It is Modi versus the rest in Gujarat (Poll Curtainraiser - Gujarat)

April 29th, 2009 - 3:03 pm ICT by IANS  

Narendra Modi Ahmedabad, April 29 (IANS) As Gujarat votes Thursday, the vote is likely to be for or against Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s persona and policies — rather than on national issues.
Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is upbeat after its sweep in the 2007 assembly elections while the Congress hopes for a repeat of the 2004 Lok Sabha result when it won 12 of the 26 seats, up from its previous six.

In contrast, the BJP saw the largest drop — to 14 seats.

Gujarat will again witness a largely two-party contest although the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) are also in the running. The total number of candidates is 359.

The BJP’s poor showing in 2004 was blamed on several factors including rebellion against Modi from within and its ideologically allied groups - an issue he seems to have put behind during the last assembly election.

Modi has got party ticket to 19 newcomers including Congress rebels - who have little to showcase apart from his support.

Like elsewhere in the country, national issues do matter to Gujarat’s 36.4 million voters. These include price rise, economic downturn and terrorism.

The global financial crisis has led to widespread job cuts in the diamond cutting and polishing industry in Surat. The Congress has focussed on the anger of the jobless work force.

Terrorism too has its local manifestation. On July 26, 2008, a series of bombs went off in Ahmedabad leaving at least 59 people dead. At least 23 bombs were defused in the next few days in Surat, Gujarat’s second largest city.

The Mumbai terror attacks too left Gujaratis shaken as the 10 Pakistan terrorists had taken the sea route arcing the Saurashtra peninsula.

At election rallies, the BJP is projecting Advani as “a decisive leader” who would provide “a determined government”. The Congress has been harping about the welfare measures it came out in five years of rule.

So far, the campaign has focussed on Modi.

While his role during the communal violence of 2002 is something the Congress is loathe to talk about, the BJP has harped on economic progress the state has made.

Modi’s popularity has only gone up as one BJP leader after another has endorsed him as the party’s next prime ministerial candidate — after L.K. Advani, who seeks a fifth Lok Sabha term from Gandhinagar constituency.

But if there’s anything that can hurt the Modi bandwagon, these are electricity and water shortages and fears about the re-emergence of local mafias, particularly in the villages of Saurashtra.

Mallika Sarabhai, internationally renowned dancer and social activist, is pitted against Advani as an independent, but the BJP star is unlikely to face any difficulty in retaining his seat that he won first in 1991.

Among other notables, Textile Minister Shankarsingh Vaghela, Modi’s arch rival and Congress heavyweight, is contesting from Panchmahal. Union Minister of State for Petroleum and Natural Gas Dinsha Patel (Kheda) and Satyajit Gaekwad (Vadodara) are also in the fray.

Two former central ministers of BJP, Vallabhbhai Kathiria and Kashiram Rana, have not got party ticket after leading a rebellion against Modi.

The polling in the 42,567 stations will be held under a security cover of 85 companies of paramilitary forces and 44,000 personnel of the Gujarat Police. The police will also deploy 86 quick response teams and 2,000 mobile units.

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