People are saying that Gujarat will be a crucial election between two parties but actually, it will be nothing more than a one-party affair. In the end, the performance of the BJP led by Narendra Modi is what all will be interested in. As far as the Congress is concerned, it is a non-starter (quite surprisingly for the Gujarat election is being labelled as the semi-final before the mega final in 2014) and rather parties like the Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) can pose a bigger challenge to Modi.
In the run-up to the two-phased polls, the Congress has looked lacklustre and out of sorts. Some known faces are seen on the news channels slamming the Modi government for this reason or that but those charges mostly sound unconvincing.
Congress lacks a will to fight?
Is Congress incapable to take on Modi? Or does it lack a will to fight and reclaim Gujarat, a state where it was a strong force two decades ago. According to some informed and intelligent quarters, Congress needs the 'Modi factor' to live long for its own survival so that whenever it faces adversity owing to its poor performance, it turns its gun towards the Gujarat CM and try to gain an upper hand on the question of secularism (or pseudo-secularism).
The Congress has shown little interest in roping its top leaders for campaigning in Gujarat. The Election Commission's website shows names of a number of top Congress leaders who are set to campaign in the state but how many of them have actually visited the state? Sonia Gandhi had come to the state once long time ago but there has been a lack of continuity. Top Congress leaders were also found campaigning intensely in Himachal Pradesh but nothing big has happened in Gujarat till this point. Rahul Gandhi, projected as the party's answer to Modi, is conspicuous by his absence. Why hasn't the 'future Gandhi' taken Gujarat as seriously as he took Uttar Pradesh in the past, for instance?
Congress lacks interest because it does not have the firepower?
But if the Congress is indeed not taking any interest in the Gujarat polls, it is because of the fact that it does not really have the firepower to disrupt Modi's momentum. The Congress, as like in many other states in the country, has underwent a decline in Gujarat too. From the days of the KHAM politics and the subsequent rise of Hindutva politics, the Congress has only weakened over the years to pave way for the BJP. The latter was, too, on shaky grounds during its initial years but since 2001, when Narendra Modi took over as the CM, the entire script of Gujarat politics has been rewritten.
The Congress, during this time, failed to nurture a local leadership in the state. People like Shankarsinh Vaghela, Bharatsinh Solanki, Siddharth Patel, Shaktisinh Gohil and Arjun Modhwadia have assumed leadership of the state BJP but none got the scope to rebuild an organisation in ruin.
That the situation is out of control is proved by the dissenters' scuffle for tickets in the state party headquarters as well as the resignation of senior leader and former Deputy Chief Minister Narhari Amin from the party just ahead of the assembly polls.
Amin, who was denied a party ticket on the grounds that he had lost two successive assembly elections, even commented that the Congress had no chance of stopping Modi from making a hat-trick. A senior leader like Ahmed Patel could have led the Gujarat Congress well but he is a man more closer to the power circles in Delhi and has little contact with the changed realities in his home state.
That the Congress fielded Shweta Bhatt against Narendra Modi and the chief minister of Delhi, Sheila Dixit, unveiled the party's poll manifesto reassert the grim fact: The party, which has given a chief minister like Madhavsinh Solanki to Gujarat, lacks a minimum strength of leadership.
You keep Gujarat, we take rest?
The Congress strangely abstains from targetting Narendra Modi, another factor that might suggest that the party might have surrendered to its fate. It is a practice in our politics to attack the rival leader to get an upper hand. The Congress leaves no stone unturned when it comes to flaying BJP party chief Nitin Gadkari, for example, but when it comes to Modi, there is hardly any word spoken against him. And that too, irrespective of the fact that the Gujarat CM never lets go an opportunity to slam the Gandhis and the Congress leadership left, right and centre.
Does this deafening silence suggest a meek surrender or a master strategy? According to a noted commentator, Sonia Gandhi is deliberately handing over Gujarat to her greatest enemy so that her party can comfortably hold on to the rest of the country.
Two-party battle has reduced Congress's chances, anti-Modi parties can help its cause
The fact that Gujarat mainly witnesses a two-party electoral battle also works against the Congress. In any other state where the electoral politics is multi-polarised, getting a third of the total vote share is a good show but not in Gujarat. The social coalition backing the BJP is far too strong for the Congress to dislodge and the lack of a viable face of the party has meant that the Congress will continue to suffer in future elections as well.
I feel the Congress can only gain if the disgruntled outfits that have evolved banking on an anti-Modi sentiment succeed to make a dent into the BJP's vote-share. Further diversification of the Gujarati politics can only work in favour of the Congress. Modi has recently accused the Congress and Keshubhai Patel, one of his strongest critics, of conspiring against him.
It is said that behind the veil, Congress leaders in Gujarat do not target Modi as compulsively they do in front of the press people. They can not ignore the fact that Modi is the man of the moment but yet take him on in a futile battle just for the sake of rivalry. But the same applies even to those who have been in the BJP and ranks of the Sangh Parivar. Narendra Modi's ever-improving administrative skills have left many in his own house utterly frustrated and some of the disgruntled voices have decided to attack him in the upcoming polls.
After the 2002 and 2007 experience, Congress has run out of strategy as well
The Congress looks jaded. It had tried and tested different positions to corner Modi in the 2002 and 2007 elections. Each time, the Congress had harboured hope that the '2002 program' card would end Modi's run but it was proved wrong both time. In 2002, the Congress tried to play a soft Hindutva card while in 2007, it went on an all-out attack against Modi but on both times, lack of a clear ideological position and tendency to pick the negative votes did it in.
The Congress needs a reliable face, fresh energy and positive approach if it really aims to compete with the personality cult of Narendra Modi. But as long as Delhi does not take interest in changing the equation in Gandhinagar, nothing will change on ground.