After bitter war of words, Gujarat to vote in final phase

The Asian Age.

India, Politics

A total of 851 candidates are in the fray, with 2.22 crore people eligible to vote in the second phase.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi (Photo: PTI)

New Delhi: After a bitter, high-voltage campaign, the stage is set for the final phase of polling in Gujarat on Thursday. This will see 93 Assembly seats across 14 districts in north and central Gujarat going to the polls. A total of 851 candidates are in the fray, with 2.22 crore people eligible to vote in the second phase.

The election is a prestige battle for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a litmus test for incoming Congress president Rahul Gandhi. The campaign was not merely vituperative but eyebrows were raised even in the saffron camp when Prime Minister Modi accused former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of conspiring with Pakistan to defeat the BJP in Gujarat. While the Opposition said the remarks were a “desperate attempt to communalise the votebank”, the BJP fielded finance minister Arun Jaitley to defend the Prime Minister.

This election is the toughest fight the BJP has faced in Gujarat in the past two decades. Besides facing the wrath of traders over demonetisation and the rollout of GST, a dent in its traditional Patidar votebank has also rattled the BJP. On Thursday, psephologist-politician Yogendra Yadav tweeted his projections, in which he predicted between 92 to 113 seats for the Congress and 65 to 86 seats for the BJP. Earlier, another opinion poll predicted a close contest between the BJP and the Congress. The saffron pundits rejected these polls and chief minister Vijay Rupani claimed the party would get over 150 of the 183 Assembly berths.

What came as a surprise for the BJP was Rahul Gandhi in his new avatar. A changed man, Mr Gandhi upped the ante and his rallies seemed to have evoked a major response from the electorate. He also strategised the rainbow coalition of Patidar and OBC leaders, which could possibly dent the BJP’s base. The first phase on Saturday last recorded heavy polling, particularly in the Patidar-dominated Saurashtra region. While a section claimed this doesn’t bode well for the ruling BJP, others maintained “people may be angry with Modi, but they are not traitors”.

Besides Rahul Gandhi, the other thorn in the BJP’s foot was 24-year-old Patidar leader Hardik Patel. The BJP tried every possible trick to contain and woo this young man, but eventually failed. A sex CD allegedly about Hardik Patel also went viral, and was aired by a TV channel. Speaking to the media about the CD, Mr Hardik Patel had remarked: “If I do not have any problem with the sex CDs, why should those watching it have any? Have fun.” Some in the BJP felt the CD had “failed” to make any major impact against Hardik Patel.

In the run-up to the polls, a tug of war on the issue of  Hindutva raged between the Congress and the BJP. Mr Gandhi’s “janeu” and his temple run forced the BJP to come out openly and claim it was the “original Hindu party, while others are fake”.

Despite apparent advantages, the rejuvenated Congress faces the “mighty Modi”. The Prime Minister, who is still a major draw for the electorate, addressed 34 rallies. Losing is not an option for Mr Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. The party has pressed in all its resources and leaders in order to retain Gujarat. What could upset the Congress’ gameplan is also the BJP’s organisational and booth-level strength across the state.