The Bharatiya Janata Party relied heavily and only on Narendra Modi in the assembly elections to Gujarat and Karnataka. Later, the party modified its strategy for the year-end campaign for five assemblies. Though Modi campaigned and addressed large number of rallies in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan and Telangana, the party strategists avoided making it Modi versus the rest as they did in the earlier elections.
Modi was credited with pulling the party out of the jaws of defeat in Gujarat, where the party's mission 150 seats stopped short at 99, just seven above the halfway mark. Even that was possible because he spent 10 days in the constituencies voting in the second round of elections. Yet the party fell short by a tantalising seven seats from the majority mark.
After the Karnataka results in May, Modi had told the national executive members that the organisation cannot leave everything to him. He did not want the assembly elections to be interpreted by media as a referendum on the prime minister's performance. He wanted the state leaders to do their campaigning vigorously. But Amit Shah and other members including senior ministers in the national executive had argued Modi was the unique selling point for BJP, especially in Hindi-speaking states. But they agreed to involve more leaders in the campaign.
Shah reserved the right to choose the final list of star campaigners. Very interestingly the high command circulated lists of more than two dozen star speakers led by Modi, Shah, senior cabinet ministers and party chief ministers led by Yogi Adityanath of Uttar Pradesh. But veterans like Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and Uma Bharati were left out for some reasons, while Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was surprisingly selected for even a metropolitan city like Hyderabad. Though he has power to attract large crowds, actor-turned-MP Shatrughan Sinha is in Modi's black book.
Interestingly in the three BJP-ruled states, the demand was for three leaders mostly. First obvious choice was Modi, second was Adityanath and the surprising third was Home Minister Rajnath Singh, apart from the chief minister of each state. Yogi has the strong Hindutva pull, apart from being a Rajput. Since Rajputs in Rajasthan had a tense relationship with Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, Rajnath singh, who is the senior most leader from the community was much in demand. Amit Shah, who is reputed as a master organiser and considers himself as a star orator didn't get much demand at candidate level. He has a fondness for road shows in urban areas, but party candidates in cities like Bhopal, Indore and Jaipur found it to be a big task especially on working days.
The Congress which had relied too much on Rahul Gandhi earlier allowed local stalwarts to campaign hard in the five states with the burden falling on Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia in Madhya Pradesh as well as Sachin Pilot and Ashok Gehlot in Rajasthan, while Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla bore the brunt in Mizoram. Sonia Gandhi made just one appearance in Telengana.
Even though pundits may look at the elections as a semi-final between Modi and Rahul, on the ground there have been more leaders campaigning for both BJP and the Congress.