Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the policies his government at the Centre have become the centrepiece of the BJP’s Gujarat Assembly election campaign. Consequently, the state elections are being seen as a precursor to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections that will be considered as a vote on Modi as Prime Minister and his policies at the Centre.
The BJP has launched a multi-pronged campaign that includes yatras criss-crossing the state, door-to-door canvassing involving Union ministers, as well as a blitz on social and traditional media. In all these campaigns, Modi is the poster boy.
In its door-to-door campaigning which concluded Sunday, the BJP flew in high-profile Union Ministers Nirmala Sitharaman, J P Nadda, Prakash Javadekar, Smriti Irani and many others. BJP national president Amit Shah launched the door-to-door campaign — Gujarat Gaurav Maha-Sampark Abhiyaan — in which he distributed pamphlets containing a letter of Modi addressed mainly to the youth. The content of the ministers’ speeches hovered around Modi.
On Saturday, the party also launched its 116-page booklet titled Satat Vikas – Jan Jan ka Vishwas (Continuous Development – Trust of every person). The booklet is also full of the BJP’s achievements under Modi’s leadership. The party’s advertisements in newspapers have big pictures of Modi, with smaller pictures of Amit Shah, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel and Gujarat BJP chief Jitu Vaghani.
On social media, videos being circulated by the BJP and its supporters are predominantly about the achievements of Modi and his policies such as demonetisation and the GST. In fact, in one of the videos, the Gujarat BJP has also taken a swipe at mainstream media whom “Modi is not entertaining”.
In another set of videos being circulated by the Gujarat BJP with #ModiChheNe (Modi is indeed there), the party is spreading message that Gujarat is safe under Modi. The videos take on the three youth leaders — Patidar leader Hardik Patel, OBC leader Alpesh Thakor and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani — by mocking them as ones who “dance to the tunes of the Congress”.
A video viral on social media now captures the BJP’s campaign strategy. Shot during the 2014 general elections, Modi is seen asking voters to choose the BJP as it will be a vote for Modi. That the BJP campaign is purely Modi-centric is manifested by the Prime Minister’s visits to Gujarat since January. He has been coming to his home state nearly twice a month since January.
As the election nears, Modi is expected to do a whirlwind tour of the state. The Gujarat BJP admits that Modi is the star campaigner. Rupani, in one of his interviews, when prodded on why the party talks only about Modi, and not Rupani, in the Gujarat elections, said: “Why should we not talk about him (Modi)? He is our leader, he is guiding us. The Congress also encashed on the popularity of Indira Gandhi in the country for 20 long years.”
A senior BJP leader said that the party does not lack leadership in the state, but the people connect with Modi like no other leader. “People in Gujarat accept the entire BJP as their own. It is not that leaders like Vijay Rupani or Nitin Patel have no appeal, but the emotional connection that people have with Modiji is at a different level. It is natural that being the Prime Minister and the son of soil of Gujarat, he is leading the campaign in the state. The development in Gujarat is a gift of Modiji’s governance and integrity, and therefore, it is only apt to accord him that respect during the campaign.”