Narendra Modi shifts Gujarat Assembly poll fight away from communal rhetoric

Narendra Modi

Modi's remark also drew a strong reaction from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who accused him of playing divisive politics.

"We have been receiving regular complaints that minorities and few other segments are feeling insecure in the state. Even some state government officers have filed complaints on this issue which is unfortunate for the country," Singh had said addressing his first election rally at Vansda on Sunday.

"Time has come to free Gujarat from such politics and not let these people who have been trying to get votes by dividing the society and country to come back to power," he said.

Poll watchers feel that after cautiously avoiding the communal versus secular debate, the Congress leaders unwittingly walked into Modi's trap and their speeches could help bring communalism back on the electoral agenda to the advantage of BJP's poster boy.

Modi, who had launched a Sadbhavna Yatra as part of his image makeover in the run up to the polls and had even poached on Asifa Khan, an Ahmed Patel protégé, indicating that he could field some Muslim candidates, decided at the last moment against making such a move lest it would hurt his Hindu votebank.

The BJP strongman is relying on the numerically strong Patel community, a majority of which is expected to side with him despite Keshhubhai's defection, the traditional Brahmin and Bania voters, besides Jains, a sizeable section of OBC and the vast segment of urban electorate which has prospered due to industrialisation and growth in market economy.

Congress, on the other hand, is banking on Muslims, who constitute around 10 per cent of the electorate, a chunk of OBC voters, scheduled caste and tribes.

With the exception of Central Gujarat, which has 43 seats, Congress was clobbered by the BJP in all other three regions of the state-Kutch/Saurashtra, South and North Gujarat in the 2007 assembly polls.

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