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Rahul Gandhi sounds poll bugle in Gujarat, tears into BJP govt

LiveMint logoLiveMint 04-09-2017 Maulik Pathak

Ahmedabad: Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Monday accused the Gujarat government of promoting crony capitalism as he launched the opposition party’s campaign for assembly elections due later this year.

Senior leaders from different parties are visiting the state in the run-up to polls due in December. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has two visits lined up this month.

Addressing a meeting in Ahmedabad, Gandhi, while hitting out at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government said that the ruling party’s policies and policy objectives were anti-poor and encouraged crony capitalism. He said that the development model of Gujarat had failed and criticized the central government for demonetisation and the adverse effect of goods and services tax on small businesses due to its 28% tax rate.

Blaming the BJP government in Gujarat for failing to promote small and medium enterprises, he said that traders in the state would be able to fight off competition from China if they were given benefits similar to the incentives doled out in favour of some big corporates.

The party has finalized a slogan ‘Congress aave che—navsarjan Gujarat’ (Congress is coming—resurgent Gujarat), according to Gujarat Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi.

“We are launching the election campaign on 4 September with Rahulji’s dialogues with party workers, businessmen, traders and NGO representatives. The party will focus on issues on farmers, unemployment, demonetization, GST and healthcare among others,” state party president Bharatsinh Solanki told reporters on Saturday.

The Congress vice-president will revisit the state on 22 September to launch a yatra (march) from Dwarka in Saurashtra to north, central and south Gujarat.

The party, boosted by the victory of Congress veteran leader Ahmed Patel in the recent Rajya Sabha elections, is looking to revive its fortunes in the state, where it aims to win 125 out of 182 assembly seats.

The BJP, which has been in power in the state for over two decades, will launch a high-profile campaign with party president Amit Shah addressing youths at a meeting in Gandhinagar.

Shah, who wants the BJP to win over 150 seats, will address 100,000 youths at 100 centres by video-conferencing and social media interaction on 10 September.

The state BJP on Saturday unveiled its first election-oriented campaign ‘Adikham Gujarat’ (resolute Gujarat) at the BJP’s state headquarters near Gandhinagar.

Gujarat BJP president Jitu Vaghani clarified that the ‘Adikham Gujarat’ theme was specific to the 10 September event and that the party would come out with other campaigns as well ahead of elections in December.

Also in the running is the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The AAP is in the process of weaving its political campaign around the slogan ‘Gujarat no sankalp, AAP aj kharo vikalp’ (Gujarat’s pledge, AAP is the only alternative), said AAP’s Gujarat media co-ordinator Harshil Nayak.

BJP campaigns may include efforts to wean away disenchanted Patels from opposition parties as part of a larger push to enlist the support of OBCs (other backward classes) that constitute almost 40% of Gujarat’s population. The recent move of the Union government to grant constitutional status to the Backward Castes Commission has given some impetus in this direction to the Gujarat BJP in its efforts to overcome the damage done by agitating Patels, who want reservations in government jobs and educational institutions.

Union finance minister Arun Jaitley, who is the BJP in-charge of Gujarat assembly polls, is scheduled to visit Gujarat and meet senior party leaders to draw out election strategies. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to visit the state twice in September—during the first he will launch the high speed ‘Bullet’ rail between Ahmedabad and Mumbai while the second visit will see him dedicate the recently completed Narmada Dam project to the country.

According to Nayak, the party will launch its election campaign in Gujarat by carrying out a roadshow in Ahmedabad on 17 September that will be attended by senior leaders of the party including Gujarat election in-charge and Delhi minister, Gopal Rai. After faring badly in the Goa assembly elections, the party’s recent victory in Bawana byelections in Delhi has boosted confidence of AAP party workers in Gujarat, he added.

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