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Micro-observers in Saurashtra
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi [Images] is feeling the heat.
Though there is no indication yet that he might lose power, his detractors in the Bharatiya Janata Party are stepping on the gas, merely a week before voting for the first phase on December 11.
In both Saurashtra and south Gujarat, the rebels - two former chief ministers and half-a-dozen heavyweights - are throwing all their might behind the Congress. While it looks like Modi is in for a tough fight in Saurashtra, the Congress is hoping that the rebels will win it for them in south Gujarat, too.
"Modi is still very popular with the middle class in Surat and other places in south Gujarat. Though it is tough for us to gain in the region, we are banking on the BJP rebels to turn it in our favour," said a senior Congress leader in Surat, seeking anonymity.
But the story in Saurashtra is entirely different: the rebel leaders are concentrated in Ambreli and Rajkot districts
For the last few months, they have been working at the grassroots against Modi.
In September, a close aide of Modi, Popat Rajpara, who is now the candidate in Jasdan, invited Modi to address a rally in the region. Getting a wind of this, the rebels, aided by a senior Congress leader, organised a rally under the banner of Sardar Patel Utkarsh Samiti.
While around 3000 people attended the BJP meeting, over 30,000 people took part in the rebel meeting, dealing a big blow to Modi.
"The rural people, the farmers and the Patels - everyone is unhappy with Modi. His Jyotigram scheme is a farce. Nothing has happened," Siddharth Parmar, a prominent rebel Dalit leader, said.
Asked about the increase in the number of hours of electricity in the rural area from 4-5 hours to 8-9 hours, Parmar said: "Yes, it has increased. But farmers are angry because the power supply, though increased, is erratic. Most days it starts at 12 in the night. The farmers had to stay up all night at work in the fields in the dark. They are clearly unhappy."
He also took a dig at the Vibrant Gujarat campaign. "Did the BJP not learn its lessons from the India Shining debacle? How is Vibrant Gujarat different from India Shining? Can Narendrabhai please tell what place does farmers have in Vibrant Gujarat?" Parmar asked.
The rebels' biggest weapon against Modi is the caste card. Keshubhai Patel, the first among the rebels, comes from the Leuva Patel caste. By sideling Keshubhai and promoting the Kadva Patels during his reign, Modi had antagonised the entire subcaste, Parmar said.
"Earlier, the entire Patidar (Patel) caste was with Modi. In his bid to sideline Keshubhai, Modi promoted the Kadva Patels. The Leuvas were sidelined everywhere. It was not just Keshubhai that was reason. Since he comes from a not very dominant Gachchi caste, he has always played at dividing the other castes for his electoral gains. This is the time when his ploy will backfire," Parmar said.
Add the traditional Koli caste vote bank of the Congress and the Dalit and lower caste votes that rebel leaders like Parmar are trying to bring in, then the Congress-rebel combination really has the potential to turn the tables on Modi.
Though they are working overtime and are gung-ho about ousting Modi, observers say there is still one factor that might ensure that Modi pulls it off.
"The rebels were in talks with the Congress for a long time. But nothing happened. It was only on the last day of filing nomination that the Congress announced the names of many BJP rebels as contestants. So, instead of the Congress' second-rung leaders and the rebels working together against Modi, this move spawned a third group - the Congress rebels!" Deepak Rajani, the group editor of Aaj Kaal newspaper said.
"Now, these Congress leaders, who were hopeful of getting a ticket but were pipped to the post by the BJP rebels, are either contesting as independent candidates in their respective strongholds or are working behind the scenes to bring down the rebels. If they manage to garner a sizeable number of votes, they will ensure Modi gains in this region," Rajani said.
The rebels, however, dismiss the scare. Parmar said it was not the Congress that delayed the nominations, but the rebels themselves.
"In fact, the Congress was ready with a list of seats that we can contest from right from the beginning. But, our motive is not to hurt the BJP. It is to remove Modi from power and resurrect the party in the state. So, initially, many leaders, including me, did not want to contest the polls. But there were leaders who were very confident of winning the polls if they contest against the BJP. So, it took us some time to decide on this issue. But it won't hurt us. We are confident of sending Modi packing," Parmar said.
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