Narendra Modi has been visiting Gujarat at least once every month since March this year and has increased the frequency as the state gears up for Assembly elections later this year amid a growing buzz of the Aam Aadmi Party making inroads in the Prime Minister’s home territory.
Modi was in Gujarat for three days earlier this week and is again scheduled to spend two days next week, using official programmes like inauguration and foundation-laying of development projects to address pre-election rallies. His Gujarat visits started on March 11, a day after the results of the Assembly polls in five states were announced.
Home minister Amit Shah, who also hails from Gujarat and represents the Gandhinagar Lok Sabha seat that used to elect the now-sidelined L.K. Advani, has also been making frequent visits to the state.
With Modi and Shah visiting Gujarat every now and then, the other ministers too appear compelled to find a reason to go there on the ruse of official events.
Foreign minister S. Jaishankar was in Gujarat recently to join foreign ambassadors and high commissioners who had gathered in Vadodara for Navratri celebrations.
The hyperactivity even before the dates for the year-end elections are announced has created the perception that the well-entrenched BJP is feeling the heat as the AAP makes headway in the state.
“This is nothing new. The BJP under Modiji and Amitbhai takes all elections very seriously,” a BJP MP from Gujarat said, denying any challenge from the AAP.
In 2017 too, Modi had frequently travelled to Gujarat and addressed crowds at official programmes before the Assembly poll dates were announced. After the dates were declared, he almost bombarded the state with rallies.
The reason for the disproportionate attention, however, was revealed when the votes were counted and the BJP managed a slender victory by winning 99 of the 182 seats. The Congress came within sniffing distance of power.
The last Gujarat polls were the first after Modi left the state to become Prime Minister0. The country had been reeling from demonetisation with the traders of Gujarat among the worst affected. In addition, there was raging unrest in rural Gujarat due to the Patidar agitation led by Hardik Patel.
Amid all these there were signs of a resurgent Congress in the local body polls that preceded the Assembly elections.
“The Congress is down this time but it would not be prudent to dismiss the AAP as no force. (Arvind) Kejriwal is swaying many in the urban pockets that have been BJP strongholds for years,” a BJP leader in Gujarat said.
This leader justified the assessment, pointing out how the entire BJP and even Modi have been hitting out at the AAP. Modi recently warned the voters against “urban naxals in a new disguise”, referring indirectly to the AAP.
BJP leaders associated with the Gujarat polls said the party had been ruling the state continuously since 1998 and therefore high anti-incumbency was natural, so they could not afford to take the polls lightly. Moreover, the political significance of Gujarat remains high since it is Modi and Shah’s home state.
“The directive from the top is to make sure that the victory this time is much bigger than last time,” a BJP leader in Surat said.
“Through his hard work the Prime Minister is pushing the leaders and cadres to go for the kill,” the leader added.
The Modi-Shah combine, despite turning Gujarat into a Hindutva laboratory, hasn’t been able to break the record of 149 out of 182 seats that the Congress under chief minister Madhav Singh Solanki had set in 1980.
“We have learnt that the current state president of Gujarat, C.R. Paatil, has promised Modiji a record victory,” another BJP leader said, adding that Modi too had assured to campaign extensively to make the target a success.
Party insiders said that Paatil and his team of managers were certain that with a three-cornered contest instead of a bipolar fight like in the past, the anti-BJP or anti-incumbency votes would split and make the task easy.
“Winning Gujarat handsomely is very important for us this time because it will be a record for the BJP, serving the state continuously since 1998. This message will travel across the country,” a Gujarat MP said.