If elections are about perception, then the BJP won Gujarat even before Rahul Gandhi launched his extensive campaign in the state. In the last few months, much has been made about his aggressive campaigning in the state. About the Patidars and Hardik Patel's electoral speeches. About GST and the impact it has on the traders in Surat and in the business community.
Commentators sitting in Delhi talk about Modi-Shah getting the jitters over the prospect of losing Gujarat. Much of it could be true if Gujarat were just any other state in the country, its political history not as deeply polarised and vulnerable as that witnessed over the last two decades.
I have reported from Gujarat for over a decade, written a book on it, tried to understand the psyche of those who ruled the state from its ministers, bureaucrats to the Gujarati on the street. As I write this, one major opinion poll has predicted a neck-and-neck fight. I do not agree, but yes, the Indian electorate is an unpredictable entity.
In the meantime, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has helped us explain why the BJP will lead in Gujarat. He made a statement yesterday: "BJP has always been seen as a pro-Hindutva party, so if an original is available, why one would prefer a clone?"
Neither Arun Jaitley nor any of his party leaders including the Prime Minister have displayed any ambiguity over their Hindutva credentials specially in Gujarat. It is a state where the former CM and now PM has made the most polarising statements, drawing massive support from the crowd. In 2007, the election that followed the 2002 Gujarat carnage, Modi was to talk of development. He began his election campaign with a speech (where I was present) asking the crowd "Sohrabuddin, What would you want me to do with a man like him?" The audience responded in unison, "Kill him". Modi was playing to the gallery then, he is playing to the gallery today.
This year, Modi brings in "Aurangzeb" as the election closes in, his colleague from Uttar Pradesh has been providing flawed narratives on the Taj Mahal. Sitting in Delhi, some of us may outrage over the brazen bigotry but back in Gujarat, the sentiment has been explicitly conveyed, just like the crafty slogans in 2014 that referred to the Congress as the "Delhi sultanate". Another news report this morning talks of the BJP using posters in Gujarat hardly concealing its agenda.
The poster has two warring factions; HAJ (Hardik, Alpesh and Jignesh) and RAM (Rupani, Amit Shah and Modi). This does not need an explainer.
For the Gujarati who has been voting for the BJP, or rather Modi, he is the man who emblazoned Gujarati Asmita by giving Gujarat not just the Prime Minister but also the BJP president.
A couple of months ago, I spoke to a diamond trader on a dharna in Surat against the GST. He was upset with the Modi regime for hitting at his livelihood. So your anger will reflect in the upcoming poll, I asked. "Na ben, jaruvat pade toh ghar bhej denge usko election jitaane ke liye" ( If need be, we will sell our belongings to help him win).
To the aspirational Gujarati, Modi may not have offered much since he took over as the Prime Minister. But as the CM, he successfully sold the idea of putting Gujarat on the world map with the much-hyped Vibrant Gujarat summit seeking investments and hosting global investors. A week-long PR affair worked well for the Gujarati who took pride in being the most advanced state in the country. That most of the MoUs signed at the summit never materialised was another story. But Modi had sold the global dream to the Gujarati youth much like the Madison Square song and dance he sold to the youth across the country.