The Gujarat election campaign was supposed to end at 5 pm on the 12 December. Instead, the mudslinging between the BJP and the Congress went on till close to midnight on the 13th.
The political drama underway in the final hours before the final phase was an indication of how hard fought this election campaign has been.
An Election Commission notice to Rahul Gandhi, an EC directive for FIRs to be filed against TV channels in Gujarat that aired interviews with the Congress leader, a video message from an otherwise reticent Manmohan Singh, and PM Modi lashing out at the UPA in a speech at FICCI. All of this in just the last day before the polls.
It’s been a battle of the insurgent versus the incumbent – and not an inch has been spared by either. The venue, after all, is Narendra Modi’s home turf. The challenge before him – to defend 22 years of anti-incumbency against the BJP, of which he himself was the CM for 13 years.
And though exit polls may unanimously predict a BJP victory, the campaign trail saw a terrific contest between the BJP and the Congress. Here are our top takeaways from what has been billed to be Gujarat’s fiercest election in two decades.
The Rise of the Challenger
“Rahul Gandhi has come of age” is a refrain we have heard time and time again. And proven wrong about later. But this election season, it seems that the crown prince of the Congress party arrived to stay. And a well-timed ascension to the post of party president couldn’t hurt either.
Through his Navsarjan Yatras, a visibly more mature Rahul kept the focus on issues like unemployment and the woes of GST. With a joke thrown in every now and then, of course.
Modi's Aggression and 'Goodbye, Vikas'
For a change, it was Prime Minister Modi and the BJP throwing the counter-punches. And soon enough, vikas was no longer the buzzword of the BJP – as the party changed tack from development to Hindutva and nationalism.
And it wasn’t just the likes of Yogi – the PM himself alleged that the Congress was colluding with Pakistan to sway the Gujarat elections – a heavy charge by any standard.
The accusation drew a strong response from the usually reserved Manmohan Singh. The former PM hit out saying that falsehood and canards were being spread to score political points by none less than Prime Minister Narendra Modi and that India deserved an apology.
Rahul's Restraint in Response
In stark contrast to Modi’s aggression, was Rahul Gandhi’s restraint.
“We may spot Modi’s faults but we won’t disrespect the PM’s position. When Modiji was in the opposition, he would disrespect the PM. This is the difference between us and them,” Gandhi said while interacting with social media volunteers of the Congress in Gujarat.
But Rahul’s restraint did not reflect in Mani Shankar Aiyar as the senior leader stepped his foot right into another controversy by calling PM Modi a “neech kism ka aadmi”. Yet even as Modi and the BJP capitalised on it, Rahul disagreed with Aiyar’s comment publicly and the Congress removed him from the party altogether.
But can the Mani Shankar Aiyar controversy still affect the way people vote? Who knows?
Congress Stacks the Deck – Cards Played Right
The Patidar agitator. The OBC leader. The Dalit activist.
Not only did the Congress manage to get all three on board, they also subdued fears that reservation for the Patidars should worry the OBCs.
There wasn’t a single fix that could be applied to all three. And the Congress didn’t try to do that either.
Alpesh joined the party, Hardik remained the outside help and Jignesh ran as an independent candidate with Congress support.
Look, all three of them are electoral unknowns. There isn’t anyone in Gujarat who can say with certainty exactly how much of an impact Hardik will have on Patidar votes. The OBCs are too large a community and without any palpable reason to have a consolidated vote, let alone against the BJP.
And Jignesh Mevani may be a prominent Dalit activist but the Dalits themselves constitute less than 8 percent of the total electorate.
Yet, if the election is like a game of cards, the Congress ensured they got a good hand. The rest, as they say, is upto Janta Janardhan.
Will Counting Day Confirm Exit Poll Projections?
On 18 December, Gujarat’s choice will be known. The BJP will either retain its bastion, or pave the way for a Congress comeback. Could all the pollsters have possibly got it wrong? Will the Modi-Shah stronghold stand, or fall?
Counting Day, can you get here already?
Cameraperson: Athar Rather
Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam