Politics is a game of perception and a high pitched battle on this front is on in poll bound Gujarat. Although the formal election campaign is likely to pick up only after the festival season, with the polls likely to be conducted in December, the political battlefield has already started sounding.

Gujarat remains stronghold of the Bharatiya Janata Party with both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah having their roots here, but the elections this time are going to be quite different. They will have ramifications leading to the 2024 parliamentary polls, amidst a paradigm shift taking place in terms of political goalposts.

The entry of a rookie Aam Aadmi Party continues to create ripples in the stagnant waters of the state, often described as the laboratory of Hindutva. The Congress will have some out of the box thinking to do if it wants to remain relevant in the state, where it has been out of power for almost three decades now.

The situation emerging on the ground as of now is pretty interesting with AAP having managed to rattle the BJP on the turf of perception. "One needs to understand that AAP is playing on its own pitch unlike the Congress that has been playing according to the BJP's game plan for several years now. And it is coming out hitting hard in a well calculated manner.

"AAP is taking on the BJP on the issues of governance and not the emotive issues of caste, religion and region that have been the mainstay of state politics for quite some time. This very well gets explained by the manner in which it maintained a stoic silence on the issue of release of the convicts in the infamous Bilkis Bano case," claimed an Ahmedabad based political observer.

As expected both Modi and Shah are fast moving in to take matters in their own hands and deliver the state once again to the saffron fold. "Not that the governments in the state after their departure have been anything more than puppets, but yes, they are the ones getting ready to lead the assault on their political adversaries. It is expected that Modi will be leading the attacks on the opponents while Shah will assume the role of the manager and strategist," the observer added.

Sources on the ground say another tactic the AAP has adopted is to draw in the segment of voters that have been among the floating lot, but have voted for the BJP till now, even if reluctantly. This includes categories like small traders and certain communities like Maldharis and even the de-notified tribes so called.

Sources add that AAP's media management is also effective as it continues to get ample space in newspapers and local television channels. Very often it is their leaders setting the agenda with the BJP responding. By contrast the Congress hardly gets any coverage at the local level.

"AAP has cleverly crafted a roadmap raking up issues like education, health and employment. This is drawing the common man having nothing to do with political ideology towards it. It is a sort of a semifinal that the rookie force is playing at the moment, and if it maintains the momentum, it has the potential to emerge as a strong pole in Gujarat politics ahead of the 2024 elections. The recent landslide victory in Punjab has boosted its image quite a lot," said another observer.

AAP's strong point remains the presence of activists with wide reach in its fold. For instance, Sagar Rabari is a well known name in rural Gujarat. Similarly, the roping in of well known social activist Praful Vasava earlier this week is another boost for the party. Well known for his work among Indigenous people as a leader of Kevadiya Bachao Andolan, Vasava is also leader of the National Tribal Tiger Sena.

"We are talking about the definition of development. Is it development that a good bridge has been built in Ahmedabad or it is development that there are no roads for pregnant women to reach the hospital? Even today women have to walk three kilometers with a pot on their heads to fetch water. But no government talks about the people of the backward villages of Gujarat. Schedule V of the Constitution is a provision that has never been implemented," said Vasava after joining AAP.

The BJP on the other hand has chosen to attack AAP by taking the Medha Patkar route. There have been reports of BJP leaders alleging that the social activist who is often vilified among sections of Gujarat for her role in the Narmada Bachao Andolan will be the AAP's chief ministerial face in Gujarat.

During Modi's recent visit to Kutch where he launched several public projects, it was Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel who launched an attack on Patkar, reportedly calling her an "urban Naxal".

"On this occasion, when Narmada water has reached Kutch, we should also remember who were those people who had deprived Kutch of getting this water for nearly five decades. We all know who those urban naxals who had opposed the Narmada dam project were… One of those urban naxals was Medha Patkar. We all know which political party these people were associated with," said Patel.

Moving ahead with its campaign, AAP is set to launch a major public outreach programme through a 'Guarantee Registration Campaign' starting this week. According to state president Gopal Italia, "Kejriwal has announced various guarantees sector-wise in the past few days including electricity guarantee, guarantees to women, tribal society, businessmen, and employment guarantee to youth, education and health guarantee. Under the campaign our workers will go to every house with a form bearing the registration number, name of the person, village or ward number, mobile numbers and the assembly segment. The people will be given a guarantee card."

Meanwhile Modi during his recent visit to the state visited the BJP office in Gandhinagar and took two meetings of the state leadership taking stock of organizational matters.

The BJP is emphasizing big development in the state. It is also trying to address the hyper local issues that have pushed it to the back foot as in recent days. One of them is the poor condition of roads in the cities after the recent rains – Bhupendra Patel is learnt to have ordered the immediate restoration of roads damaged during the rains.

But it is the other raging issue of stray cattle menace that is of main concern to the BJP ahead of the polls. The Gujarat High Court recently pulled up the state government for failing to tackle the menace that is rampant across the state's eight cities with municipal corporations and the over 150 run by municipalities.

The Court has also reportedly sought details about the action taken against those accused of assaults on personnel of cattle nuisance control department and the police when they try to impound stray cattle.

These cows have caused several fatal accidents. Their 'owners' are known to leave their cattle on the roads to be fed by people who purchase fodder from roadside vendors and also offer leftover food to the cows. The Court has reportedly sought action against those selling fodder in public.

Modi, the party's top campaigner is increasing his presence in his home state attending programmes and making public appearances. Last week saw him addressing a public rally in Kutch, making an impromptu visit to the newly opened Atal Bridge on Sabarmati River, spinning a charkha and participating in a Khadi Mahotsav on the riverfront. He is expected back in Science City in Ahmedabad on September 10 to inaugurate a science conclave. Wily politician that he is, Modi is expected to raise the ante against his opponents every time he visits his home turf.