The 2002 and 2007 Gujarat elections were held in a charged environment by whipping up communal sentiments in the backdrop of the 2002 riots and numerous encounter cases, including the Sohrabuddin Sheikh case which resulted in easy polarisation of votes, Congress office bearers said.
"But with the passage of 10 years post riots and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's 'Sadbhavna' mission softening his stance towards Muslims have contributed to the fact that Hindutva is not a major issue this time in state elections," they added. The Congress and Keshubhai Patel's newly formed Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) are of the view that they have a level-playing field this time against Modi-led BJP, as the issue of Hindutva is on the backburner.
"Modi has tried to change his colours from what he had projected himself in 2002. He is now trying to woo Muslims. People have come to know his reality and the emotive issues will not sway them this time," Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi said.
After 10 years of good rains, Gujarat is facing acute water scarcity this year owing to a deficient monsoon in Saurashtra, Kutch and North Gujarat, which has been compounded by the slow-paced work of laying canal network for Sardar Sarovar Narmada Dam project. It has posed a major issue prior to the elections of providing water to the drought-affected people.
The Congress's ambitious promise of providing homes to poor and middle class housewives at nominal rates, if it comes to power, has garnered a huge response (already 50 lakh forms have been distributed) and has brought to fore the issue of people's aspirations of owning a house when real estate prices have skyrocketed in the state.
"Water, housing, providing medical facility to the people, reducing VAT on petrol, diesel and kerosene and thereby reducing prices, giving full benefits of the sixth-pay commission to state government employees, providing good education are highlighted by Congress as key election issues. We have also raised our voice against corruption of this government," Doshi said.
Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is trying to cash-in on the burning issues of inflation and corruption of the central government. "Inflation due to mismanagement of the Union government, corruption at the Centre and large scale discrimination towards Gujarat are the main issues that the BJP has taken up in campaign during the forthcoming elections," spokesperson Jagdish Bhavsar said.
"We will be fighting this election also on the issue of leadership quality (of Modi), path-breaking development carried out by the state government in the last 10 years and our goal of making Gujarat a developed place so it can be in league with developed nations of the world," Bhavsar said. Regarding the Hindutva issue, another BJP leader said, "Party's policy is well-defined by the chief minister who has announced - development for all, appeasement for none."