In one of its experiments last year, the BJP had replaced the sitting Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and his entire cabinet with a relatively unknown Bhupendra Patel leading a new team. The change had taken place without a whimper of protest from any corner.

The aim was to do away with whatever anti-incumbency had accumulated over the last four years. The BJP had got a scare from the opposition Congress for the first time in 2017 Assembly polls.

That the party would bank heavily on the image of Gujarat's former CM, and present Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with his man Friday, Union Home minister Amit Shah, had become evident after it had swept to power in Uttar Pradesh earlier this year. Modi had gone on to cap the victory in the politically most important state in the north with an emphatic road show in Gujarat's capital city of Gandhinagar.

The party has never abandoned its Hindutva tones in Gujarat and it has now taken its experiment further by giving tickets to controversial personalities. This has sent a brazen message to the rest of the country ahead of the 2024 general elections as well.

An Ahmedabad based veteran political observer pointed, "In the list of party contestants released on November 10, the saffron party has stamped its approval on the questionable release of convicted rapists of Bilkis Bano by re-nominating C K Raulji from Godhra, a seat that he currently represents. He was not only a member of the committee to decide the issue but had later justified their release on August 15 as they are 'Brahmins and cultured'."

The release of the convicted rapists stands challenged in the Supreme Court. The re-nomination of Raulji pending the court's judgement is being viewed by many as an indication that the move had the backing of the ruling party.

The second controversial name in the list is that of Payal Kukrani, she is the daughter of Manoj Kukrani who was convicted in the Naroda Patiya massacre of 2002. The incident had followed the Godhra train burning where 59 Kar Sewaks returning from Ayodhya were torched to death in the S6 coach of Sabarmati Express. As many as 97 persons were butchered in the Naroda Patiya incident. Manoj Kulkarni was reportedly given a life imprisonment sentence and is currently out on bail.

The party that has been going hammer and tongs against the Congress for pursuing dynasty politics has rewarded 'defectors and votaries' of dynastic politics by nominating Bhagabhai Barad who left the Congress just a day ahead of his nominations being announced. It has also fielded Rajendra Rathwa who is the son of tribal leader Mohansinh Rathwa who quit the Congress recently after having won 10 elections on the ticket of the grand old party.

However, the saffron party dumped its six-time legislator Madhu Shrivastava who used to represent Waghodia seat in Vadodara district. Shrivastava had hit the headlines in 2003 when there was a furore over the release of the accused in the Best Bakery case by a fast track court after 37 witnesses had turned hostile.

As many as 14 persons were killed in the episode that had followed the Godhra train burning in 2002. Shrivastava was accused as being one of those people behind the eye-witnesses of the infamous case turning hostile. The case had been eventually transferred to a special court outside the state where the accused were convicted. He raised a banner of revolt after being denied the party ticket.

Another in the list of experiments done by the saffron party, had followed the release of the BJP's first list of 160 nominations. The release had been preceded by a half a dozen top leaders of Gujarat, including former Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, former Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel, former ministers Bhupendrasinh Chudasama and others, writing to the party's top leadership that they be excused from contesting the polls this time.

Observers find it difficult to digest that they had done this of their own free will, given the fact that politicians in India want to remain in power come what may. It is not yet known whether they have been promised something lucrative like gubernatorial posts in the days to come. In fact, Rupani being made in-charge of the party affairs in Punjab some weeks ago had come as a big surprise to many.

The BJP has faced displeasure of its Koli Patel workers and supporters in Surat for nominating Sandeep Desai after dropping sitting MLA Zankhana Patel. On Wadhwan seat in Surendranagar district, the saffron party went on to field Jagdish Makwana after its initial nominee Jigna Pandya declined to contest as local party workers were reportedly against her candidature.

