AHMEDABAD/NEW DELHI: Hardik Patel, as we write is taking a road show across Ahmedabad, drawing a “huge, overwhelming” response from what is essentially considered a BJP bastion. The Congress was the only other party that had sought permission for a Rahul Gandhi road show in Ahmedabad on the last day of campaigning December 12 but has been blocked by a BJP ploy that filed an application for similar permission for the same day for Prime Minister Narendra Modi last night.

The Ahmedabad police has, predictably, denied permission for both. Local Congress workers point out that this has been done to protect the BJP that “knows it will not be able to get the same crowds as Rahul Gandhi.” Right or wrong, the local media has been reporting lesser crowds for the Prime Minister at his public rallies across Gujarat, as compared to the earlier elections.

The BJP workers in Gujarat’s capital are despondent after the first phase of polling where conventional political wisdom seems to suggest an improved performance by the Congress party. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s focus on Pakistan and Muslims, according to activists, journalists and political workers spoken to by The Citizen, has not worked in polarising the elections. Why? “Because we have heard all this before, and the issue today is of development” was the stock response.

Pakistan has failed to polarise Gujarat. The election is being fought on the real issues of the economy, with the farmers stir, unemployment, demonetisation, GST remaining the factors that seem to be denting the BJP hold even in urban centres. In Ahmedabad itself, a buoyant Congress, is giving what even journalists here recognise asa “good fight” in at least seven Assembly segments, four of these being where it was virtually non-existent before.

Former Congress leader Shanker Sinh Vaghela who has now floated an independent party told The Citizen that the PM’s campaign to polarise the votes has drawn a blank. Why? “Because this is a stuck record, he has said this so many times before, over and over again that it is not having an impact at all,” the wizened old politician said.

As the campaign has proceeded, PM Modi has moved almost entirely away from issues of development. This has been noted and commented upon by the astute and relatively well to do voters of Gujarat. He has been speaking now---as Hardik Patel has repeatedly warned his audiences---emotionally about himself, and now on Pakistan and references to Muslim leaders of the Congress party. Significantly, Patel in his extensive campaign has been speaking of this, asking the people not to be taken in and fooled by the propaganda as the PM is trying to divert “you from the real issues at stake.”

Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s refusal to be drawn into the war of words unleashed by PM Modi has gone down well in Gujarat particularly his latest statement that he will respond to all the acrimony with “love.” The censuring of Mani Shankar Aiyar for using the ‘neech’ word too has made this a non-issue with the Congress campaign steering clear of abuse, and emotional jargon. As the Congress president-to-be has also said in different public meetings, the issue is of development of Gujarat and the Prime Minister should explain why he is no longer speaking of this.

The Congress has been focusing on development, or rather the lack of it in Gujarat while the PM is now focusing almost entirely on himself, Pakistan and Muslims as the speeches after the first phase of polling demonstrate.

Gujarati Asmita, the card that the BJP thought would pay dividends has also not got off the ground. PM Modi has raised the issue of “Gujarati pride” but in the face of the counter Congress campaign that he is talking more about himself and less about the unemployed and stressed Gujarati’s, this does not seem to have elicited the response the ruling party was hoping for. Communal polarisation was thus, the last card but if the ground reports are correct then this “stuck record” as Vaghela said has not worked either to lull the voters into a BJP trance.

The BJP allies at the centre have also been missing from action. Shiv Sena has been ridiculing the BJP from the first day, and questioning the Prime Minister as if it was an opposing party and not a NDA ally. Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray has also asked the BJP why the level of campaigning has been so low, why the PM has moved away from development, and is instead going back into Mughal history. Thackeray further said that in this campaign the PM has shown that he is more of a regional, than a national leader. Bihar’s Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has not been seen in Gujarat, and nor has the Akali Dal.