Of a union cabinet of 29 and a total ministry size of 76, BJP will have 26, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, campaigning for Gujarat Assembly elections. Other prominent campaigners include half a dozen chief minister and a dozen MPs.
It is little wonder, then, that the Parliament’s winter session was put off till after the Gujarat polls are over. The winter session, which usually starts around mid-November, will be held from Dec 15 to January 5.
Earlier, the Election Commission in an unusual decision had postponed announcing Gujarat election schedule while declaring dates for Himachal Pradesh, saying this was done to allow flood relief work in Gujarat.
The modification of GST rates to assuage disgruntled traders also comes in the list of steps taken with Gujarat election in mind.
The BJP is pulling out all stops for the Gujarat polls, seen as vital for the standing of its two top leaders, PM Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, both from Gujarat.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself leads the charge. He will join poll campaigning on November 27 and is scheduled to address at least 30 rallies before the first phase of election on Dec 9.
While the theme of governance may find mention in the senior leaders’ campaign rallies, what is pushed at the ground level would be something else. The campaign is likely to revolve around Hindutva, ‘Gujarat’s pride’ and fanning other emotive issues. This stratagem would also aim at sidestepping, or diverting attention from, issues such Rafale deal, Amit Shah’s son’s business deals and others where the BJP is on a weak wicket.
Among campaigners, “Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is the hot favourite. Crowd at his rallies are almost double what other netas draw,” a media report quoted a BJP worker in Ahmedabad as saying.
Taking off on the Youth Congress’ ‘tu chai bech’ meme on PM Modi, withdrawn with apology after a furore, the BJP would try to turn the tables with a mass contact program on Sunday, “Chai ke sath’.
Speaking to The Indian Express, BJP spokesperson Jagdish Bhavsar said: “During the progamme Mann Ki Baat, Chai Ke Saath, the party workers will discuss issues related to Gujarat and also insults hurled as the Prime Minister by Congressmen.” The meme, posted on the official Twitter handle of the Youth Congress online magazine Yuva Desh, was a photograph of Modi, US President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May in conversation. It showed Modi telling the two leaders about the Opposition’s memes targeting him – “Aap logon ne dekha vipaksh mere kaise kaise maimai banvata hai?” Trump corrects him, saying the word is pronounced as ‘meme’ – “usse maimai nahin, meme kehte hain”. May tells Modi to sell tea – “Tu chai bech”.
Under the BJP plan, in Gujarat’s nearly 50,000 voting booths, BJP workers and leaders would gather with the public over a cup of tea to listen to PM Modi’s regular ‘Mann Ki Baat’ radio address.
The BJP had used the similar ‘Chai Pe Charcha’ ahead of the 2014 general election to project the humble beginnings of Narendra Modi as a tea-seller in childhood and show him as a self-made man who came up the hard way and reached the top.
For roping in one-third of the union council of ministers in the poll campaign, the BJP’s explanation, according to a media report, was: “We have a galaxy of leaders. The Congress does not have any – and the ones who they do have are being sidelined.”
Seen as a verdict on his performance by PM Modi’s own state, what has got the BJP exercised over is the impact of GST and how traders might have taken it as well as the three caste movements with their respective leaders: Hardik Patel of Patidar community, Alpesh Thakore of OBCs and Jignesh Mevani leading the Dalits. All three have gravitated towards the Congress.
Of the three, it is Hardik Patel that poses the biggest threat to BJP as he and his followers come from the Patidar community that constitute a vital part of BJP’s social base in Gujarat. They form about 14% of the population. The biggest leaders of the BJP will be deployed to counter Hardik Patel in Patel-dominated areas including in Saurashtra.