Shift of strategy and stage
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Modi addresses his nearly 40-minute speech to "pradhan mantri ji" and "Sonia madam", throwing in "Ahmedmian" too. His target is the UPA. He is posturing for the national, even international, stage. He speaks of the "Gujarat model" and compares it to other states, and to Japan and China. He ignores local issues, and disdains any mention of Gujarat Congress leaders.
Across the state, Modi's cue is picked up by his men. In a rally in Amreli town, Purshottam Rupala, national vice-president of BJP, asks the crowd if the malnourishment figures being cited by the Congress are an "insult" to Gujarat. On the same stage, Narhari Amin, who has crossed over to the BJP after the Congress denied him a ticket, says the election is about "the son of Gujarat" conquering Delhi in 2014.
In the first phase, therefore, the motifs of the 2012 Campaign for Gujarat have been all on display.
The Congress is trying to address voters without talking about Modi because that might feed into his dominance of the campaign. It doesn't mention 2002 or Muslim — driven by the fear that it might help Modi work up another polarisation along communal lines. Instead, the party has been determinedly engaging with local issues. This has followed year-long efforts and programmes of grassroots engagement, claims Gohil: there were nukkad and chauraha meetings, the Sardar Sandesh Yatra, outreach in the tribal areas, the "kinara bachao yatra" in coastal areas. A 12-point programme outlines what the Congress would do in power. There is wide agreement that the Congress ticket distribution this time has been in tune with local and caste realities.
Yet, it may well turn out that by the time the Congress arrived at local issues and landscapes in Gujarat, Modi had nudged and shifted the terrain of the battle — from the issues to himself, from the state to the national stage.