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In Modi land, Congress decides to fight fire with fire
Sheela Bhatt in Ahmedabad
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November 26, 2007

The Gujarat elections are hotting up. Chief Minister Narendra Modi will address his first election rally on Tuesday at 11 am in Botad in Bhavnagar, the constituency of Saurab Dalal, his confidant and his power and industries minister.

It was Dalal who has implemented the the Bharatiya Janata Party government's ambitious Jyotigram scheme to supply 24-hour electricity to village homes.

The BJP is trying to dwell on the twin issues of development and national security to project Modi as a super administrator and a hardline Hindu leader.

On the other side, to the surprise of many, the Congress is not shying away from issues either -- perhaps for the first time -- and has already moved the party infrastructure in place.

Thus, Gujarat is all set to witness one of the most aggressive elections in a decade. As Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh told "This will be a no-holds-barred elections. We will not spare any effort to defeat Modi. We are not afraid of his fake Hindutva stance."

The Congress's readiness is a challenging element for many in Gandhinagar and interestingly, it has helped some anti-Modi candidates get tickets. Modi had planned to drop more than one-third of his 127 party MLAs. But the election has become so challenging that a proud Modi succumbed and softened his stand against his adversaries within the party.

The fact that of the nine BJP rebels who have been suspended from the party, six got the Congress's nomination speaks volumes of the latter's new approach in Gujarat. It is clear that the party does not have any moral qualms in backing candidates who have, even now, not disowned their "saffron" ideology.

The 2007 Gujarat elections are not about secularism, nor is it about development. It's turning into the great psy-war where the Congress is trying hard to paint Modi as a megalomaniac, arrogant and autocrat leader who is bluffing all the time about his success on the development and security fronts.

But the Congress is playing a riskier game, of negating Modi's claims.

The BJP, which is banking on Modi's image, is manipulating sensitive issues through the prism of  his image. The party is brand-building Modi's leadership by giving sharply focused, uncomplicated and personalised advertisements in newspapers and on television. The theme is Jitega Gujarat (Gujarat will win). Indirectly, their not-so-democratic message is, 'Modi is Gujarat and Gujarat is Modi'.

Leader of Opposition Arjun Modhavadia says, "We will not shy away this time. Modi is a pseudo-Hindu. When we alleged that he is a fake Hindu while debating L K Advani's visit to Pakistan, he wanted the allegations removed from the assembly records. But he can't get it removed from the annals of history. To enhance his image he has evoked security-related issues in advertisements."

Modhavadia adds, "In the advertisements Modi talks about Afzal Guru's pending death sentence. But who released Azhar Masood, the key instigator in the Parliament attack? His party leader Jaswant Singh took a chartered flight with Rs 500 crore, along with Masood and two other terrorists, to release them in Kandahar. How come Modi has forgotten that?"

Congress sources in Ahmedabad claim party president Sonia Gandhi [Images] and general secretary Rahul Gandhi [Images] have surprised the local leadership by giving time, attention and money like never before.

Congress leaders admit, "We have come a long way. Both the parties are putting in their best efforts and you will see an unusually aggressive election this time."

Congressmen who have a fairly good idea of Modi's image in Gujarat and the BJP's inherent strengths, claim in off-the-record conversations, "We have 50-50 chance of winning. But, we will change the balance in our favour by exposing Modi's bluff in the three weeks left (for elections)."

But, the BJP is many steps ahead in its propaganda war. Their campaign aims at painting the Congress as a pro-minority party. Modi knows well that nothing works better in Gujarat than this.

Minister for Home Amit Shah, a Modi loyalist, says, "The Congress has spent precious three months wasting its energy in supporting our party's rebels. In that time they should have been busy attracting the floating voters. They have lost time."

It's largely accepted that Modi holds the edge in urban areas. Shah claims, "Modi is the issue, and Modi has no alternative."

He says, "Issues like development and security are for the consumption of a biased media. Even on that count, we challenge anybody to counter our claims."

Elaborating, he says, "Modi is a practical man. He has taken decisions to help the masses. He doesn't take decisions on the basis of media's likes and dislikes. He will not surrender to his adversaries and he doesn't play to the gallery when he takes decisions on development issues. Unlike many leaders in New Delhi, he is not one who will get trapped in issues created by the media."

According to reliable sources, a secret survey by the BJP showed that while more than 70 percent of its sitting MLAs are facing anti-incumbency, Modi's image was better than ever.

In the last eight weeks the BJP sent more than 25 senior leaders into thousands of villages across the state. More than 10,000 people have been contacted and a first-hand assessment was made of the party's chances in the election.

A hardcore RSS follower told, "If Modi loses this election, it will be only because of his arrogance. If the Congress could successfully 'sell' the line that Modi is a self-absorbed, arrogant leader doing things -- even killing so-
called criminals after dubbing them as terrorists -- to strengthen his own image for a career in New Delhi, then Modi will be hit hard. The 'pseudo-nationalist' line will certainly sell among Gujaratis."

Modhavadia also concedes this point.

"We believe that Modi is behind Godhra and Akshardham. But while alleging that, we will have to make sure that there is no backlash from Hindus. We have no doubt that we will expose Modi's pseudo-Hindu face."

Meanwhile, Modi is taking the media more seriously than the Congress in the first stage of the election campaign. That shows the level of his arrogance and self-confidence!

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