Narendra Modi … self-made man. Photo: AP
NEW DELHI: The election in the Indian state of Gujarat is being watched more closely this year than any other regional poll.
In the western seaboard province that produced Mahatma Gandhi, the Tata business empire and now cuts nine of every 11 diamonds in the world, this week's election brings into direct competition Gujarat's controversial chief minister, Narendra Modi, of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, and the Congress Party's anointed leader of the next generation, Rahul Gandhi.
Mr Gandhi is not standing in the election but he has been the face and the focus, of the ailing Congress Party's campaign. A good result for Congress (though the party is not expected to win) will burnish Mr Gandhi's claims to the prime ministership, still seen by many as his for the taking.
Mr Modi styles himself as the self-made man who has delivered Gujarat its impressive development: he's brought uninterrupted electricity, sealed roads and street lights to the state. But he has been criticised for his intolerance of political opposition.
He was chief minister during the infamous Gujarat riots in 2002, when a train carrying Hindu pilgrims was burnt by a Muslim mob in Godhra, sparking an anti-Muslim response that raged for months. More than 1000 people were killed and Mr Modi's government was accused of being complicit in attacks on Muslims and actively fomenting the violence of Hindu vigilantes.
A decade on, he remains a deeply divisive figure across the country and internationally.
Mr Gandhi, perhaps unwisely given his own privileged background, has, without naming him, attacked Mr Modi as out of touch with the people.
Mr Modi has not been nearly so reticent, addressing Mr Gandhi as baba, a child needing nurturing. ''Today, Rahul baba is here in Palanpur,'' he told a huge rally in the northern city. "Rahul Gandhi, my father was not the PM. He was not even a sarpanch [village chief]. Still people love me."
The final tranche of voting takes place on Monday with the result announced on Thursday.