The party also witnessed the resignation of former minister Dr Jay Narayan Vyas who had defended the BJP for years on television before most of the channels became a part of the pliant media. An easily accessible man, Vyas is an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) pass out and an economic analyst. He had reportedly expressed his displeasure with the BJP three years ago when no one bothered to visit him during his long hospitalisation due a heart ailment. He had taken to the social media claiming 'the BJP has changed', something he reiterated to media persons when he resigned last week.

Meanwhile, the Congress too was hit by rebellion over ticket distribution. The party headquarters in Paldi area of Ahmedabad was vandalised by agitated party workers on Monday. They were protesting against 'sale of party tickets' by a former president to nominate his close confidantes.

They reportedly stormed the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) and removed the name plate of former union minister Bharatsinh Solanki alleging that he had 'sold' a party nomination to sitting MLA from Jamalpur constituency Imran Khedawala. The agitators used black spray to paint the allegation on the front wall along the main staircase of the party headquarters.

Coming to the ongoing political campaign in the state, the BJP has interestingly dropped the achievements of its first Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel and is only playing up the developments starting from the advent of the 'Modi era' in 2001. The party is harping on the last two decades of development in Gujarat.

Keshubhai Patel was the BJP's first chief minister in Gujarat who had led the party government in 1995 after the BJP had come to power with majority on its own. Sources on the ground point towards the extra sheet of 'report card' attached to Diwali greetings from sitting Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel that talked only about two decades of 'pro-people' policies.

This simply excluded the first two tenures of Keshubhai between 1995 and 2001.

Keshubhai's first government had collapsed within six months after a rebellion led by Shankersinh Vaghela. The party high command had gone on to anoint Suresh Mehta as a compromise candidate. Even Mehta's tenure is missing from the BJP's campaign narrative.

In the later years both Keshubhai and Mehta had quit the BJP following differences with Modi in the driving seat in the state. The former had however returned to the party fold at the instance of the party's parent organisation.

The party is mainly playing up its 'double engine' narrative. At the same time the Hindutva overtones accompany the party's poll narrative. The party on Tuesday was tweeting on behalf of Amit Shah, "Uniform civil code has been our issue ever since our party came into existence. We have talked about it in every manifesto of ours."

The party is playing up how Gujarat is "destined to become a chip manufacturing hub" and how "Gujarat is the first state to come up with a policy on semiconductors and display manufacturing that would yield two lakh jobs". It had recently launched an 'agresar Gujarat' (forward marching Gujarat) campaign wherein its workers gauged the mood of the people as to what are their expectations from the party.

Meanwhile, the Congress' manifesto promises a cooking gas cylinder for Rs 500 along with 300 units of free electricity. It attacks the 'mindless privatisation of health care and education' in the state. The party has termed the document as 'Jan Ghoshna Patra'.

Releasing the document Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot who has been holding fort for the party in Gujarat said the party workers had reached out to almost six lakh people to understand what they sought and later gave it the shape of the document. In 2017 the party had taken the help of a large number of voluntary organisations to list the people's problems that deserved a place in the party manifesto.

One of the major promises in the manifesto is filling up vacancies in the state government, something the party rode high on in the recently concluded elections in Himachal Pradesh. The party claims that this would help the youth live a life of dignity. In Gujarat the party has promised reverting to the old pension scheme, an issue that is finding an echo in state after state across the country. The party has also promised setting up a chain of Janata Medical Stores besides government jobs to the family members of those who lost their lives in the Covid 19 outbreak.

Much to the discomfort of the ruling BJP, the recent Morbi bridge collapse that resulted in a death of more than 130 people continues to rankle. The matter has been taken up by the Gujarat High Court that on Tuesday asked the Morbi Municipality and the Gujarat government how the contract for repair and maintenance of the hanging bridge was given to a watch manufacturing company without inviting a tender.

Hearing a suo motu Public Interest Litigation (PIL) on the collapse reported on October 30, the Court observed, "The largesse of the state seems to have been granted without there being any tender floated in this regard." The Court also expressed its displeasure on the absence of any official from Morbi municipality despite being served with a notice.

