As the Gujarat election campaign hots up, the Congress is growing confident of besting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party chief Amit Shah on their home turf.

The opposition party’s confidence has primarily two reasons. One, the party appears to be successfully tapping into public anger over demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax. Two, the anti-BJP sentiment whipped up by the young leaders Alpesh Thakor, Jignesh Mevani and Hardik Patel seems to be getting stronger.

Thakor, a leader of the Other Backward Classes, has formally joined the Congress, while Mevani, working among the Dalits, seems sympathetic. Talks are on with Hardik Patel, whose campaign for reservation for the Patels is believed to have turned the powerful community against the ruling BJP.

In theory, the support of the three major caste groups – Other Backward Classes, Dalits and Patels – represented by the three young leaders, along with that of the Adivasis and the Muslims, gives the Congress a clear edge over the BJP. The Congress thus senses it has mustered enough ammunition to dethrone the BJP and return to power after 22 years. Its confidence is only helped by the apparent unease of Modi and Shah over the anti-BJP sentiment, particularly among its two most loyal constituencies, traders and the Patels.

Given their stellar electoral record, however, Modi and Shah may well overcome the odds. The Congress, in contrast, has acquired a reputation of squandering favourable chances. In Gujarat, the grand old party could be undone by at least five factors.

1) Containing Rebels

Picking the right candidates is crucial. So, the party has to be ruthless in rejecting ticket aspirants who stand little chance of winning and, thus, resist pressure from senior leaders seeking tickets for their relatives and loyalists. It must also get right the caste calculations in ticket distribution. Having enlisted the support of Thakor, Mevani and, probably, Patel, the Congress will have to accommodate their nominees in constituencies dominated by the Other Backward Classes, Dalits and Patels, respectively.

Parallely, the party’s crisis managers must ensure that any rebellion by leaders unhappy with ticket distribution does not get out of hand.

Having won back the support of the Adivasis and the Scheduled Castes, the Congress has to secure substantial chunks of Patel and Thakor votes to best the BJP.

In the past, the Congress suffered whenever it failed to deal with rebellions over tickets. In 2012, the party was the odds-on favourite to win the Punjab assembly election but lost because of its choice of candidates and the inability to placate the rebels. In the impending Himachal Pradesh election, too, rebels are threatening to undermine the prospects of the party’s candidates, who are already battling anti-incumbency against the Virbhadara Singh government.

2) Party organisation

To cash in on the anti-BJP mood, especially among traders and the Patels, the Congress needs a dedicated cadre of grassroots workers and leaders. It does not have one. The party even lacks state leaders of stature. Rahul Gandhi has rallied crowds to his election meetings, but sustaining the momentum generated by the Congress vice president will be difficult in the absence of a sustained ground campaign by the party’s state unit.

In contrast, the BJP is known for micro-managing campaigns through a dedicated network of workers, overseen by the hard taskmaster that is their party president. Moreover, Gujarat being their home state, Modi and Shah have a deep understanding of its electoral landscape.

3) Caste matrix

The Congress is banking on the rainbow caste alliance represented by Thakor, Mevani and Patel, but there is a fear it may not work on the ground given the competing demands of these social groups. It would be difficult, for instance, to accept Hardik Patel’s demand for the Patels to be given a pie of the 27% quota for the Other Backward Classes as this would alienate Thakor’s community. Hardik Patel had asked the Congress to clarify its position by November 3. For now, the party has staved off any confrontation by proposing that instead of diluting the quota of the Other Backward Classes, it would provide a separate quota for the economically backward that would benefit the Patils. Since the proposal may fall foul of the 50% reservation limit set by the Supreme Court, the party has promised Hardik Patel it would get its legal experts to come up with a workable formula.

As the Congress negotiates this caste minefield, the BJP is waiting for it to slip up so the ruling party can discredit Thakor and Hardik Patel before their communities.

4) Communal polarisation

In the last two election campaigns in 2007 and 2012, Modi, as the chief minister, positioned himself as the vikas purush by focussing on the “Gujarat model of development”. There was little of the overt communal rhetoric that had marked the first election after the 2002 carnage. This time, though, there is an unmistakable undercurrent of communal polarisation in the BJP’s campaign. The party will not hesitate to play the communal card openly – like it did in the Uttar Pradesh election early this year – if it’s unable to manage the voter resentment as the polling nears. Indeed, the party already tested the waters last week when Chief Minister Vijay Rupani accused Ahmed Patel of helping terrorists because an alleged Islamic State member arrested recently used to work at a hospital where the senior Congress leader was a trustee.

The Congress has so far refused to be baited, instructing its leaders, especially in Gujarat, to refrain from getting into a war of words on such matters as they end up helping the BJP. Apparently, the party has learnt a lesson from the 2007 campaign, when Sonia Gandhi described Modi as “maut ka saudagar”, or the merchant of death, only to see it backfire.

The Congress is, therefore, determined to keep the focus on the economic slowdown, GST, farm crisis and atrocities against the Dalits. But this campaign may not stand a chance if Modi and Shah decide that communal polarisation is the way to go in Gujarat.

5) Vaghela’s influence

The BJP is banking on former Congress leader Shankersinh Vaghela, the Nationalist Congress Party and other bit players to hurt the Congress and its new allies.

Vaghela left the Congress along with his supporters in July and launched a new party called Jan Vikalp. The party is learnt to be bankrolled by the BJP and is reportedly contesting all 182 seats.

The Nationalist Congress Party in Gujarat has usually contested elections in alliance with the Congress, but that might not be the case this time given that the BJP is working overtime to ensure they do not join hands.

The idea is that by contesting separately, the Nationalist Congress Party and Jan Vikalp will split the anti-BJP vote to the advantage of the saffron party. To counter this, the Congress will have to go out of its way to accommodate its old ally as well as work to limit potential damage from Vaghela.