Much like Uttar Pradesh polls early this year, the upcoming polls in Gujarat are shaping up to be a high stakes political contest between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the opposition. The outcome will have a profound bearing on the Lok Sabha polls in 2019. Although few people expect the BJP to lose in the state the party is plumping for a sixth straight win in the state there are indications that the election this time wont be a walkover for the party. One of the unlikely things that underlines such a reality is the change in public perception towards Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, even though his image makeover is still a project in works. But the truth is there is much that has changed in the way Rahul has carried himself in this election. His speeches now carry more conviction. This seems to have been made possible by his attention to two aspects of his communication with people: one, he has copied Modis jumla style of speech delivery. Two, he has paid more attention to the framing of his arguments enabling him to generate a bigger ideological contestation than he did earlier albeit, he has still way to go to match Modis overarching ideological challenge.
But will it be sufficient to dislodge Modi from his original bastion? It seems very unlikely. The fact is that Indias secular opposition is in tatters and fighting over scraps. There is no major pan-India leader in sight to take on the Modi. While Rahul and many others look like minions, the likes of Arvind Kejriwal and Mamta Banerjee who once showed signs of shaping up into credible rivals have too paled into significance. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who was once seen as his only credible opponent has joined Modi himself. Similarly, the caste based parties of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar who were only hope to stop Modis juggernaut have bitten the dust. And they are unlikely to recover until the 2019 parliament polls draw around. As of now it looks almost certain that the still potent Modi wave will win BJP the next election. There is no dislodging the Modi yet. Least of all in Gujarat. That is, if no credible political rival emerges from the shadows in the near future, a prospect which looks bleak. And if any opponent has to emerge, the ongoing Gujarat election offers the best springboard for him. Rahul is certainly becoming more visible and grabbing more headlines but he is not there yet. He is, no doubt, attracting crowds but he is not yet in a position to whip up the wave. One more thing that goes against Congress is its lack of a popular state level leader. Congress is banking on Rahuls charm offensive besides a coalition of some caste leaders like the Patidar leader Hardik Patel. Whether this works in favour of Congress or not will be known when election results come but the fact that the party, for once, looks a credible challenger to Modi shows that we are some way off from a time when even this way of thinking would have appeared blasphemous.
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