People in India have started casting votes as the two main parties, the Congress and the BJP are bracing for a showdown. Analysts say this round of assembly elections is an indication of what is to come in 2014.
In this high-octane electioneering where verbal fire is exchanged on a daily basis, coded speeches and verbal blows traded between Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi and the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, it is open season for the two main political parties.
With opinion polls giving the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a distinct edge over its political rival in four states, the party is not leaving any stone unturned and rallying behind the one man it realizes is their best shot at glory and perhaps, power. Political pundits believe that the BJP's mascot, Modi, is playing out his role to the hilt with his bare-knuckled approach.
"The political war of words is also intensifying and there is no sign of cooling of tempers on either side. As both Gandhi and Modi spearhead campaigns, the political discourse has degenerated into new lows," Vipul Thakar, a political analyst told DW.
Hot-footing it around the four states with whistle-stop public rallies, Modi has used his sharp rhetoric for personalized attacks. Training his guns on the mother-son-duo of Congress leader Sonia Gandhi and Rahul, he has derided dynastic politics, raked up Sonia Gandhi's illness, sardonically called her son 'Shezada' (Prince) and even referred to the Congress Party emblem of the hand as having blood on it.
That observation of a "bloodied hand" was adequate to earn the ire of the Election Commission, which is supervising the polls, and censured the BJP's prime ministerial nominee.
Then at a recent election rally in the central state of Chhattisgarh, Modi went on to mimic Gandhi's personal mannerisms to the delight of the audience and mocked way his challenger wanted to run the nation.
"Making impressive speeches is alright and even par for the course in an election as hotly contested as this. But there has to be more clarity and articulation of issues for a man like Modi who aims to occupy the top office of this country next year," points out S. Ray, a columnist.
Focus on oratorical skills
While Gandhi has been more circumspect on the personal jibes, he has harped constantly on the 'divisive' nature of the BJP's politics, the poor performance of the states where they rule and their "greed for power," oblivious of the pulse of the people. By all estimates, Gandhi has, however, failed to fire up the imagination of people and enthuse them.
Proof of this was seen at a well-attended rally in the northern state of Rajasthan last week where Gandhi seemed to be running out of content.
"I am ready to forgo my own dreams to fulfill your dreams, the poorest in India should have the biggest dream. If we don't let you dream, India can't progress," Gandhi said.
"Rahul Gandhi knows that he cannot match Modi's oratorical skills of which the latter is a master. That is why he talks of development but he does not come across strongly and in fact he is at most times seems diffident," psephologist G. V. L. Narasimha Rao told DW.
The Congress Party's brain trust has been picking holes in Modi's campaign and attacked him on the several historical inaccuracies during his campaign speeches.
"He refers to Taxila being in Bihar when it is in Pakistan and his gaffes on historical figures are laughable. That just goes to show he is not sincere and untruthful. I would like to request the BJP to arrange coaching classes for Narendra Modi so that he can be educated on Indian history," Congress General Secretary Digvijaya Singh told DW.
A taste of 2014?
Observers fear relations with Pakistan could worsen should nationalist Modi be voted prime minister next year
Close watchers of this round of assembly elections are unanimous that both candidates in this election have been silent on crucial issues, including inflation, economic growth, education and the agricultural crisis. Instead, the communication has been limited to personal attacks.
Political analyst Hartosh Singh Bal was categorical that the Indian electorate had to face up to the fact that the country had never had an election that was so "polarizing." The rising shrillness in the campaign rhetoric, Bal reckons, was among the worst ever and only promised to deteriorate further.
"We must also acknowledge that we have never had an election where such a large number of voters are wary of either of the choices they are presented with," Bal told DW.
Clearly these are all signs and a taste of what could be in store for the 2014 general elections that many predict will become more pungent and personal.