Is Nervousness apparent in the ranks of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as it braces for a crucial state election in the Gujarat state in December?
The unease in the ranks of the BJP, which is seen as the party of choice for Hindu nationalists, stems from a feeling that its leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, may be losing his luster to rival Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi. Recent BJP campaigning is telling, said Congress general secretary Mohan Prakash.
In Gujarat, a state considered to be Modi's stronghold and from which his political career was launched, the star campaigner is not the prime minister but another younger leader Yogi Adityanath. Other BJP national heavyweights have also taken to the Gujarat campaign trail, such as the finance minister.
"Does it mean Modi is no longer the best vote catcher in Gujarat?" Prakash asked.
The December poll, although only a state election, is a litmus test for BJP who won the federal government in a national landslide in 2014.
A defeat, or even a poor performance, in Gujarat will be hard for BJP to swallow. The party has been in power in the state since 1995, winning three consecutive elections in 2002, 2007 and 2012. Ever since Modi took over the leadership in Gujarat in 2001, the party has never lost a state election.
In the 2012 election BJP won 116 of the 182 seats, limiting Gandhi's Congress to only 60. Three other parties and an independent candidate won the remaining six seats.
This time, one leading opinion poll predicts BJP will easily hold its advantage, winning 118-134 seats. Congress, which has been out of power in the state for 22 years, might secure 49-61 seats, according to The Times of India poll published Oct. 25.
The Gujarat election will help indicate how popular Modi's two major policies — the withdrawal of high-value bank notes and a new taxation system — have proved with voters, said G. V. Anshuman Rao, a socio-political analyst based in the southern city of Hyderabad.
Several factors are in favor of Congress, analysts have said. A backlash against the incumbents, popular anger over Modi's inability to deliver on his promises and growing discontent of lower-caste people with the high-caste dominated BJP, are all said to be working in favor of Gandhi's party.
However, Congress in Gujarat lacks BJP's political machinery and networking at the grassroots level.
Irrespective of the December result, the Gujarat election appears to have revived the Congress party. It has brought out leadership qualities in Gandhi, and the party's vice president has shown a new willingness to take on Modi and his pro-Hindu party at the national level.
Since his introduction into politics in 2003, Gandhi's political star has dimmed. He delivered confused speeches, mumbled in media interviews, sat shyly at political meetings and took a long leave from parliament in 2015 "for personal reasons" without telling his party leaders.
Even his detractors agree that Gandhi is now displaying proper leadership qualities.
"Three to four years ago, Rahul Gandhi was a pushover. Everybody could ignore him in the political arena. But now Congress seems to have discovered a genuine leader in him," said Sanjay Raut, a leader of the hard-line Hindu Shiv Sena party.