NEW DELHI: The final tally of the Gujarat elections indicates a closer than anticipated fight, with the BJP at 99 seats and the Congress and its allies winning 80 seats. The BJP previously held 120 of the 182 seats in the Gujarat assembly (it won five addition seats after taking 115 seats in 2012). Although 99 seats puts the ruling party in a clear majority, the loss in seat share is indicative of a tightly fought election in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state.

As the analysis turns its focus to the final numbers, The Citizen examines the rhetoric leading up to polling day. The Gujarat elections hit an all new political low, with the rhetoric taking an increasingly vitriolic turn. From projecting the election as ‘HAJ’ versus ‘RAM’, shunning ‘Aurangzeb Raj’ and accusing Pakistan of interfering in the polls, here’s a recap of who said what:

‘HAJ’ vs ‘RAM’

The BJP called the trio of Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani ‘HAJ’, releasing a poster that pitted the three young leaders against the BJP’s ‘RAM’ -- namely, (Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay) Rupani, BJP chief Amit (Shah) and (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi.

The Congress slammed the poster as a communal attempt to polarise votes, with senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram saying, “"Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani are sons of the soil of Gujarat. To call them HAJ is playing the communal card and divisive politics.”

The Congress responded with its own poster, replacing RAM with RAVAN, and HAJ with AJH. The posters had photos of Gujarat CM Rupani, BJP president Shah, Bhavnagar MLA Jitu Vaghani, former CM Anandiben Patel and Deputy CM Nitin Patel to connote "RAVAN", whereas AJH comprised of Alpesh, Jignesh and Hardik.

In another set of posters, the opposition used the acronym MAR (meaning slap), for PM Modi, Amit Shah and Rupani. The poster had four different captions: Jahan Aam Aadmi Ko Mahengai Ki 'MAR', Ukhad Pheko Aisi Sarkar (where common people are slapped with price rise, throw out such government); Jahan Yuva Ko Padi Berozgari Ki 'MAR', Ukhad Phenko Aisi Sarkar (where youth are slapped with unemployment, throw out such a government), Jahan Daliton Ko Padi 'MAR', Ukhad Phenko Aisi Sarkar (where Dalits are beaten up, throw out such a government) and Jahan Patidar Ko Padi 'MAR', Ukhad Phenko Aisi Sarkar (where Patidars were attacked, throw out such government).

The’ Pakistan’ factor:

Pakistan took centre stage in the run up to the Gujarat elections, making its way into several election speeches. At a rally in Bhuj, the PM said, “You saw the response when 26/11 happened, and how we reacted to Uri. This is the difference between their government and ours… When Pakistan releases one terrorist (Hafiz Saeed), they (the Congress) attack us. When our troops took on the Chinese in Doklam, they (Rahul Gandhi) met and embraced the Chinese ambassador's views.”

The Prime Minister went on to allege that Pakistan was interfering in the Gujarat polls. The PM said that "There were media reports yesterday about a meeting at Mani Shankar Aiyar's house. It was attended by Pakistan's high commissioner, Pakistan's former foreign minister, India's former vice-president and former prime minister Manmohan Singh," the PM said at a rally in Palampur. "The next day, Aiyar called me 'neech'. This is a serious matter," he added, referring to a controversial remark by Aiyer, which led to his suspension from the Congress party.

“(On one side) Pakistan Army's former director general is interfering in Gujarat's election, on the other side, Pakistan's people are holding a meeting at Mani Shankar Aiyar's house," the PM continued. "And, after that meeting, people of Gujarat, backward communities, poor people and Modi were insulted. Don't you think such events raise doubts?"

The Congress hit back, with former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saying “I reject the innuendos and falsehoods as I did not discuss Gujarat elections with anyone else at the dinner hosted by Mani Shankar Aiyar as alleged by Modi… Nor was the Gujarat issue raised by anyone else present at the dinner. The discussion was confined to India-Pakistan relations.”

Rahul Gandhi responded by asking the BJP to speak about Gujarat, not Pakistan. “The Prime Minister talks sometimes about Pakistan and sometimes about China and Japan. Modiji, this is the election for the future of Gujarat. Talk something about Gujarat too,” he said at a rally in Tharad.

