BHUJ, GUJARAT: Prime Minister Narendra Modi today tore into Rahul Gandhi, pitching next month’s Gujarat election as a fight between “vikas (development)” and “vanshwaad (dynasty)”. Gujarat will never forgive the Congress, said the Prime Minister, addressing a rally in Bhuj shortly after offering prayers at a temple to start a campaign blitz in his home state. “They are coming to Gujarat and spreading lies about a son of Gujarat. Earlier they did that with Sardar Patel also. Gujarat will never accept this. No Gujarati will accept the lies that they are spreading,” PM Modi said. Later today, he will address two meetings in Saurashtra and one in south Gujarat. He will be back on Wednesday for four more rallies in a hectic schedule that will see him address over 30 public meetings in the next two weeks before Gujarat begins voting on December 9. Bhuj and Saurashtra sent 54 legislators to the 182-member Gujarat assembly.
The Prime Minister leads an array of BJP A-listers in the party’s campaign for the final leg of a hard fought battle with the Congress. 26 cabinet ministers, six BJP Chief Ministers and a dozen parliamentarians will fan out cover different parts of the state. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is expected to draw the most crowds, local leaders have aid.
Bhuj, the Prime Minister’s first stop today, is a BJP stronghold that also has 33 per cent Muslim voters and has witnessed some of the most polarised elections in the past. “Gujarat is my Aatma (Soul), Bharat is my Parmatma (Supreme Soul). This land of Gujarat has cared for me, Gujarat has given me strength,” PM Modi told his supporters at his rally in Bhuj.
Saurashtra’s Amreli and Surat, PM Modi’s last stop today, are dominated by the powerful Patel community, who the BJP hopes will continue to back it despite their recent displeasure over its government not including them in castes that get benefits of affirmative action. PM Modi compared his government’s response to the Uri attacks with that of the UPA government’s response to the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. “India was attacked on 26/11 and in Uri. You can see how India responded in the wake of both attacks. This explains the difference between their Government and ours.”
The BJP has also launched a mass contact programme, “Chai ke saath,” in each of Gujarat’s over 50,000 voting booths. On Sunday BJP workers and leaders gathered with the public over a cup of tea to listen to PM Modi’s regular “Mann Ki Baat” radio address.
This is a fresh take on PM Modi’s famous “Chai Pe Charcha” strategy that the BJP deployed ahead of the 2014 general election, highlighting PM’s childhood when he sold tea at railway stations to stress that he is a self-made leader.
The BJP has justified deploying a third of its central cabinet in the Gujarat campaign. “We have a galaxy of leaders. The Congress does not have any – and the ones who they do have are being sidelined,” said Anil Jain, a top BJP leader handling the campaign in Gujarat said last week.
In comparison, the Congress has planned what it calls a more “low-key, sustained” campaign, with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi continuing to visit the state and attack the BJP on development and the economy. The Congress has a list of 40 campaigners for Gujarat, including several film stars.
BJP chief Amit Shah has set the party a target of winning 150 of the state’s 182 assembly seats. The party’s best so far has been 127 seats in 2002.
The BJP’s star campaigners – the list includes union ministers Rajnath Singh, Nitish Gadkari, Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj – will address rallies this week in constituencies which vote in the first phase of the assembly elections on December 9. Elections will be held on that day in 89 seats in Saurashtra and South Gujarat.
The remaining 93 constituencies in central and northern Gujarat will vote on December 14. Results will be announced on December 18 along with those for Himachal Pradesh, which voted earlier this month.