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Is Narendra Modi looking for a makeover?

December 02, 2013 22:29 IST

Of late, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has been concentrating on Uttar Pradesh, where he has held four rallies over a span of one month. Clearly, this was a departure from the routine as UP was not even among the states where assembly elections were being held currently.

Sure enough, Bharatiya Janata Party’s star campaigner and its prime ministerial nominee understands the political dynamics of  India’s most populous state, that could well impact his own political destiny.

Perhaps that could be a major motivating factor not only behind his decision to spend so much time in UP but also behind his vividly visible urge to present  himself in a new mould -- and certainly  not the Narendra Modi associated with the infamous Godhra carnage.

People who have been turning out in mammoth numbers to listen to Modi’s hour-long speeches express amazement at his obvious drift from the traditional BJP-RSS line. There is no tinge of Hindutva in his utterances that are spiced with sarcasm and even contempt for his rivals.

You do not find Modi raising cries of “Jai Shree Ram” , nor does one come across even a passing reference to controversial issues like Ayodhya or the uniform civil code -- something beyond which his peers in the saffron brigade could never rise .

Ever since he set his foot on the UP soil in October, the Gujarat chief minister has been laying all his stress on “development”, which he loves to showcase through his oft repeated and perhaps much hyped Gujarat model.

Unlike several other BJP leaders over the last, he made it a point not to launch the poll campaign from Ayodhya. And interestingly, three of the four places he chose for his rallies so far in UP were held essentially Congress strongholds.

He chose to make his first appearance in Kanpur, better known as UP’s oldest industrial hub. The state’s most populous city, representative of a mixed culture on account of the presence of a huge labour force.

Kanpur is not identified with any particular caste or religion.  Interestingly, Kanpur has been a bastion of the Congress, whose Union Coal Minister Shriprakash Jaiswal has held sway over the Lok Sabha seat for two full terms.

Modi’s next destination was Jhansi -- towards the Southern corner of this sprawling state. Identified by the rich heritage of Maharani Laxmibai, the region reflects the poverty-stung trauma of another large chunk of the state’s population.  Here again, the Congress party is well entrenched with Pradeep  Aditya Jain , the Union Rural Development Minister holding on to the Lok Sabha seat.

The third rally was held in Bahraich – a Muslim dominated pocket along the highly porous Indo-Nepal border, notorious as a conduit for Pakistani ISI infiltration. Not just Bahraich, but a couple of constituencies around were also bastions of the Congress.  

It was only Agra where one of the two Lok Sabha seats was with the BJP while the other was with BSP. But even in Agra, Modi left no stone unturned to send the message loud and clear that he wanted to steer clear of all controversial issues.

And that was amply displayed when he ensured that the two controversial BJP MLAs accused of inciting last August-September communal violence in Muzaffarnagar were not seen on the rally dais while he was around.

Uttar Pradesh BJP leadership that was keen to have them felicitated by Modi on the dais, eventually had to eat a humble pie. They had to satisfy themselves by getting the MLAs on to the stage well before Modi landed at Agra and to whisk them away after a token garlanding by some innocuous state level leaders in a five-minute ritual.

Modi might have made some faux pas over historical facts at some places but the tenor of his speeches was clearly aimed at impressing upon his audience that he meant business and was committing to living up to the aspirations of the masses.

By refraining from making any reference to controversial Hindutva issues, he seemed to be making inroads into the hearts of those who were averse to divisive politics and therefore did not subscribe to the saffron philosophy.

What he said at his first UP rally in Kanpur sounded incredible  00 “hum to yeh chahte hain ki is desh ka har Hindu achcha Hindu bane ; har Musalman achcha bane ; har Sikh achcha Sikh bane ; har Isayi achcha Isayi bane -- aur in sabko ek saath lekar hum desh to tarrakki ke raaste par le jaain” (I wish that every Hindu should strive to become a good Hindu ; every Muslim a good Muslim ; every Sikh a good Sikh and each Christian a good Christian -- and together we must aspire to take this nation ahead on the path of progress). Sure enough the remark led many to give allowance to the man who was, more often than not, condemned and despised as ‘Hitler incarnate’.

What he spelt out in Jhansi was even more unbelievable.  This happened while Modi was reacting to Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi’s public disclosure that he had received Intelligence Bureau inputs about ISI establishing contact with a few youth among the Muzaffarnagar riot victims.

Normally, a BJP leader was expected to say that what their party had been alleging for decades was now being officially declared by the Congress top notch too. But deviating sharply from the typical BJP/RSS line, Modi hit out at Rahul for making such a wild accusation against Muslims.

Yeh itna gambhir mamla hai ki Rahul Gandhi ya to un vyaktiyon ke naam ka khulasa karein  ya phir poore Muslim samudaye se sarvajanik maafi mange kyonki unhone apne vatavya se poore samudaye ko badnaam kiya hai” (this is such a serious matter  that Rahul Gandhi should either disclose the names of the youth with whom ISI had . according to him, established contact , or else he must tender a public apology before the Muslim community as his sweeping remark tends to defame the entire community).

Modi’s observation provoked the RSS to issue statement reprimanding Modi for it. But the BJP star campaigner was not to be cowed down by that.”

Many view such “aberrations” in the Modi persona as “politically motivated.” Perhaps , they  may be right in their assessment.

But could it also be that realisation has dawned on the prime ministerial aspirant that India is not a nation which can be ruled by isolating one huge  community ?  Hence it is time to go for a makeover!

Sharat Pradhan