With UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi scheduled to address a farmers’ rally at Rajkot on Wednesday, the Congress is finally set to make its presence felt in an election campaign so far dominated by Chief Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP.
The Congress hopes to make its first public meet a show of strength at this hub of Saurashtra, a region that comprises 58 of the total 182 Assembly seats in the state and has become even more politically crucial given the possibility of a triangular contest between Congress, BJP and the Gujarat Parivartan Party led by former CM Keshubhai Patel.
As Gandhi starts her campaign from Rajkot, Congress also hopes to exploit the prospect of Keshubhai’s party inflicting serious damage on the BJP in this bastion of Leuva Patels, a community to which the former CM belongs.
Earlier this week, Keshubhai started his statewide Parivartan Yatra from from Virpur in Rajkot district.
Another issue that the Congress hopes to capitalise on is a spate of suicides by debt-ridden farmers due to crop failure on account of deficient rains. Already, Congress has seized the opportunity by announcing Rs 1 lakh compensation each for the families of the deceased.
The opposition party, in a departure from the past elections, is avoiding to attack Modi and instead focussing on its 12-point development agenda, which includes sops for almost all.
The party’s election campaign in-charge Shankersinh Vaghela has maintained that even speeches of central leaders will be prepared in consultation with the state unit to avoid giving any mileage to Modi, even through negative publicity.
However, in the last two days, Modi has stepped up attack on the Congress chief herself, targeting the UPA government over expenses incurred on Sonia Gandhi’s foreign trips. It remains to be seen how she responds at her maiden election speech in Rajkot.
“We chose Rajkot for Gandhi’s first meet as it is hub for Saurashtra, where major issues are problems of farmers,” says state Congress president Arjun Modhwadia.
The Congress had begun its election campaign as early as September last year with a public meet at Bhuj in Kutch district. Since then, it carried out Sardar Sandesh Yatra and Kinara Bachao Yatra, which turned out to be campaigns that hardly got noticed.
Gandhi is also scheduled to visit Kaba Gandhi no Delo (home of Mahatma Gandhi in Rajkot), Ramkrishna Ashram and Bal Bhavan before addressing the rally.
Interestingly, her visit to Ramkrishna (Guru of Swami Vivekanada)Ashram comes at a time when Modi has been touring Saurashtra as part of his Swami Vivekanand Yuva Vikas Yatra.