Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be face of the BJP in the Gujarat Assembly elections due later this year, according to senior state party leaders who see these polls in his home state as a “battle of prestige”. The party cannot afford a poor show in state elections as Modi gained popularity in the country on the ‘Gujarat model of development’, following which the voters in the country elevated him to the chair of Prime Minister in 2014.
With Modi’s exit from the political scene of the state on becoming the Prime Minister and his formidable deputy Amit Shah’s elevation as the party’s national president, the BJP in the state lacks a credible mass leader to lead the campaign to reclaim Gujarat.
The party has in the recent past faced many upheavals in the state, like the Patel quota agitation, the Una Dalit flogging incident and deficient rainfall for three consecutive years leading to agrarian distress. The BJP is also likely to face anti-incumbency as it has been in power in the state for over 22 years.
“PM Modi is our national face. He will be the face banking on whom the party will go for the 2017 Gujarat elections,” a senior state BJP leader said. There are no state level mass leaders after Modi and Shah who can lead the BJP to victory. That is why the party will fight the elections with Modi as central figure in his home state, he said.
Even when Modi was the chief minister and led the BJP to victories in three state elections (2002, 2007 and 2012), the highest number of seats that the BJP was able to get was 129 seats. He said this time the BJP is likely to set a target of 150 out of the total 182 seats which the party insiders believe is very high.
However, the leader said as this would turn out be a “battle of prestige” for the BJP before the 2019 polls, they would try to achieve the target. “There is no question on who will be the face of our party. It would be PM Modi,” state BJP spokesperson Harshad Patel said. “We will fight the elections on the popularity of Modi and strategy of party president Shah,” he said.
“Our preparations are going on in full swing for the elections. We have appointed observers for each of the 182 Assembly seats,” Patel said. “We have formed various committees like an election manifesto committee, a parliamentary board to select candidates, a disciplinary committee and also appointed our senior leader Kaushik Patel as head of the campaign committee for the elections,” he said.
“We have time and again being holding programmes to connect with people and take the work done by the Centre and the state government to the people,” he added. However, the opposition Congress said state elections are fought on local issues and not on national issues. “They might want to fight elections projecting Modi as their face as they do not have any formidable state leader here. But these are state elections and they will be fought on local issues,” Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi said.
“The BJP government this time has completely failed to address issues like agrarian distress, education, law and order and are not able to find solutions to issues raised by agitating communities like Patels for reservation which will ensure their defeat,” Doshi said.