SANAND/AHMEDABAD: Net practice is over, the Test match has begun. It’s countdown for the candidates of the first phase of Gujarat elections, slated for December 9. Filing of nominations for the second phase, December 14, is on. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi chose to bat first, from Porbandar on to Sanand and Ahmedabad.
Leading the pack of the defending champions, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will bat second, beginning November 27 from Bhuj. This election is steeped in all kinds of symbolism. BJP has not missed a single opportunity to evoke Sardar Patel to mock the Congress, Rahul has not missed any opportunity to visit a temple to do a softer version of BJP’s Hindutva politics.
On Friday, Rahul Gandhi kicked off his campaign for party leader Arjun Modhwadia with another kind of pilgrimage—a visit to Mahatma Gandhi’s birthplace in Porbandar. Modhwadia, taking on the BJP’s controversial minister Babu Bokharia, though claimed the real reason for Rahul’s Porbandar trip was to meet the fisherfolk community, disgruntled with the BJP government.
His next leg of campaigning was in Ahmedabad, but with a short detour to Sanand—just a little away from the Tata Nano factory. In Sanand, Rahul received a Khadi tricolour handmade by 100 students of the Dalit Shakti Kendra with `10 contribution from each of the students—measuring 125 feet in length and 83 feet in height.
Apparently, the massiveness of the national flag had proved to be a deterrent for Chief Minister Vijay Rupani last time, when he was offered it.
Making the most of the context, Rahul told his largely Dalit audience, “Rupaniji refused to accept the national flag because he had no place for it—but I’ve space for the tricolour in my heart. I would have accepted it even if I were left with an inch of land.” Rahul later told the organisers, it seems, that it would be hoisted in Indira Gandhi’s memorial in New Delhi.
The tricolour only provided a quick contest. Rahul’s real target both in Porbandar and Sanand was the Tata Nano factory. If in Porbandar he told the fishermen that the BJP/Modi government could give away `33,000 crore for the Nano car—an amount the UPA spent for MNREGA—but cannot give a `300 crore subsidy package to them, in Sanand he linked it to jobs and education. “Have you seen a single Nano car here? I have not,” Rahul quipped.
But Rahul, who seemed to have undergone a change in delivery style and content, did not focus only on criticism. He made promises too.
For fishermen in Porbandar, he promised to create a separate ministry for fishing if the Congress is voted to power. To his Dalit audience, he promised that the already existing reservation for the Dalits will be implemented.
However, the BJP has also lined up its full fire power. Not only the PM, this time it’s going to be a carpet-bombing aided by union cabinet ministers and four BJP CMs.