<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>For the next month or so, all eyes will be on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state Gujarat, where both the ruling BJP and the Opposition Congress face their biggest test in the mother of all battles. The election result will have repercussions far beyond the borders of the prosperous western state. It’s a battle of prestige for the BJP that has ruled Gujarat for the past 22 years. For the Congress, which has faced defeat in poll after poll in the state since 1995, a strong performance could set the tone for crucial state polls next year and, ultimately, for the 2019 general elections.Emboldened by a string of state victories and Modi’s soaring popularity, the BJP has set an ambitious target to win more than 150 seats out of the total 182. Most watchers say the party will retain power in its citadel on December 18 when votes are counted. But this may not be easy. It’s not just anti-incumbency that the party is battling. Gujarat is where Modi honed his skills as a politician and administrator. He first came to power in Gujarat in 2001, and swept elections in 2002, 2007 and 2012. He inspired euphoric support for Gujarat’s high growth and his own personality. He still does. But his rise to the country’s top job in 2014 has also meant his absence from Gujarat’s politics.Banking on ModiModi was succeeded by Anandiben Patel when he became Prime Minister. Vijay Rupani took over as Chief Minister after Anandiben’s abrupt resignation in August last year. The BJP, however, believes he is more than just making up for the loss by making multiple trips to the state, announcing and inaugurating public projects, and launching scathing attacks on the Congress. The BJP will unleash Modi’s 30-odd rallies in the state that will see two-phase polling on December 9 and 14.Another worry for the BJP is unrest in various communities. Patidars have been the BJP’s strongest supporter over the decades. They have been vociferously pressing for reservation in education and government jobs. Many feel the BJP government has been unjust in denying them quota benefits. Sections of Dalits are also disenchanted. The Karadiya Rajputs are unhappy, too. In 2007 and 2012, the Congress did not have a strong state leader to take on Modi. It still does not have one. But the troika of caste leaders — Hardik Patel (Patidar), Alpesh Thakore (OBC Kshatriya) and Jignesh Mevani (Dalit) — is a cause for concern for the BJP.The challengesThe BJP has called more than 200 backward caste and Dalit leaders from across states to boost its campaign. They have been asked to fan out to their respective communities and explain how Hardik, Alpesh and Jignesh are diametrically opposite to each other in terms of their castes but have come to the Congress fold for personal gains. “The public now understands how the limit of reservation cannot be increased and how the provision of 10 per cent reservation for EBCs (economically backward communities) was stopped by Congress,” said BJP Gujarat spokesperson Bharat Pandya.Demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax (GST), dubbed by the Modi government as accomplishments, has been dismissed by the Opposition as twin blows on the economy. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, who has spent over 15 days in Gujarat in the past two months, has launched blistering attacks on Modi on both issues, putting the ruling party on the defensive, and forcing the Central government to lowering GST rates on various goods.Moody’s Investors Service upgraded India’s rating for the first time in 13 years on Friday, saying the country was poised for rapid growth, thanks to wide-ranging economic reforms by the Modi government. It came weeks after the World Bank moved India up 30 places in its annual ease of doing business rankings. The endorsements might have come too late for the Opposition’s campaign to be substantially dented, but the BJP will try to change the narrative.The BJP is also raking up the issue of differences between Congress leaders. BJP chief Amit Shah has been asking the Opposition party to name its CM candidate. Gujarat Congress leaders, however, say it is a diversionary tactic. “BJP has been in power in Gujarat for 22 years, but it still blames Congress governments of the past for the state’s problems. BJP continues to play victim because it has failed to deliver, and has nothing to show,” Senior Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil said. He also said that while Rahul criticised the BJP over issues such as demonetisation, GST, farmers’ problems and rising unemployment, the ruling party has responded by targeting his temple visits. Chief Minister Rupani clarified that the BJP has no problems with anyone visiting temples, but “the visits should not be just before the elections”. A rejuvenated Congress, however, sounds confident. “In the past many elections, a divided Congress made the BJP’s task easier, but our leaders are working together, and we have a good chance this time around,” said a party insider.Poll war on social mediaReflecting the significance social media has come to play in our daily lives, the Gujarat poll battle is being fought as much in the virtual world as on the ground. Both parties have already launched several social media campaigns to impress voters. The Opposition took the first strike at the BJP with the Vikas Gando Thayo Chhe (Development has gone crazy) campaign, which caught the imagination of many and inspired several memes and spoofs. Unfazed, the ruling party responded with the Hu Chhu Vikas, Hu Chhu Gujarat (I am development, I am Gujarat) campaign, reiterating that it would contest the polls on issue of development.When the BJP hit back with the Pappuone Pachtu Nathi (Pappus cannot digest this) campaign, taking a direct dig at Rahul, the Congress responded with the Gabbar Singh No Traas Chhe (There is Gabbar Singh’s terror) series, incidentally taking a cue from Gandhi’s description of GST as Gabbar Singh Tax. “Social media is all good. But our real strength is our network of vistaraks who will win each of the 50,000 booths in the state. This battle will have a strong bearing on Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh where elections will be held before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections that we’re going to win,” said a BJP strategist in Delhi.
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