Narendra Modi has kicked off his campaign for a third straight term as Gujarat Chief Minister with a month-long tour of his state today. The canny politician has picked name, time and place with care. And the message - "Gujarat wants peace and prosperity.".
Called the Vivekananda Yuva Vikas Yatra, the tour begins on a day that marks 119 years of spiritual leader Swami Vivekanada's historic speech at the Chicago Conference of World Religions. Mr Modi has made no secret of his hero-worship of Swami Vivekananda and quotes him often; this is also the year of Vivekananda's 150th birth anniversary and Gujarat is celebrating that. In the yatra's name he has also incorporated a call to the youth of the state and highlights his trademark development theme. To underscore the point he will begin the yatra from Bahucharaji, a temple town near which a massive Maruti car plant will be built. The tour will end a month later at Sanand, where the Tata Nano plant is located.
And he will use the same "rath" or vehicle that party patriarch LK Advani used for his anti-corruption Jan Chetna yatra last year. Before he set off, Modi challenged the Congress today saying, "Do you want Manmohan Singh to come to Gujarat and people to oppose his visit? I appeal to my friends in the Congress, conduct your programmes, go to the people. Whatever support you need from the government, I will provide. Do not obstruct the BJP's programmes."
Mr Modi was flanked by senior BJP leaders Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh at the flag-off. He will travel through various places in North Gujarat including Modhera, Chanhasma, Dhinoj, Jotana, Kadi and Thol. He is carrying his message of peace and good governance and an arsenal of corruption allegations against the UPA government at the Centre.
Elections are yet to be announced in Gujarat but are due by the end of this year. Mr Modi is seen as a clear favourite, but this time he battles not just the Congress, which has begun unleashing schemes like free housing for women much to the CM's chagrin, but also the Gujarat Parivartan Party, which was recently born out of an internal BJP struggle. The new party is led by former chief minister Keshubhai Patel who virtually declared war on Mr Modi before he quit and in doing so exposed chinks in the BJP armour in the state.
In about 100 seats, the party will also do battle with its own ally, Nitish Kumar's party, the Janata Dal United or JD(U) which made that announcement yesterday. The party had contested about 30 seats five years ago. The BJP's reletionship with its most politically important partner has been less than steady in recent days, owing not in any small measure to the rivalry between Mr Modi and Mr Kumar, who runs the government with the BJP in Bihar.
Mr Kumar has also indicated that he might be too busy to campaign in Gujarat; his thinly-veiled opposition to Mr Modi has been peaking lately amid discussions about the next general election. Both men are seen to have prime ministerial ambitions. Mr Modi is seen as one of the most popular leaders of the BJP but in a series of interviews, Mr Kumar has said that his party will not support any candidate for PM who does not have secular values.