India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi has led the BJP campaign in Gujarat, topped with an extensive roadshow in the state Image Credit: Supplied/Twitter

As I write this piece, 89 of Gujarat’s 182 assembly seats have voted with a last minute push by top leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to get their voters out on December 5.

India’s Prime minister has led the way for the BJP, doing a 50 kilometre long roadshow in Ahmedabad covering 14 constituencies only a few days ago. This a prestige battle for Modi in his home state.

Arvind Kejriwal has been pulling out all the stops as well. He has been in Gujarat on and off for months, leading the AAP’s campaign. And then there is the Congress, barely visible on the ground.

Rahul Gandhi has been busy with his Bharat Jodo yatra which didn’t even touch poll bound states and he campaigned in Gujarat for just one day.

The BJP may be facing anti incumbency after 27 years in power in the state, but it appears that the contest is really for the runner up position. There are several reasons for this but the key factor is Narendra Modi.

Gujarat polls
Polling officials carrying Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and other necessary inputs required for the Gujarat Assembly Election, at Katargam Balaashram school ground, in Surat on Wednesday, November 30, 2022. Image Credit: ANI

Modi is son of the soil

Gujarat is Modi’s home state and while people may be angry with the performance of their local MLAs, they do not put the blame on Modi’s doorstep. He is the son of the soil, the pride of Gujarat.

Which is why Modi has campaigned for votes specifically in his name -- a vote for the BJP is a vote for Modi he said. And he knows this emotional connect with people will cut through any anger.

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That doesn’t mean the BJP is taking any chances or isn’t a bit jittery. The AAP is trying to eat into their urban votes. They may not get a large number of seats but they are expected to do well with their vote share and make a solid beginning, at the very least.

The Congress may have a lacklustre campaign but some of their individual leaders are fighting hard on the ground and the BJP isn’t taking that lightly.

The fact is that the Congress has been the main opposition in Gujarat for decades and did very well against the BJP in the last election in rural areas.

The AAP has changed the game this time and is looking the BJP straight in the eye. Their spirit is admirable, considering their candidates lost their deposits back in 2017.

Congress in a bind

The fact that the AAP is in the fray is actually helping the BJP as opposition votes are split. The Congress’ Muslim and Dalit votes are vulnerable to the AAP.

A good performance by AAP will rev up the party even more as it pushes for a bigger national role, but first they need to win more Lok Sabha seats in order to be taken seriously on the national stage.

As for the Congress, they have tried hard to insulate Rahul Gandhi and the Bharat Jodo yatra from the elections, saying the march isn’t about winning polls. But the Congress is a political party, not an NGO.

How they do in these elections will have a bearing on the yatra and the perception surrounding it.