ISIS and Ahmed Patel

The BJP launched a full scale attack on Congress leader Ahmed Patel, with CM Rupani alleging that one of two ISIS suspects arrested by Gujarat anti-terrorism squad had worked in a hospital where Patel was a trustee. The Congress and the hospital authorities immediately denied any links between Patel and the trust that runs the hospital.

"It's nothing but an attempt by the BJP to cover up its failure. Since they have not performed, they are now resorting to such tactics," Congress spokesman Ranjit Surjewala said, accusing the BJP of attempting to polarise the election.

Despite the denial, the allegation had an impact on social media, with posters asking "Is the Congress with terrorists?” being circulated. The hashtag, #CongressWithTerrorist was also trending.

‘Aurangzeb Raj’ and ‘Development vs Dynasty’

In a dig at Rahul Gandhi, PM Modi referred to the Congress’ brand of politics as ‘Aurangzeb Raj.’ “I congratulate the Congress on their 'Aurangzeb Raj.' For us, the well-being of the people matters and 125 crore Indians are our high command,” he said.

The Prime Minister, on more than one occasion, projected the election as a battle between ‘development and dynasty.’ “"The Gujarat election is a contest between trust on development and dynastic politics,” the PM said at a rally in Kutch.

Separately, BJP National Spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao referred to Rahul Gandhi as a 'devotee' of 'Babar', and ‘kin' Of 'Alauddin Khilji'. Rao tweeted: “"Rahul Gandhi has teamed up with Owaisis, Jilanis to oppose Ram temple in Ayodhya. Rahul Gandhi is certainly a "Babar Bhakt" & a "Kin of Khilji". Babar destroyed Ram temple & Khilji plundered Somnath. Nehru dynasty sided with both Islamic invaders.Travesty & Perversity of dynasty!"

The Congress made development a key issue in its own campaign. “BJP has its government in Gujarat for 22 years. I will only ask, what is the reason development is missing in the prime minister’s speeches,” Rahul Gandhi said.

‘Son of the soil’

The Prime Minister revved up his ‘son of the soil’ image. “ In so many years of public life, there is no stain on me and how dare you abuse ‘Son of Gujarat’. Will you tolerate ‘atyachar’ on your son?” PM Modi said at an election rally. The PM said that the people would vote for the BJP and give “befitting reply to those raising questions on Gujarat and its son.”

The Congress responded by saying that elections are about people, and not individuals, and highlighting the party’s own relationship with Gujarat. "Mr Modi has forgotten that Gandhiji was an Indian and son of Gujarat; Gandhiji was, and is, revered as Father of the Nation; and Gandhiji's chosen instrument to lead the freedom struggle was the Congress party," Congress leader P. Chidambaram said.

Rahul Gandhi made a similar argument. "Yesterday, I heard Mr Modi's speech. In that, 90 per cent time Modi ji spoke about Modi ji. But this election is not about PM Modi or me, about the BJP or the Congress. This is about Gujarat's future."

A ‘sex CD’

A CD purportedly sex clip of Patidar leader and Congress ally Hardik Patel surfaced about a month before polling, with the young leader immediately accusing the BJP of playing “dirty politics.” Although the BJP denied the charge, the release of the clip and the rhetoric that followed it was another low point in the campaign.

‘Allah o-Akbar’

Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani was targeted as well, with posters doing the rounds on social media highlighting Mevani’s statement that if he had two sisters, he would marry one of them off to a Muslim. The posters asked ‘Hindus’ to protect themselves. BJP leader Amit Malviya posted a tweet showing a video of one of Mevani’s speeches. He hit out at Mevani by saying, “Jignesh Mevani realised the hard way that electoral politics is not about raising anti-India slogans like in JNU! He asked people to say Allah o Akbar five times before he said Jai Shri Ram... Crowd erupted with chants of Modi Modi, forcing him to leave without being heard…”

The BJP also hit out at Mevani for receiving Rs. 50,000 in funding from the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI).

Mevani accused the BJP of using the communal card, saying “If SDPI has links with any terror outfit, why did Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh or Narendra Modi remain silent all these years? All they have given me is a ₹50,000 cheque. Should one question this or the 16,000 times rise in Jay Shah’s fortunes?”