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Narendra Modi’s roadshow sets the tone for BJP’s poll campaign in Gujarat

LiveMint logoLiveMint 16-04-2017 Maulik Pathak

Ahmedabad: Prime Minister Narendra Modi kicked off a two-day visit to Gujarat, where assembly elections are due later this year, with a massive roadshow in Surat on Sunday after wrapping up the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) national executive meeting in Odisha.

The entire stretch from the Surat airport to the Circuit House was decked up and all government and commercial buildings along the route were illuminated for the Prime Minister’s visit to his home state.

Modi waved out from his SUV to thousands of supporters and spectators, many waving BJP flags. Supporters chanted his name all through the stretch. A large number of bikers accompanied the PM’s cavalcade as hoardings, cut-outs and television screens lit up various parts of the city. An 11-km- long saree covering the entire stretch listed out the BJP’s achievements.

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This is Modi’s first visit to the state after the BJP’s massive victory in the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls and his eighth in as many months.

Encouraged by the landslide win in UP in March, the BJP has set itself a target of winning a record number of seats in the assembly election in Gujarat. The polls are due by December. 

“I have been seeing on social media and in the news about a series of events being held across Surat and nearby areas in the run-up to my visit. My gratitude to all those who are participating in the various programmes,” Modi tweeted on Sunday. Describing Surat as a “vibrant city”, he said that visiting it was a matter of great joy.

At a public rally in Ahmedabad last month, BJP national president Amit Shah said that after winning over 300 seats in UP, the party is now looking at winning over 150 out of 182 seats in the Gujarat assembly.

The BJP won 115 seats in the 2012 state elections and although it bagged all 12 seats in the diamond city, the party has suffered a setback in the last two years due to an agitation for jobs and education quotas by the Patidar or Patel community. The Patidars have been a loyal vote bank for the BJP and given their strong influence in Surat, South Gujarat and Saurashtra, the party is trying to bring them into the fold with an eye on their huge victory target.

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After the roadshow in Surat, expected to be attended by about 100,000 people, Modi will meet senior state BJP leaders at the Circuit House.

Modi, who was the chief minister of Gujarat for over 13 years before becoming Prime Minister, is seen as the party’s main campaigner for the assembly elections.

In what seems the strongest pitch by BJP to reach out to the Patidar community in recent times, PM Modi will inaugurate a hospital in Surat on Monday built by a Patidar community trust whose president is diamond baron Lalji Patel. Patel is most famous for having bought the monogrammed suit the PM wore to a meeting with former US president Barack Obama  in 2015.

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On Monday the Prime Minister will also address a huge gathering of Patidars and inaugurate a diamond hub owned by Savji Dholakia, also a Patidar and one of the country’s largest diamond exporters.

However, the BJP is likely to face an anti-incumbency as it has been in power in the state for over 22 years. The party suffered a major defeat in rural areas in local body elections in December 2015.

Last year, BJP president Shah’s public address to Patidars in Surat was disrupted after supporters of Patel Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader Hardik Patel created a ruckus. In January, the PAAS leader initiated “Chowk pe Charcha”—a new forum to reach out to community members and revive his agitation, starting from Surat.

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