Gandhinagar, Nov 20: This Gujarat Assembly election season, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has 'come of age', literally. The "reluctant politician" seems to have 'broken his shell' and is ready to take on the might of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
It's not just his supporters; even his rivals and critics have observed the change in Rahul's personality.
His hard-hitting speeches at rallies followed by thunderous applause from the audience, his attacking tweets against arch-rival Modi and his carefree attitude while interacting with media persons-- a few "good" traits highlighting Rahul's evolution as a politician has been giving jitters to the BJP.
Suddenly, Rahul seems to be doing everything right, unlike in the past when the Gandhi scion was doing everything wrong.
Or, is it too early to say "Pappu pas ho gaya" (Pappu has cleared the hurdles)? Pappu is the nickname given to the Congress VP by his critics. In Hindi, Pappu is a word used to refer to a person who is considered to be a fool or worthless.
Only time will tell. Soon we will know how much Rahul has managed to impress voters with his speeches, promises, and leadership qualities, once the results of the Gujarat Assembly elections will be declared on December 18. The elections in Gujarat will take place on December 9 and December 14.
The all-important Gujarat Assembly poll is a prestige battle for the BJP, as it is the home turf of PM Modi. The Congress, which has seen a series of disastrous defeats since the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, actually has nothing much to lose.
If Rahul and his team could bring down the ruling party's tally to double-digit in the Gujarat Assembly polls that would definitely shake the BJP's 'inflated confidence'.
This time, BJP president Amit Shah has asked his cadres to bring the party to power by winning 150 seats in the 182-member state Assembly. In 2012, the BJP, led by the then CM of Gujarat, Modi, won 116 seats and formed the government. The Congress won 60 seats in the last Assembly elections.
Along with Rahul's extensive tours in the state since September, the Congress is trying to stitch alliances with the Patidar community, Dalits and Other Backward Class (OBC) for the upcoming polls.
In Gujarat, there is a palpable anger against the BJP for failing to run an inclusive government--as the Patils, Dalits, OBCs and Muslims are protesting over various issues. The BJP sarkar in the state is seen as a government that caters exclusively to the needs of powerful Hindu castes and the business community.
In Gujarat, known for its enterprising people, not all businessmen and traders are happy. The lower rung of the business community, like small traders and owners of textile industries in Surat, also feel being left out from the "Gujarat Model of Development" which actually helped Modi to become the PM of the country.
Along with the angst over local issues brewing in Gujarat against the incumbent party that is in power in the state for the last 22 years, it's the national debate over demonetisation and Goods and Services Tax (GST) that many analysts think might decide the number of seats the BJP would ultimately win in the state polls.
Feeling the pulse of the voters, the Congress has been vociferously targeting the BJP for giving "twin shocks" to the economy because of the demonetisation and the GST.
Amid all these attacks against the ruling dispensation, the BJP had announced the names of 106 candidates for the polls. In its first list, the party announced 70 candidates, followed by 36 more in the second list. The list of another 76 candidates will be announced soon by the party.
Along with avoiding several well-established names and former ministers from its candidates' lists (two lists have been announced so far, first on Friday and second on Saturday), the party has tried to keep the OBC community in good humour by giving tickets to several of its leaders.
The noteworthy fact about the BJP's first list of candidates for the Gujarat polls is that six of the 14 Congress MLAs who had defected to the saffron party in August have been given tickets to contest from their constituencies.
In its second list, the BJP has given tickets to 12 candidates from the Scheduled Tribes (ST) category and two from the Scheduled Caste (SC) category. There are two Patel candidates on the BJP's second list.
After weeks of brainstorming under the supervision of PM Modi and Shah, the two lists of the BJP have left many of its leaders dissatisfied. A few of them have already resigned from the party's primary membership for ignoring their political aspirations.
If the announcement of candidates for polls has created a rift within the BJP, the Congress too is walking a tightrope over declaring its candidates.
Sources say the Congress is facing a good amount of dilemma over choosing its candidates to keep all caste and community members happy.
On top of that, the grand old party can't afford to lose its leaders at this crucial stage and ensure that its flock remains together.
Hardik Patil, the leader of Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), is said to have given a list of around 30 Gujarat Assembly constituencies, where he wants to field his own candidates. The Congress, on the other hand, is reluctant to accept the demand of leaving out 30 seats to Patel.
On Sunday reports said that a "deal" has been struck between the PAAS leader and the Congress. While the Congress and Hardik have come to a consensus on the reservation formula, the formal announcement on support will be made by the 24-year-old Patidar leader on Monday, the Congress said.
Hardik has made his support to the Congress conditional - he wants Patidars to be brought under the 27 percent quota for OBCs.
On Sunday, clashes broke out between members of the Congress and PAAS over ticket distribution after the grand old party announced the release of its first list of candidates.
Moreover, there was confusion galore in the Congress camp on Sunday after reports stated that the party had announced its first list of 71 candidates for the Gujarat polls.
As the news spread like a wildfire, Bharatsinh Madhavsinh Solanki, the president of Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC), tweeted to tell that the list is a fake one.
A Fake list of @INCGujarat Candidates is going around on Social Media with my signature. It is fake & We have released no such list.— Bharat Solanki (@BharatSolankee) November 19, 2017
Authority to declare the candidates completely lies with Central Election Committee & List of Candidates is always declared from Delhi by AICC.
However, within an hour, Solanki again tweeted to inform that the Congress has come up with its first list of 77 candidates for the polls.
This is our 1st Candidate list of 77 Candidates for #GujaratElection2017.— Bharat Solanki (@BharatSolankee) November 19, 2017
Congratulations & Best wishes to all the 77 Candidates. કોંગ્રેસ આવે છે, નવસર્જન લાવે છે! #NavsarjanGujarat pic.twitter.com/C8OCsbTavR
Solanki, who on Sunday stated that he was not going to contest elections and dismissed reports that he was not happy with the party high command over the selection of candidates, blamed the BJP for "spreading lies" on social media by circulating a "fake" list.
Like the BJP, the Congress too is having a tough time selecting its candidates, but the party which will hold its nerve definitely has an edge in the Gujarat polls.
Whether Rahul factor will work for the Congress in Gujarat or not is a secondary subject, the primary one should be--will Gujarat elections give a new lease of life to the Congress?