AHMEDABAD/NEW DELHI: The first incident of violence in Gujarat after elections were formally announced by the recalcitrant Election Commission has claimed two lives with the state police directly involved in a face off with the tribal villagers in Chilakota in Dahod district over the death of a 31 year old after intense interrogation by the police. In the ensuing violence a farmer was killed in police fire.

This has sparked off new anger against the Gujarat government in the largely tribal belt, with the BJP hardpressed to contain the political impact of the situation. Kanesh Gamara was picked by the local Special Branch of the police at 1am from his house. He was taken to the police station for interrogation although he was innocent, and the police were looking for his brother who was absconding after dacoity charges had been pressed against him.

Gamara was released at about 3 pm from the police station and died soon after. The entire village was up in arms and marched to the police station with his body, demanding the arrest of the policemen who had interrogated him. The police resisted, and the tribals vented their anger by attacking the police station and burning police vehicles.

The cops opened fire and a 45 year old farmer from Amli village, Ramsu Mohaniya, was killed. He is survived by his wife, three daughters and three sons. He was reportedly not even part of the protest with media reports suggesting that he had gone only to buy vegetables.

The news has sent shock waves down the spine of poll bound Gujarat, with the anger targeted against the police and the ruling government. The BJP has been facing a steady decline in the rural areas of the state, although it still retains a hold in the urban cities sulking though after demonetisation and GST. However, the communalisation and polarisation remains a card, according to the Opposition leaders, that they claim to be trying to neutralise with direct appeals to different communities including the Pattidars who are responding fairly enthusiastically as of this moment to 25 year old Hardik Patel and his anti-BJP campaign.

The tribals in villages had been in earlier decades with the Congress party, with the BJP under then Chief Minister Narendra Modi working to win them over. Local sources claim that the erosion has not been huge, with the tribals divided between the two parties. This violence, thus, has come as a setback for the BJP at a time when the Congress party with the help of Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakor closing the gap in the electoral race.

Gujarat that had actually been amongst the first to join in the PM’s ridicule of Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi seems to be thawing towards him. Even in Ahmedabad there are kind words for the “new” Rahul Gandhi whose witticisms seem to be drawing considerable attention. The strategy to visit the state periodically for a three day stay has worked in his favour as well, with locals actually talking of his “new connect” with the masses. The derogatory Pappu used to describe in the past has not been heard during this election campaign from those outside the political parties.

Ahmedabad activists said that Rahul Gandhi is engaging the crowds, asking questions, and providing answers that are met with some hilarity. For instance he asks, “and what is name of Amit Shah’s son”, and when the crowd roars back “Jay Shah” he follows it up with, “how did he make that much money” asking the businessmen in the crowd to explain it to the rest. But this is done in ‘jumlas’ said with a smile, and met with laughter.

Rahul Gandhi who not so long ago had referred to the “hired” army of BJP trolls set to do nothing but pillorise him is running a very strong social media campaign on Gujarat through a well coordinated team of young people. The tweets are varied, continuous, and witty eclipsing the hate language of the BJP trolls and are making a mark amongst the urban voters, and more so the youth.

In fact Rahul Gandhi has found new support from the Shiv Sena that is currently running a feud with BJP in neighbouring Maharashtra. Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut said in a television discussion, "Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is capable of leading the country...It is wrong to call him 'Pappu.” Insisting that the “Modi wave is fading” Raut said that the people can make a “Pappu” of anyone.

Aam Aadmi Party leader Ashutosh has also spoken of BJP worry. In a column he has written, “Modi is a smart politician. He knows that despite all the propaganda, the Congress has been consistently getting on an average 39% votes since 2002. It is also true that the BJP has been maintaining a lead of 9% over the Congress. But the study of local body elections since 2015 has been telling a different story. The Congress gained substantially in the 2015 district panchayat elections. The Congress swept 24 panchayats with 48% votes and the BJP could manage only 6 with 44% votes. Similarly, in taluka panchayat elections, the Congress won in 134 with 46% votes and the BJP could get only 67 with 42% votes. The BJP undoubtedly managed its lead in municipalities elections but the gap of vote share has drastically reduced. In municipalities, the BJP had a lead of 18% compared to 2010 elections. But in 2015 it has come down to 5%. Similarly, in municipal corporation elections, the Congress reduced its margin of loss by 8%. In 2010, the BJP gained 52% votes, the Congress had 33%. In 2015 the BJP got 50% but the Congress jumped to 41%.”