Modi faces tough Saurashtra test, but Cong may not gain

Narendra Modi

In a BJP election advertisement, a conversation between two men on 'development' ends like this: "I am Modi manas", says one man. "I am also Modi manas", chimes the other.

If there is a region that stands between Narendra Modi and his fantasy of a land of only 'Modi manas', it could be Saurashtra, going to polls in the first phase.

It has 48 of Gujarat's 182 seats, and is dominated by Leuva Patels, who have been restive ever since their tallest leader, Keshubhai Patel, was marginalised in Modi's party. Keshubhai's fledgling Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) has put up as many as 177 candidates statewide.

Also, Saurashtra this year saw its first drought since Modi came to power, worsening its chronic water shortage, and creating the ground for anti-incumbency. Saurashtra has looked on with resentment as big-ticket industrial projects like Nano and Maruti have bypassed the region.

In Bhavnagar, Amreli and Rajkot, Modi's larger-than-life persona is visible everywhere, touching voters either through the distribution of state largesse at the Garib Kalyan Mela, the pre-election Vivekananda Yatra, or the more recent 3D sabhas and rallies. What is also visible is that rural Saurashtra is not awed by it.

In 2007, this region had seemed on the brink of rebelling against the BJP, but the results in fact showed slightly improved numbers for the party. Many in Saurashtra say it will be different this time, even as they acknowledge the historical difficulties and voter scepticism that a third force confronts in this two-party state.

Pravin Maniar, an old RSS hand who is openly associated with Keshubhai's GPP, is certain that Saurashtra will fell Modi this time. "And if he cannot be CM again, how will he be PM?"

Maniar has familiar complaints against Modi: he is arrogant, has personalized power, broken and relegated the Sangh. In 2007, he says, the Parivar was angry and had refused to come out in Modi's support. But "this time, they are working to bring him down".

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