With the Gujarat Assembly polls becoming a direct fight between prime minister Narendra Modi and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, Modi is apparently leading the campaign from the front.
The PM's four rallies on Wednesday are significant because things are not easy for the BJP this time around. A big contingent of BJP national president Amit Shah, union ministers and other leaders are camping in Gujarat to churn out strategies aimed at checkmating Rahul Gandhi who had hit the ground running in Gujarat much ahead of the election announcement.
Now, Rahul is also back for the second phase of campaigning, thus setting the stage for a direct showdown with Modi. Modi clearly knows that the party won't be getting any walkover this time. It is his first election battle in his home state since he became the prime minister.
Even chief minister Vijay Rupani is facing a tough fight in Rajkot (west). The battle is even more important for Rupani since Modi didn't announce him as the chief ministerial candidate in his previous rally in Kutch even though the CM was present on the dais.
Apart from anti-incumbency, the BJP is also facing the ire of business-trader community over the impact of the notes ban and GST implementation. The farmers too are up in arms in various parts of the state. The Congress sees a glimmer of chance here.
Modi used his rallies on Monday to counter the allegation raised by Rahul Gandhi on the Rafale deal. His speeches where he played the 'son of the soil' card and the statement that 'he has sold tea, but won't sell the country' were clearly aimed at striking an emotional chord with the voters and cashing in on the Gujarati pride.
By raising issues like the Doklam issue, Uri attack and the Indian Army's surgical strike, Modi also tried connecting emotionally with nationalist rhetoric. Countering Congress allegations that development has been confined to big cities, the BJP has announced the development of villages as a top priority.
However, the BJP is worried that Hindu votes will be split due to the various fronts led by Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakur. Jignesh and Alpesh are also contesting the polls with the Congress support. While the BJP will be banking on nationalism to woo voters, it is also trying to win some support from the Muslim-minority voters.
The BJP has strong committees in each of the state's 50,218 polling booths that meet on a daily basis to assess the party’s activities. For the Congress, the party organization is weak down the line. Besides, there is no other leader than Rahul Gandhi to shoulder campaigning responsibilities.
Being in power in the Center and state and enjoying a strong party organization, the BJP is clearly the frontrunner.