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Narendra Modi’s visit to set tone for BJP’s Gujarat election campaign

LiveMint logoLiveMint 30-08-2017 Maulik Pathak

Ahmedabad: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit his home state Gujarat at least twice in September with plans to highlight ambitious development projects that some hope will galvanize the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), still smarting from a recent high-stakes election loss to the Congress, ahead of assembly elections.

A string of planned events, including laying the grounds for the ambitious ‘bullet train’ and dedicating the Sardar Sarovar Dam to the nation, are likely to set tone for the BJP’s campaign for Gujarat elections due this year.

The ruling party, which suffered a serious setback earlier in August when it failed to block the re-nomination of veteran Congress leader Ahmed Patel in the Rajya Sabha election that had become a prestige issue, is now pinning its hopes on the visits by Modi, the star campaigner of the party.

  of the high speed rail network between Ahmedabad and Mumbai at Sabarmati railway station in Ahmedabad, said two senior government officials aware of the PM’s visit.

“Apart from the rail project, the two leaders will also lay foundation stone for a dedicated industrial township for Japanese during their visit. More than 10 MoUs between Japanese and Indian delegates are expected to be signed then. The two leaders are also expected to visit Mahatma Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad,” the officials said.

Modi will return to Gujarat on 17 September—it also happens to be his 67th birthday—to participate in the culmination of the Narmada Mahotsav Yatra that the BJP government is planning to take out on 6-15 September.

The BJP’s planned state-wide march to celebrate the completion of the massive Sardar Sarovar Dam is timely, with elections in Gujarat scheduled to be held by December.

The Narmada Mahotsav, which is expected to highlight the Gujarat development model initiated when Modi was chief minister, is also aimed at hitting out at the Congress for its alleged failure to implement the dam project, which has been plagued by protests over ecological and human displacements.

Earlier this week, in what seemed like a pre-poll campaign, posters targeting the Congress party came up in various parts of Ahmedabad. They bore the tag line ‘Congress na chale. Gujarat ma BJP chale’ (Congress doesn’t work; in Gujarat, only BJP works), and blamed Congress for ‘60 years of misrule’. This, however, did not go down well with many BJP leaders who felt that the party should focus on highlighting its achievements.

“Modi’s visits to Gujarat will increase as election comes closer. There are about 20 strategic constituencies where the BJP is not doing well and the PM’s visits will be keeping in mind these areas. As in 2012, BJP tries to test the waters in their pre-poll campaign which are not directly carried out by the party. If they succeed, they make it their poll plank, else disown it. With PM’s visits in September, BJP will certainly try to make development their main poll agenda,” said political analyst Vidyut Joshi, former vice-chancellor at Bhavnagar University.

A senior BJP leader who spoke on condition of anonymity said that with the Congress in Gujarat out of power for more than two decades now, for the BJP to target them in this manner shows signs of nervousness. Another party official said that for the past several months the BJP has been targeting the Congress in its press releases. Instead, this official said, also seeking anonymity, the focus should be on the developmental work done by the BJP government in all these years.

“We are hopeful that the PM’s visit will set the tone in this direction,” he added.

Distancing the party from the recent campaign, Gujarat BJP spokesperson Bharat Pandya said that it was the work of some well-wishers of the BJP.

“The BJP is not linked with this campaign. Our campaign will be a positive one that will highlight the achievements of our government. The Prime Minister regularly visits Gujarat and in all his visits, he has focused on development and welfare initiatives. His visits to the state do give us lot of inspiration. Gujarat’s development model has been accepted nationally so naturally it will be the key in our campaign,” said Pandya while confirming plans for the PM’s visit for the Narmada event.

A Congress party official said the way in which the BJP was targeting the Congress in Gujarat showed that the ruling party was on the back-foot. He said that the recent Rajya Sabha results had given a fresh lease of life to the Congress and that the party was now hopeful of winning the state elections. He requested anonymity as he is not the official spokesperson for the party.

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