Prime Minister Narendra Modi is doing his best to woo the electorate of Gujarat ahead of the prestigious Assembly elections due in a couple of months' time. From laying the foundation for the bullet train project between Ahmedabad and Mumbai to inaugurating the Sardar Sarovar Dam besides holding rallies and making feel-good speeches, the prime minister is giving it all to ensure that the BJP extends its rule in the western state by winning yet another election.
For the BJP, Modi had spearheaded three consecutive victories in the state between 2002 and 2012 banking on development and the saffron leadership now is projecting even bigger development projects to convince the voters.
But while Modi's busy schedules in Gujarat says that he hasn't forgotten his home state even while carrying out his national duty, it is also exposing the fact that the BJP has a serious paucity of leadership in the state after Modi's departure and it is precisely because it was a one-man show during the tenure of the former chief minister.
While Modi's immediate successor Anandiben Patel failed to live up to the expectations, her successor Vijay Rupani is a lightweight leader and given the challenges the BJP is facing at the moment electorally, it is perhaps too much of an ask for him to get the party through in the upcoming elections.
The onus has thus fallen back on Modi and Amit Shah, another heavyweight leader from Gujarat and currently the party's national president and also an MP from the state who is known for his organisational skills. The BJP has combined leadership under PM Modi, ideology of development and organisational skills of Shah to overcome the Gujarat Mission.
After remaining in power for two decades and with the Congress still in no position to rattle the saffron rule, the urgency shown by Modi in Gujarat speaks about the tense undercurrents in the party.
The alienation of the Patidars coupled with the dissatisfaction over demonetisation and the economic slump and the efforts by the Aam Aadmi Party to make inroads in the state have made things inconvenient for the BJP and the saffron leadership is now hell-bent to prove that there is no alternative to its development mantra.
The deterioration of the roads in rain and the serious floods in the northern parts have certainly made the BJP's anti-incumbency luggage heavier and the ruling party has deployed its best men – none other than the heads of the national government and the party – to tackle the challenge. And the top leadership even used the presence of a foreign head of government in Japanese premier Shinzo Abe to rerun the development narrative in the state.
In 2015, the BJP had put great faith on the Modi-Shah duo to overcome the Nitish Kumar-Lalu Prasad challenge in Bihar but they had failed miserably. The case of Gujarat is certainly different from that of Bihar since there is no strong anti-BJP face in the former state and Modi and Shah are, afterall, the sons of the soil who are expected to come out with flying colours. But that a sense of anxiety is prevailing in the BJP camp is understandable from the way Modi has shown urgency ahead of the election.
This anxiety stems largely from the fact that Gujarat is Modi's home state and if the BJP suffers an adverse outcome, it will be a big blow to the prime minister's image of invincibility.
The good work which has been done over the last three years by means of winning power important states like Mahrashtra, Jammu and Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh will be neutralised and with one and half years left for the next Lok Sabha election, a loss in Gujarat will be the last thing the Modi brigade will want.
Modi's advantage in his electoral victories in 2007 and 2012 was that he had the Congress's making miscalculated attacks against him leading to its own suicide. In 2017, it is Modi himself who is reigning at the Centre and there is no anti-Centre sentiment to capitalise on. Instead, it is anti-incumbency against two BJP governments (Gujarat as well as the Centre) that Modi has to counter in the next Assembly elections.
The challenge is humongous and both Modi and Shah know it by heart.