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All for none, one for all

People listen to Modi's 3D holographic address during which he appealed to them to not "look at the candidates."

There is only one BJP candidate in this year's Gujarat state assembly election - Narendra Modi. The rest are all his doubles wearing different masks. Or at least this is what Modi wants the people of Gujarat to remember when they cast their vote.

It is not a fit of self obsession but a response to the anti-incumbency wave that has hit most BJP candidates in the state. While Modi's popularity has not dimmed despite being in power for 11 long years and facing allegations in the post-Godhra riots, the same cannot be said for a large number of BJP candidates, many of whom are facing a discontented electorate in their constituencies this time. Modi knows he will have to use his towering persona to tide over the dwarf-like stature of the rest of the BJP candidates in the state.

So, when he simultaneously addressed people at 26 locations across Gujarat on November 30, through 3D holographic projection, amid his usual tirade against the Congress and the UPA, he appealed to the people not to consider any candidate while casting their vote. He told them to look only at him and vote for the BJP's symbol - the lotus. "Don't look at the candidates. Look at me, my work and vote for me. I am your candidate on all 182 seats, " he said. He has repeated these appeals while directly addressing voters in public rallies.

Unlike his previous campaigns, this time there is no emotive issue that Modi can latch on to. In 2002, Modi rode the Hindutva wave in the aftermath of the post-Godhra riots. In 2007, Sonia Gandhi's 'Maut ka saudagar' comment was used to create another wave as Modi projected it as an insult to Gujarati pride. The agenda, this time, is development but it is not the best poll plank to draw voters out in large numbers.

During the 2010 local body elections, Modi had effectively put a 'no repeat' policy to action and changed as many as 90 per cent of the councillors. As a result the BJP came to power with thumping victories in most places, especially the municipal corporation. This time, he has neither been able to field as many fresh faces as he wanted nor drop sitting MLAs as brazenly as he had done in the past. This is partly because Modi feared that the former Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel's Gujarat Parivartan Party would have happily mopped up any disgruntled BJP leader who would have been denied a ticket.

In the absence of a wave, the CM has tried his best to keep the flock together, even if it means repeating unpopular candidates. He chucked his plan to drop ministers over 70 and induct younger faces because his finance minister Vajubhai Vala, 74, insisted that if he was being asked to retire then Modi's top aide Anandiben Patel, 71, too, be told to call it quits. To avoid bickering colleagues ahead of his most important election, Modi fielded Vala from Rajkot (West) despite the local unit, especially state BJP general secretary Vijay Rupani, not wanting him. Vala may win but this will be his toughest fight yet in what is known as BJP's true home turf.

A little more than 100 km from Rajkot is Amreli where Dilip Sanghani, the state law and agriculture minister, has his back to the wall. He is one of the more controversial ministers in the Modi cabinet. In May, Sanghani inaugurated a swimming pool in Amreli by jumping into it with his clothes on, in complete disregard of the rules which don't allow a dip without a shower and a swimsuit. But Sanghani thought exceptions had to be made for him. The dip also left many residents of Amreli hot under the collar. After all, it was peak summer and the town was getting piped water just once a week. Later, in June an RTI activist alleged that Sanghani and his close aides were involved in a number of scams running into crores. Despite all this and protests from the local BJP workers he was given a ticket.

Sanghani may have won the ticket but winning the election will be a tough fight. The local Congress candidate, Paresh Dhanani, has the reputation of being a giant killer. Dhanani had became the youngest MLA at 21 in 2002 when he had defeated the BJP's Parshottam Rupala, currently the party's national vice-president, amid a saffron surge with the memory of post-Godhra riots still fresh in people's minds.

Things aren't any easier for the minister of state for finance, energy and industries, Saurabh Patel. He was in charge of the eight constituencies that fall in Bhavnagar district. But he could not identify a single seat from where he was confident of a win. In 2007, he had been elected from Botad but this time he faces anti-incumbency. Modi had earlier said that he would not allow ministers to change seats, but he bent the rules for Patel and gave him the much safer Akota seat in Vadodara.

The only other minister allowed to move to a safe seat was Anandiben. The BJP top brass realised that her chances of winning Patan, which she has been representing since 2002, were very slim. So she was moved to the newly created Ghatlodia seat in Ahmedabad, considered to be one of the safest for the BJP.

Modi is relying on the development card to tide over the anti-incumbency wave. "Modi has not even touched on local issues during his public speeches so far, " says sociologist Ghanshyam Shah. "His attack on the UPA and the Sonia Gandhi clan may be one way of ensuring that local anti-incumbency does not hurt candidates. "

As a senior BJP leader puts it: "It is a battle between two anti-incumbencies - the Centre's and that of the state government's. Let's see who wins. "

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