Cyclone Ockhi barrelled towards the Gujarat coast, where it is likely to make a landfall on Tuesday night, forcing the Bharatiya Janata Party to defer Wednesday’s election rally of Prime Minister Naerndra Modi in Surat.
The cyclone also led to cancellation of the campaign meetings of Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday.
The rallies of BJP chief Amit Shah and several other political bigwigs scheduled for Tuesday were also cancelled.
Gandhi, however, made it to the state and addressed a rally in Kutch, while calling off three campaign meetings planned in Morbi, Dhrangadhra and Surendranagar towns.
The prime minister, meanwhile, appealed to BJP workers to extend a helping hand to those who are likely be hit by the cyclone.
According to the forecast by the Meteorological Centre, the cyclone is approaching Gujarat steadily and now lies centred in the Arabian Sea just 390 km away from the coastline near Surat.
“It is very likely to continue to move north-northwestwards, weaken gradually and cross south Gujarat and adjoining Maharashtra coasts near Surat as a deep depression by the night of December 5,” said the latest IMD bulletin.
The IMD has forecast light to moderate rainfall in most places with heavy rainfall at isolated places in Saurashtra and south Gujarat.
As the cyclone is expected to cross Surat on Tuesday, the prime minister’s rally in the coastal city on Wednesday has been rescheduled for December 7, the state BJP unit said in a release.
However, Modi’s all three other rallies in Dhandhuka, Dahod and Netrang will take place on Wednesday as scheduled.
“We had earlier announced that the prime minister will be in Gujarat on December 6, 8 and 9 to address 12 rallies. Tomorrow’s rally in Surat was supposed to be the last among the four scheduled rallies. The Surat rally has been now postponed to December 7,” a BJP leader said.
According to the release, remaining eight rallies of Modi in different parts of Gujarat scheduled for December 8 and 9 will take place.
Though Rahul Gandhi addressed a rally in Anjar town in Kutch on Tuesday morning, the Congress called off his three campaign meetings scheduled to be held in Morbi, Dhrangadhra and Surendranagar on account of bad weather.
Gandhi’s rallies in Narmada, Dang and Tapi districts on Wednesday have been cancelled and he will now address public meetings at Chhotaudepur, Ahmedabad, Anand, and in Kheda district on December 8, a Congress release said.
During the day, when almost the entire state experienced a wet spell, Amit Shah’s campaign meetings in Rajula town in Amreli district and in Mahuva and Shihor towns in Bhavnagar district were cancelled.
Similarly, BJP MP Manoj Tiwari’s road show in Bapunagar area of the city was also cancelled due to showers since early morning, Bapunagar MLA Jagroopsinh Rajput said.
The BJP also called off rallies and press conferences of Yogi Adityanath and Vasundhara Raje, chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, respectively, which were scheduled to be held in Surat.
Former Congress strongman and “Jan Vikalp” front head Shankersinh Vaghela was also forced to cancel his road shows and rallies on Tuesday at Junagadh, Mahuva and Palitana towns of Saurashtra.
Though Vaghela was supposed to reach Surat on Tuesday, he has dropped his plans due to the approaching cyclone, a Jan Vikalp leader said.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to the Gujarat BJP workers to focus on providing assistance to the people likely to be hit by the cyclonic storm.
“With Cyclone Ockhi expected to make a landfall in Gujarat, I appeal to BJP Gujarat Karyakartas (workers) to focus on helping people across the state. Our karyakartas should devote themselves to providing all possible assistance and stand shoulder to shoulder with fellow citizens,” Modi tweeted.
Inspired by his tweet, BJP leaders in Surat suspended all their campaign-related work and began shifting people to safer places, the ruling party MLA from Surat’s Majura seat, Harsh Sanghvi, said.
“We have decided not to do any kind of campaigning until the effect of cyclone remains. Since this morning, all our workers have spread across the city to help people. We are moving them to safer locations. During this work, we will not wear any scarves having BJP’s election symbol,” Sanghvi said.
The Met centre has warned that the cyclone would pack winds between 50 and 60 kmph at the time of the landfall, and may accelerate up to 70 kmph in south Gujarat.
According to principal secretary of the state’s revenue department Pankaj Kumar, at least nine districts received light showers or drizzle since Tuesday morning.
Dharmarpur town of southern Gujarat received the maximum rainfall of 25 mm, he said.
Gujarat’s chief secretary J N Singh interacted with the collectors of coastal districts via video conference to review their preparedness to deal with any eventuality, Kumar added.