib Kalyan Melas (GKM), which are loan-cum-aid rallies, to woo the poor tribals.

Also, a redrawing of assembly constituencies has changed the demographic profile of nearly 65 of the 182 assembly seats in the state. Over two dozen sitting MLAs of the ruling party have been affected.

The Congress, meanwhile, has avoided making the 2002 riots central to its campaign. Every time it has raised the issue in previous election, Modi has managed to polarise the population along communal lines and won decisive victories.

Instead, it is raising local issues like neglect of tribals, weaker sections and urban middle and lower middle classes while attacking Modi for “working for a select group of industries”.

The Congress is also raising the issue of corruption in the Modi government. It is highlighting a CAG report indicting the Modi government for irregularities of over R45,000 crore in several departments.

Another issue taken up by the Congress is the government’s failure to dig canals envisaged by the Narmada project. Result: water is not reaching farmers in north Gujarat and Saurashtra. The drought in Saurashtra, where 20 farmers committed suicide, is also a big talking point.

The Congress has announced a series of populist schemes like a cut in VAT on petroleum products, affordable houses to urban women, free plots to the rural poor and providing jobs to 100,000 people.

To counter the Congress campaign, Modi has attacked the UPA on issues such as coalgate, the 2G scam and his favourite subject – the alleged injustice to Gujarat by the “Delhi Sultanate” and “misuse of CBI and other central agencies”.

First Published: Oct 03, 2012 22:56 IST