Between the two by-elections to the five seats in Gujarat held along with the Lok Sabha elections in May, and the six seats held now, were the major events of the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, the triple talaq law coming into effect and the economic slowdown.
While the BJP’s campaign focussed on Kashmir and triple talaq, the Congress decided to talk about the economic slowdown, jobs and other everyday issues.
Chief Minister Vijay Rupani did address local issues, but the focus of his campaign was more about “Ram Mandir in Ayodhya” and the BJP’s plan to annex Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, and the ‘mard sarkar’ at the Centre.
At a rally in Amraiwadi in Ahmedabad city, Rupani said, “It will make no difference to the present state government. We had 99 MLAs (at the beginning of the current term). The government of the BJP is running smoothly.” He expressed confidence that the BJP would win all six seats “If by any remote chance the results are not favourable (to the BJP),” Rupani said, “then only applications (sic) and drama of Opposition will happen. The development of the area will not be possible. So…please send a BJP MLA (to Gandhinagar) to work alongside us.”
While the central leadership of Congress faced turmoil after the Lok Sabha election debacle, what worked for the Congress in Gujarat was the door-to-door campaigning by senior state leaders during the week-long motorcycle rallies on Gandhi Jayanti. The Congress chose issues such as unemployment, economic slowdown and the recently introduced amended Motor Vehicles Act to connect with the public.
Bootlegging also turned into an election issue, spurred by a war of words between Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Rupani, where the former alleged that the dry state is the biggest consumer of alcohol and that liquor is found in every household across Gujarat. While Rupani did not take the comment of Gehlot lightly, the latter found support in former Gujarat Chief Minister Shankersinh Vaghela who also reiterated that liquor is found everywhere in Gujarat.
Gehlot, incidentally, was the general secretary in charge of Gujarat in the 2017 assembly elections and had formally inducted Alpesh Thakor into the Congress.
Curbing illicit liquor had been Thakor’s loudest campaign when he was rising to make a debut in electoral politics. Recently he joined the BJP and contested from the Radhanpur seat, from which he resigned after cross-voting for the Rajya Sabha polls.
The Congress made the best of this. “Whenever elections come, BJP has always misused government machinery to distribute money and liquor to buy votes, despite prohibition. But this time, the public has broken the arrogance of BJP,” State Congress chief Amit Chavda said.
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