The High Court proceedings come following reports that the watch manufacturing company had spent just Rs 12 lakhs of the Rs 2 crore the Morbi civic body had sanctioned for repair and renovation of the 150-year-old hanging bridge. The company had reportedly only painted the worn-out cables instead of replacing them before hurriedly opening the hanging bridge to attract holiday crowds during Diwali and Gujarati New Year festivals.

It had replaced only the flooring that had proved too heavy for the rusted 150-year-old cables. The High Court also asked who was responsible for giving the fitness certificate before opening the bridge to the public.

The Congress has made the deaths of more than 130 people a poll issue. Senior party leader and former union minister P Chidambaram during his recent visit to Ahmedabad had stated, "The collapse of the bridge has brought shame to the fair name of Gujarat. The most shocking development is that no one, on behalf of the government, has apologised for the tragedy. No one has resigned taking responsibility. No apologies and no resignations after such a horrific tragedy have brought greater shame to the people of Gujarat."

Chidambaram had also hit out at the BJP for appointing three chief ministers in the state in the last six years terming it as 'a clear indictment of the performance of the outgoing chief minister'.

"The reason for revolving door chief ministers is quite simple: Gujarat is not being governed from Ahmedabad, it is governed from Delhi. Gujarat is not being governed by the chief minister; it is being governed by the duo of Modi-Shah. Gujarat is a vassal state of Delhi. The boast of a double-engine government is an empty boast.

"Gujarat is a single bullock cart that is trudging on a mud path leaving behind vast sections of the people, especially the Scheduled Tribes, women, the youth and the poor. Behind the illusion of high growth, prosperity and social harmony there are ugly facts that are carefully hidden but that are well known to the people of Gujarat," he charged while appealing to the people of Gujarat to 'Vote for a change of government'.

On the other hand, the Aam Aadmi Party onslaught in the state continues to be led by the party's national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, his deputy Manish Sisodia and his Punjab counterpart Bhagwant Mann. The AAP declared Isudan Gadhvi, a former television news anchor and social activist, as its chief ministerial face in the state last week. He will be contesting from his home turf of Khambhaliya in the all important Saurashtra region of the state.

The party is going full throttle questioning the ruling BJP on the issues of governance while showcasing its Delhi and Punjab models where it claims to have delivered on what was promised to the electorate. It is threatening to bulldoze its way into the urban strongholds of the BJP.

The party claims to have strengthened itself in the whole of Gujarat with programmes like rallies, yatras, padyatras and public meetings. Bhagwant Mann visited the birthplace of the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi in Porbandar on Tuesday and followed it up with a road show.

In his address to the people, he said, "In Punjab, we have made electricity free, 50 lakh houses got zero electricity bills. People from the other parties used to say that if these people will make electricity free, make education free, make hospitals free, then where will the money come from? I knew where the money would come from, but I didn't tell them.

"Now I want to tell you that money is in their pocket, they will be sent to jail and money will come from them. Porbandar is the land of Gandhiji; this is the land where that great man was born who gave his life for the freedom of the country. But freedom has not yet reached the homes of the poor. When children start becoming doctors and engineers after studying in government schools, then I will assume that everyone has got freedom. Otherwise, freedom is limited to their red light vehicle only."

He added, "I will never forget the love that Gujarat has given us. I am an eyewitness. Seven months ago, when people came out of their houses like this, they changed the government in Punjab. In Punjab, the AAP got 92 seats out of 117 seats and 82 MLAs are those who come from common households and have become MLAs for the first time. When you go to vote, press the broom button. Then have faith that today I have cleaned the political mess."

Claiming that Gujarat has decided on a change of guard, he said, "Other people were continuously promising 'acche din' to the people of the country and Gujarat. No one knows about the 'acche din' but from December 8 'Sacche din' are definitely going to come in Gujarat."

Politicking with all its traits is all set to intensify from now on. It is a high stake election for all the players eying the 2024 Parliamentary polls.