Contrast that with the shambolic Congress campaign. Gujarat state chief Bharat Solanki put on a brave face and told me, "these frequent visits by the PM are a political compulsion to bolster a weak local state leadership". But, can the Congress afford to be so complacent? It barely has a leadership in place with septuagenarian Shankersinh Vaghela threatening weekly rebellions.
With newbie Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) reviewing its plans to contest the elections in Gujarat in order to retrieve its only government in Delhi, it will be a direct face-off between the Congress and BJP again.
Sources within both the BJP and the Congress point to a very interesting strategy in "Project Vaghela" chalked out by Shah which will be a "tactical strategic win" against the Congress. It ensures that Vaghela sits at home without formally defecting to the BJP and keeps chipping away at the Congress and making attacks on the leadership.
Sensing the potential of the threat, Ahmed Patel, political secretary to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, tried to smoke the peace pipe with Vaghela and offered him a Rajya Sabha seat. Vaghela promptly went public with the offer at a meeting of supporters on July 24 and on how he declined it because he wants to stay in Gujarat. At the same show of strength, Vaghela dramatically said he no longer "owes any loyalty to Sonia Gandhi" and emotional crowds screamed "Bapu tum sangarsh karo (Bapu keep fighting)".
Says a senior Congress leader wryly, "imagine if the Kushwahas had been persuaded to sit at home and not vote in the UP election. This is what it amounts to." The Congressman said that though declining, Vaghela still has a base among the upper caste and a lot of party MLAs back him. "By ensuring he is damaging the party from within, Shah has achieved a lot. That is why Ahmed Patel tried to placate him."
Effectively, Vaghela wants to defeat his arch rival Solanki without even fighting the battle. After his public attack on Sonia Gandhi, he has next lined up a letter he has allegedly written to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, questioning his leadership.
Vaghela is challenging the Congress publicly to throw him out of the party. And as has become the norm with the party's leadership, it is displaying its lack of political smarts, also evident by the tortuous amount of time it took to decide on a nominee for the Presidential election, allowing Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to slip away to the BJP's side and putting a huge question mark on opposition unity.
"We are now in permanent reactive mode. We careen from crisis to crisis. One day we placate Amarinder Singh not to abandon us, another day it is Kamal Nath. If we are not willing to give in to Vaghela we should expel him but for that you need a leader. Our leader works only 9 to 5 and needs plenty of vacations," says a Congress leader in a biting reference to Rahul Gandhi.
Gandhi has been away on a trip to see his grandmother in Italy, his third holiday this year, while Shah is working round the clock to ensure a record win in the Gujarat elections. Shah did not even take a week off for his son's wedding and at 52 is only five years older than Gandhi, 47.
Modi virtually kicked off the BJP's election campaign yesterday by invoking Mahatma Gandhi and finally condemning the serial vigilante attacks by the so called "gau rakshaks". It will be Modi versus the rest, as the well-oiled BJP campaign now goes in to overdrive. The pitch decided by Shah is emotional: "Proud Gujaratis owe it to the son of the soil".
He is ensuring that even all booth workers hear from him. The Congress, after 20 years of being out of work, is in a shambles. Worse they don't seem to have any strategy to take on a towering Modi.
"A lot of anti-incumbency exists and we are working on the ground," says Solanki.
There would have been no better place than Gujarat to script the Congress's come-back as the Dalits, post Una, and the Patidaars were both upset with the BJP. "Gandhi should have parked himself here and led the agitation from the front. It would have shown political imagination to take on Modi and Shah at home. Unfortunately, now the BJP has the edge," says a senior Congress leader who had advised Gandhi to "Go and stay in Gujarat".
Gandhi went on holiday instead.
(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)
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