A tug of war over the development agenda of Gujarat, still scarred by the 2002 communal riots, marked the two-month-long campaign for the Lok Sabha election that will take place here Wednesday.
Taking a cue from Chief Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, his ministers and party activists are highlighting what they say is "unprecedented development" on all fronts. In contrast, the Congress is exposing what it alleges is a development bogey by accusing Modi of claiming credit for achievements carried out by successive Congress governments.
In urban areas, development and economic progress are visible, but in sharp contrast, there is no end to the misery of many others, especially in minority-dominated areas. The Congress campaign - spearheaded by party president Sonia Gandhi and vice president Rahul Gandhi - sought to expose the "lopsided development" of the state that is now being shown as an "ideal model" for the rest of India. "In fact, the Modi model has failed on all fronts... education, healthcare, employment, farmers' welfare, water supply, urban-rural divide and social harmony," a Congress leader told IANS.
According to him, of the 182 dams in the state built in the past six decades, not one was constructed during Modi's tenure. BJP leaders retaliate by claiming that the Congress's comments display their sheer helplessness and insecurity vis-a-vis the "Modi wave" which they say has engulfed the country.
Like at the national level, the election campaign in the state too has been shrill, with both sides painting each other as demons. Gujarat has 26 Lok Sabha seats and an electorate of 3.99 crore, which includes roughly 10% Muslims. As in the past two elections, the fight will be directly between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress. Such is the polarisation that in 2009, barring those from the BJP and Congress, all other 305 candidates - barring one from a regional party - forfeited their election security deposits. Ditto was the situation in 2004.
The tally in 2009 was BJP 15 and Congress 11, but it lost two more seats to the BJP in by-elections later, making its effective current strength as nine. The position in 2004 was not much different with the BJP standing at 14 and Congress at 12. The only consolation for the Congress was its relatively less decline in the total vote share.
In 2009, the BJP won 15 seats with 46.52% of the votes, compared to 14 in 2004 with a 47.37% vote share (-0.85%). The Congress bagged 11 seats in 2009 with 43.38% of the votes, compared to 12 seats with a vote-share of 43.86% (-0.48%).
This time, the Congress is looking at a tally of 15 seats. But partymen say the BJP is going all out to limit the Congress to a single-digit entity.
BJP's advantage is that Modi has now become the party's national icon. The biggest minority segment, Muslims, continues to be neglected by all parties, with not a single candidate making it to the Lok Sabha from the state in the past 25 years.
This year, there are 334 candidates in the fray including 67 Muslims. The BJP has not put up a single Muslim candidate, while the Congress has nominated one - Maksood Mirza from Navsari constituency.
Gujarat has not sent a single Muslim to the Lok Sabha after Congress strongman Ahmed Patel, who was last elected in 1989 from Bharuch. The Samajwadi Party has put up seven Muslims, while smaller parties and independents make up the remaining 59 Muslims in the race. There are other contrasts in Gujarat.
The smallest constituency is the affluent Ahmedabad spread over 107 square km compared to the biggest, Kachchh, which encompasses 21,354 square km of dry semi-desert and underdeveloped areas. There are 45,313 polling stations spread across the state. In terms of electorate, the biggest constituency is Navsari with 1.7 million voters. Neighbouring Bharuch is smallest with 1.3 million voters.