Chief Minister Narendra Modi may have been challenging Rahul Gandhi to campaign in Gujarat but the Congress would rather not join issue with him as it plans a low-key campaign for the AICC general secretary.
The Congress is yet to chalk out Rahul’s campaign schedule though there is barely a fortnight left for the first phase. “It (Rahul’s campaign programme) has not come to us yet. He will certainly campaign but we have not been told about the timing yet,” Congress Legislature Party leader Shaktisinh Gohil said. Congress president Sonia Gandhi had kicked off the party’s campaign from Rajkot in October.
Congress sources in Delhi said that Rahul would “certainly” address some rallies in Gujarat, but his campaign would be low-key compared to the extensive one he had led in the 2007 Assembly elections, holding roadshows and addressing several rallies.
They said the party would not like to pitch Rahul against Modi as that would give the latter an opportunity to convert the Assembly election into a “semifinal match” ahead of the final in 2014. “This is what Modi wants. The way he has been extensively touring the state shows his nervousness ,” a senior Congress functionary told The Indian Express. “He would like to divert people’s attention from his misgovernance by projecting himself as a national leader and potential prime minister. He would, therefore, like to engage in debate with the Congress’s national leaders. We are not going to fall into that trap.”
The Congress is all the more wary after the setback in Uttar Pradesh where Rahul was the lead campaigner and a key strategist. “We had made a mistake by making our campaign in UP Rahul-centric,” a senior leader said. “The party infrastructure in UP was not in place and nobody should have expected a miracle in such a short time. Yet, the party’s performance in UP was portrayed as a mandate on Rahul’s leadership skills and charisma.”
In fact, the much-anticipated organisational reshuffle in the Congress, which is expected to formally anoint Rahul as No. 2 in the party, is also said to have got delayed given the thinking that Rahul, in his new role, should not be identified with the party’s performance in the Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat elections. For the parliamentary elections, where the Congress effort is set to be led by Rahul, the party hopes to resurrect his image as a lead vote-catcher through a