The Gujarat Assembly elections — to be held in two phases on December 9 and 14 — is expected to be a crackling affair.
On one hand, the BJP will be looking to return to power in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the third consecutive time by defeating the anti-incumbency factor.
On the other hand, the Congress will be looking to at least cause a major dent and force the saffron party to opt for a coalition partner when forming government after the election.
Here are five parties, political sections and communities that can queer the pitch for both parties, and even play kingmaker in case of an unclear or close result where no party has clear majority.
1. Hardik Patel: There is no doubt that Hardik Patel and the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) he leads as part of the Patel quota agitation stir will be a definite factor in the Gujarat elections. This will especially be the case when he has already thrown his weight behind the Congress in the run-up to the polls.
However, Hardik may have other things on his mind by the time poll day finally rolls around. After all, a Gujarat court has issued a non-bailable arrest warrant in his name in a 2016 case of assault of a BJP MLA. Then again, the legal action may backfire and he may end up with more sympathy votes.
2. Jan Vikalp: Gujarat political veteran Shankersinh Vaghela may turn out to be a thorn in the flesh of the Congress — the party he resigned from earlier this year to form the Jan Vikalp or the Jan Vikalp Morcha.
The 77-year-old political veteran has a very strong following in his pocket-boroughs, and may take away a couple of seats from the Congress, if not at least a chunk of its votes in a number of seats — something that the BJP will look to gain from.
3. Janata Dal-United: The Janata Dal-United (JD-U) in Bihar is a divided unit, to say the least. That divide — brought about by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar joining hands with the BJP in the state despite opposition from party chief Sharad Yadav — is also present in Gujarat.
That divide means earlier talks of Hardik Patel and the PAAS joining hands with it are history, while the majority of the party supports the BJP.
4. Aam Aadmi Party: The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is taking yet another chance in order to spread its wings outside Delhi. The Arvind Kejriwal-led party has been campaigning for quite some time in Gujarat, and the Delhi chief minister himself has been part of that campaign at times.
However, given the party's performance in Punjab — where it managed to bag only 20 seats as opposed to the 100-plus it had predicted following massive campaigning — there is not much hope of an AAP surge in Gujarat. The party will look to eat into the vote share of the bigger fish in the 50 seats it is contesting. Any constituency it grabs will be a bonus.
5. Other parties: Of the other parties, the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party — which had won two seats in the previous Assembly election — will look to dent the chances of BJP candidates in at least some seats. However, not much is expected of it.
As for the Keshubhai Patel-led Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP), which won two seats in the previous elections, there is not much to say other than that the GPP merged back with the BJP in 2014.
Many other political outfits — including the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party and even the Left parties — are in the fray in Gujarat, but are not expected to have a telling effect on the results.