AHMEDABAD/NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah are searching for a new image in Gujarat, as the fear and terror that the duo had created through their persona, has been effectively fractured in these Assembly elections. They do not have the same command over the state, and even their party that is now whispering louder than ever before in criticism.

And this has happened not in West Bengal, but in Gujarat the home state of the two leaders that had unquestioningly accepted them and their politics. And remained unflinchingly loyal since 2002. So what has changed to a point where Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has been elevated by the Gujaratis as the swordsman on the Opposition horse, leading the charge even as all derogatory labels like ‘Pappu’ that had stuck to him for all these years,drop en route.

One: The obvious. Demonetisation and GST that hit the Gujaratis, fond of their business and their lucre, hard. And had them out in the droves protesting against GST in particular with rallies that had the rest of India looking on with eyes bulging, breath caught and a “no, this cannot be Gujarat’ sense of disbelief.

Two: Three young leaders from within Gujarat, providing a credible opposition to the BJP, for the first time in 20 odd years. Hardik Patel Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakor did not just address their respective communities by highlighting their concerns, they also introduced an important element of irreverence in Gujarat’s politics. They challenged Modi and Shah directly at every turn of the road as it were, even as their supporters carried on a social media campaign that penetrated the veils of fear and terror very effectively. The vikas campaign on the social media that makes a huge mockery of Modi-Shah’s claims of development is a case in point, coming from the youth and targeted straight at the youth in its humour. So much so that young BJP supporters were also sharing the two liners, as part of an emerging culture of humour in the state. This was taken forward by the smiling, and seemingly relaxed postures of the three, with Hardik Patel perhaps being the most serious (and of course the youngest in his profile). The natural ease of Mevani as he declared sex to be a “fundamental right” after the video of Patel in a consensual act hit the social media clearly underlines the fearlessness, and the confidence of this leadership.

Three: the social media that has completely punctured the atmosphere of fear nurtured by Modi-Shah over the past few months in particular. The vikas campaign, with comedians, memes, songs, has flooded Gujarat’s social media, dragging politicians off self created pedestals with its irreverence. For the first time in years Modi-Shah have not been spared either, in fact in this election season the humour is largely directed against them. With humour the fear has gone, and the terror of a glare disappearing with it.

Four: the Congress that has made Gujarat a project with an election strategy that also directly attacks Modi-Shah. Rahul Gandhi whose popularity has ironically, soared in Gujarat has set the trend with his witty comments and use of the social media to target the duo, giving counter for counter, and taking the credit for the government’s decision to reverse the GST provisions. The Congress has mounted a strong campaign with the vice president being seen, interestingly as fresh, more so as he steps across security to mingle with the people. As an almost first a group of Congress workers visited and campaigned in Shah’s constituency, maintaining that the idea was more to send out a signal than to win the seat. A reiteration over and over again that there is little to fear, and that Modi-Shah are politicians like any other.

Five: and the fact that in Gujarat Modi-Shah have no one else to rely on but themselves. This comes from their term in office when the RSS, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, indeed the BJP itself was reduced by the powerful duo to an appendage, following instructions from them at best and unable to take their own decisions. This then remains the state of the larger organisation that has become largely unresponsive, in that it acts when Modi-Shah shout out an order and otherwise remains silent and fairly unresponsive. This is one of the primary reasons why to counter the popular pro-people appeal of Rahul Gandhi, the BJP president had to personally start a house to house program.

The sex CD has been seen even in pro-BJP Ahmedabad as a slightly desperate measure to counter the opposition and neutralise Patels impact amongst the Patidar youth, more so as the economic measures have turned negative, and the communal card is not working so far. At least not in the manner that Modi-Shah might have hoped, with the Ram vs Haj poster campaign being countered almost immediately by the Congress with its Ravana campaign. Instead a video of Dalit women beating a banner with the Prime Ministers face on it has gone viral, and is being circulated openly by Gujarati groups.

As are images of black flag demonstrations, protests, anti Modi-Shah sloganeering et al in a an election contest that seems to have suddenly acquired democratic wings.