Hours before the the first phase of polling in Gujarat, the battle of ballot turned bitter and personal like never before in the state. While prime minister Narendra Modi is leaving nothing to chance in his bastion, a rejuvenated Congress is smelling a turnaround in its fortunes with Rahul Gandhi, set to take over his party’s reins, stretching all the resources at his command.
A stray comment by a senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Iyer led to the BJP and Modi clinging to straws. It was as if there was no other issue in the elections.
Known to be a sharp and intelligent leader, who was a distinguished member of the Indian Foreign Service, Mani Shankar came out with his explanation that the use of the word ‘neech’ (lowly) for Modi was being misinterpreted. He said that since he thinks in English, his translation into Hindi may not have been appropriate. Aware of the possibility of BJP making it an issue, Congress took little time in suspending him from the primary membership of the party even though he had been a loyal and committed worker for a long time.
Modi latched on to the word ‘neech’ as if nothing else mattered. He even went to the extent of claiming that Mani Shankar had given a ‘supari’ to Pakistan’s ISI to eliminate him !
Modi not only made an issue of it in his campaign speeches, he also fretted out comments made against him by an array of Congress leaders in the past. He said he was described by different Congress leaders as Hitler, mental case, killer, impotent and what not and even recalled that Congress president Sonia Gandhi had called him “Maut ka saudagar”.
Modi and the BJP are, however, forgetting that use of such words and expressions are part of election rhetoric. Even BJP leaders had been making fun of Rahul Gandhi calling him “Pappu” and what not.
However what is a serious matter is that while the campaign has become highly personalised and bitter, all major issues are being brushed under the carpet. BJP is not talking about its “achievements” and developmental issues.
Shockingly even its manifesto was released after the campaign for the first phase of the election had already ended. While some say it was part of party’s strategy to remain in headlines on the polling day, the fact that the BJP did not appear confident of declaring manifesto well in advance is a poor reflection on the confidence level of the party leaders.
Undoubtedly Modi and the BJP are facing one of their toughest electoral battles. It was Modi who had led the last three election victories for the party in the state and had faced virtually no contest in the 2014 general elections where again he was the face of the party.
With Vijay Rupani a pale shadow of Modi as the chief minister, the voters shall have to weigh their options. Ironically even the Congress is also in the same boat as far as state leadership is concerned. The party does not have any prominent leader although it had all the time at its disposal to build up a local leader.
Thus it is a strange and unusual Assembly election where the campaign posters are dominated by either Modi-Shah combine or Rahul-Sonia duo while local leaders are missing.
Most of the opinion polls conducted by various news channels and media houses project a close contest but none of these are giving a clear led to the Congress.
These Opinion polls, although with a poor track record, suggest that the BJP would emerge as the single largest party which may also form the government on its own. None of these polls give Congress a clear chance. Some of these polls have tied the BJP and the Congress with similar vote percentages but still think that the BJP would pull through.
Whatever the outcome, the bitterness that has been injected into the campaign would leave a bad taste in the mouth. Hopefully it does for last for too long.