Shift of strategy and stage
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At Ghogha town in Bhavnagar district, in Gujarat's crucial Saurashtra region that goes to polls in the first phase, Leader of the Opposition Shaktisinh Gohil appears to be violating the Congress code of conduct for this election. In a small evening nukkad sabha in this Assembly constituency that has a marked presence of Muslims, he takes on Narendra Modi — by name — and mimics him too. He also speaks of the need for communal amity. "Mazhab nahin sikhata aapas mein bair rakhna." Later, Gohil denies that his party's evasion on Modi or Muslims is deliberate or strategic. "There is no decision of the sort." Yet the pattern is apparent on the ground.
The Congress campaign of 2012 in Gujarat determinedly steers away from mentioning Modi and Muslims — the PM's speeches in which he mentioned "divisive politics" and "the insecurity of minorities" was an exception to the rule, while Rahul and Sonia Gandhi have so far stuck largely to the script.
On the same day, at a sabha in Palitana town in the district, Keshubhai Patel leaves no one in doubt about whom he is targeting. Grey-maned, grey-whiskered, grey-eyebrowed, and a surprisingly energetic campaigner, the 84-year-old regales the crowd with religious stories, allegories and Sangh Parivar inside jokes that feature Modi, now as the scorpion that has wrapped itself around the Shiv ling (Gujarat), and then as the lying lion that promises protection to the lamb instead of gobbling it up, because it is election time in the jungle.
Keshubhai's message: it was his government that laid all the big projects to bring roads and electricity and to reduce water scarcity — so much the bane of the dry Saurashtra region — while Modi only makes false development claims. Keshubhai's appeal: the local candidate doesn't matter this time, nor caste, community or party. For the next five years, voters must only ensure parivartan, or change.