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Congress decides not to let Gujarat polls turn into ‘Modi vs Congress’ tussle, plans to campaign against BJP’s local leadership

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The Congress has decided not to let the upcoming Assembly elections in Gujarat turn into a fight between it and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who hails from the state, and instead resolved to campaign against the ruling BJP’s local leadership as it feels that the saffron party does not have any formidable leader at the state level.

The opposition party has also taken a decision to stick to its tradition of not projecting any chief ministerial candidate in the state.

Elections to the 182-member House in Gujarat will be held by the end of this year. The BJP faces an arduous task of beating an anti-incumbency of over 24 years when it enters the Assembly poll ring.

The Congress’s task force comprising some top leaders, including Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, held a meeting in Delhi earlier this week with the leaders from Gujarat to devise a strategy for the upcoming state polls.

The task force, set up by party president Sonia Gandhi, also includes senior leaders P Chidambaram, Mukul Wasnik, K C Venugopal and Randeep Singh Surjewala, among others. Gujarat Congress in-charge Raghu Sharma, party’s state unit president Jagdish Thakor, Leader of Opposition Sukhram Rathwa, two former Gujarat Congress presidents – Arjun Modhvadia and Amit Chavda – and spokesperson Manish Doshi took part in the meeting.

“During the task force’s meeting with the Gujarat Congress leaders in Delhi, a detailed strategy was prepared on how to go about the upcoming state assembly elections,” Doshi told PTI.

Party sources said that since the Gujarat elections are not meant for the formation of central government or to elect a prime minister, it was decided that these polls should not turn out to be a tussle between PM Narendra Modi and the Congress.

“The elections are for Gujarat and our fight is against Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel and BJP’s state unit president C R Patil,” a source said.

“For BJP, PM Modi is its trump card and they will seek votes in his name. They do not have any formidable leader at the state level so they will try to turn the elections into a Modi versus Congress fight. But Modi is not going to be the chief minister of Gujarat. People have seen the misrule of BJP chief ministers and the fight of the Congress is against them,” the party source said.

During the campaign for the 2007 Gujarat elections, Congress president Sonia Gandhi had attacked Modi, who was then the state chief minister, calling him “maut ka saudagar” (merchant of death), blaming him for the 2002 post-Godhra communal riots in the state. Even after Modi became the prime minister, the grand old party kept attacking him during the Gujarat election campaign.

Doshi said that during the meeting, it was decided that the party’s poll campaign should revolve around local issues.

“What was promised by the BJP and what is the reality after so many years of its rule; the state of affairs of education, health and the way the government handled COVID-19 crisis, issues of farmers, unemployment and inflation will be highlighted during the campaign,” he said.

After attending the meeting in Delhi, Gujarat Congress in-charge Raghu Shamra had said the party has decided not to project any chief ministerial candidate for the assembly elections.

Doshi and the party’s national spokesperson Shaktisinh Gohil confirmed that the party will not project any chief ministerial face.

“As per the party’s tradition, once we get majority, MLAs meet and decide who will be the chief minister. We will follow that tradition,” Gohil said.

The Congress did not project any chief ministerial candidate in state assembly elections in the last two decades in Gujarat.

“Apart from all these issues, there was a detailed presentation during the task force meeting on how to strengthen our organisational force. How to go about focussing on each seat was discussed at length, Doshi said.

As far as preparing the party’s poll manifesto is concerned, it was decided that the party would first invite suggestions from people and take into consideration their views before finalizing the agenda, he said.

BJP has been in power in Gujarat from 1998, while Congress has failed to win the state assembly elections since 1995. In the 2017 elections, the Congress had won 77 seats, while the BJP had bagged 99 seats.

The Congress is of the view that people are unhappy with the BJP and this disenchantment will get reflected in the ensuing polls.

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