PM to push hard BJP's Gujarat campaign

PM to push hard BJP's Gujarat campaign

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Sunday visit to his hometown of Vadnagar in Mehsana district for the first time since the 2014 Lok Sabha elections underscores anxiety in the BJP to perk up its campaign for the December assembly polls, according to BJP leaders.

It was his ninth visit to the state this year. Every visit to Gujarat has seen a series of events and road shows.

Though neither Modi nor BJP chief Amit Shah forsee a big reverse in this year's assembly elections, reports from parts of Gujarat have put them on high alert. Modi would not like any slip in Gujarat that could have serious repercussion on the BJP rule at the centre, party aides say. Polls are also due in Karnataka, Tripura, Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya and Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram, and Nagaland next year.

Any drastic drop in the number of Gujarat assembly seats after Shah's openly declared target of 150-plus will have have a strong bearing on the polls that are to be held later, state BJP leaders say.

Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani said recently that the BJP had lead in 165 of the 182 assembly segments in the last Lok Sabha elections in the state. But many BJP leaders believe the situation has changed dramatically since then.

Besides the issues faced by traders since demonetisation and the rollout of Goods and Services Taxes  (GST), there is a new challenge from the Congress that looks to be in a better shape than ever before, according to BJP's estimates.

Also, three young leaders of caste-based groups have also become a thorn for the incumbent BJP government in Gujarat.

Among them is Patidar leader Hardik Patel who has been running a relentless campaign for inclusion of Patidars in the Other Backward Castes (OBC) category so that they can avail the benefits of reservation.

The BJP is worried about other OBC leaders too. Like Hardik Patel, a new leader on the horizon is Alpesh Thakor who is opposed to the inclusion of Patidars in the OBC category. Alpesh is believed to have worked in recent months in about 150 assembly constituencies. OBCs are estimated to be 40% of the state population.

Jignesh Mevani, the lawyer-turned-Dalit activist, has also given sleepless nights to many BJP leaders. The Dalits form about 8 percent of the population of Gujarat.

The BJP secured 117 and 116 in assembly elections in 2007 and 2012 respectively. Significantly, Modi was declared BJP's prime ministerial candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls after he won Gujarat.

"Modi and Shah cannot afford to lose Gujarat. A loss in Gujarat would mean, they could lose India in 2019," a key aide said.

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