It cannot get bigger than this. The Assembly elections in Gujarat, where Narendra Modi is looking to become the Chief Minister of the state for a fourth term, while also setting his eyes on transition to the national level and become the Prime Minister of India.
Given the ambitions that Narendra Modi harbours, it will not be misplaced to say that these polls are going to be a make or break elections for him. If he manages to cross the finishing line, then his claim in the Bhartiya Janata Party to be their prime ministerial candidate will become stronger.
But then it is not going to be a cakewalk for him with his troop of detractors growing by the day. It is no secret that a section of the RSS is against the candidature of Modi given his penchant for being dictatorial, as claimed by few. The much publicized spat with his bête noire Sanjay Joshi, the breakaway from the saffron party by one time CM of Gujarat Keshubhai Patel and the ghost of 2002 Gujarat ri
ots have all added to his woes. To top it, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has said they will campaign against the man who has been at the helm of Gujarat for more than a decade.
The Election Commission of India in an announcement which many were eagerly waiting for said on October 03 that Assembly elections in Gujarat will take place in two phases – December 13 and 17, with counting of votes on December 20.
Much before the EC announced the all important dates; Narendra Modi had embarked on his month-long Vivekananda Yuva Vikas Yatra on September 11 with an idea to cover the major parts of the state. Interestingly, this was the day when spiritual leader Swami Vivekanada made his historic speech at the Chicago Conference of World Religions, 150 years ago.
This was the first major campaigning exercise undertaken by Modi whereas the Congress has already organised four yatras.
Throughout his yatra, while on the one hand Modi has been talking about the development of the state under his leadership, on the other he has been relentless in targeting the UPA-2 government at the Centre and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. And very recently he accused the Congress president Sonia Gandhi of spending 1880 crore public money on her treatment and travel abroad.
However, this time around, probably, Modi’s strategy to personally target the Gandhi family seems to have backfired on him with the Central Information Commission saying on the day that the EC announced the dates for state elections that the Government of India did not make any expenditure on the UPA chairperson’s treatment abroad.
In a gesture which took many by surprise Modi had offered to tender a public apology if his charge was found to be false. What will the Gujarat CM do now? Will he stick to his allegations or will he backtrack? Has his modus operandi of targeting the Gandhi family backfired on him? These are the questions that will haunt the saffron party in due course of time.
Meanwhile, in what can be said to be lessons learnt from the past Sonia Gandhi while kick-starting the Congress’ campaign in Rajkot on October 03 addressing a huge farmers’ rally, clearly avoided directly attacking Narendra Modi. Remember, her
‘Maut ka Sudagar’ attack on Modi in a previous edition of state elections had backfired on the Congress party with the BJP using the personal attack to its advantage.
Instead she said, “Some people like to take credit for the progress of the state, let them do it but it is the people of Gujarat and Saurashtra who have earned a name for themselves world over through hard work.” Adding – “It is unfortunate that our opponents only see darkness and cannot see the development”.
However, with many predicting that the incumbent Chief Minister will come back to power in 2012, it is surely going to be an uphill task for the Congress leaders to give Modi a tough fight on his own turf.
With allegations and counter allegations being traded much before the poll dates were announced between the two main parties, the battle ground is sure going to get more heated up in the coming days with the announcement of the election dates by the EC. As Narendra Modi a told TV channel – “The real campaign starts after the election dates are announced. Before that it is all about connecting with the people.”
(The views expressed by the author are personal)