Modi faces tough Saurashtra test, but Cong may not gain

Narendra Modi

Across the region, there are stories of VHP and BKS cadres lending a hand to the GPP; in Junagadh, the GPP's candidate Lalit Suvagya is a district-level VHP office-bearer. "This (support from the Parivar) is happening at an individual level. I have old relations with the Sangh Parivar," says Keshubhai.

But if Saurashtra does dent the BJP's tally, the key rallying point will be the Leuva Patels.

Naresh Patel, whose non-political organization Khodaldham has been working to unite the region's Leuva Patels, says this election will be different now that "the community's tallest leader has a separate platform." At the same time, he points out that the politically savvy Leuva Patels will not waste their vote. "If other communities' turnout is high, they might vote for the Congress instead of GPP."

In Leuva Patel-dominated Nikkawah village, 32 km out of Rajkot, Keshavjibhai Govindbhai Boghara agrees that the BJP vote will split. In his constituency Kalawad, however, it will not be because of identity politics, but because the sitting BJP MLA failed to deliver. Delimitation has made Kalawad a reserved seat, the MLA has moved elswhere, but "voters will want to punish the BJP", he says.

But according to Boghara, the anti-BJP sentiment will benefit the GPP — because people haven't voted Congress here for 20-22 years. This is a key feature of this election in Saurashtra: the BJP looks like it faces more problems than before, yet its main rival may not be able to reap the gains. The Congress is widely perceived to have chosen candidates well, but it remains hobbled by the weakness of its ground-level organisation.

It is clear that Modi's party faces its toughest test in Saurashtra. What is also clear is that, ironically, its fall may be broken by the Congress.

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