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TOUGH TIMES AHEAD

In about a couple of weeks Gujarat will go to the polls. The nation is waiting to see whether the stateís much-maligned chief minister, Narendra Modi, wins another term in office, particularly as he is being tipped to be the Bharatiya Janata Partyís possible candidate for the prime ministerís post for the general elections slated to be held in 2014. That will depend, of course, on what the BJPís ally, the Janata Dal (United), thinks about Modi leading the alliance. For the moment, the man himself has his eyes fixed on his own state, where he has warned that he will give the Congress a drubbing again. This is not unlikely, given Modiís record as chief minister. The world is increasingly taking notice of him, and even the Chinese are reportedly learning Gujarati now ó a sure sign that they are eyeing Gujarat for investment.

What is the Congress doing against such a formidable opponent? There is nothing to suggest that the party is going to put up a fight. To begin with, the partyís state leader, Arjun Modhwadia, has attracted the Election Commissionís attention for calling Modi a monkey. Congressmen at various levels are up in arms against the lists of candidates that have been announced so far.

Fervent Congress supporters may say that such happenings are par for the course for the party, and in spite of them the Congress has won elections, such as its victory at the last hustings in Andhra Pradesh. But Gujarat is different. On the one hand the voters see Modi, a cool, determined man wedded to the cause of development. On the other hand they are faced with a bunch of indisciplined, self-seeking politicians. It is obvious who they are likely to vote for.

Pay heed

The Congressís adamant adherence to its old ways is strange because Sonia Gandhi and her son, Rahul Gandhi, have been regularly reminding party members that they must pull up their socks. Recently, Rahul Gandhi was named the head of the Congress coordination committee for the Lok Sabha elections in 2014. But such a committee cannot achieve much if Congressmen at the grassroots insist on not changing their ways. The need for a change is essential as the party is hamstrung with the United Progressive Alliance governmentís performance. If the party wants to draw comfort from the recent controversies that the BJP chief, Nitin Gadkari, was embroiled in, and their possible impact on the electorate, it should remember that the Congressís top brass is also under fire. Neither the Congress nor the BJP can afford to be complacent; the Congress, in particular, should be aware of this as the parties it may want to form alliances with, in the event of a victory in 2014, do not have squeaky clean records either.

The allegations plaguing Modi once again are about the Godhra carnage. But the event took place many years ago; since then, Modi has come out on top more than once electorally. He has gone ahead with his task of developing the state. The people of the state want a tough, no-nonsense man. Modi has not taken any chances; he has fielded most of the partyís sitting members of the legislative assembly for the first phase of the Gujarat polls, in order to prevent any grumbling.

It is easy to see that a defeat in Gujarat for the Congress will make the partyís tasks in the days ahead much more difficult. Merely harping on the secular ideal will not do. The Congress will have to deliver on its promises. The aam admi must see that reforms really will benefit them. Perhaps the ordinary party workers know this, but the party bosses must wake up to this reality too. They should not hope that a further consolidation of Modiís position in his party will lead to escalating tensions within the BJP. The latter is yet to bid farewell to discipline.