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February 25, 1998


The Rediff Election Interview/Narendra Modi

'Muslims can be divided into two. Those with the BJP and those who are indifferent'

Narendra Modi Dressed in a white kurta-pyjama, the Bharatiya Janata Party's controversial general secretary, Narendra Modi, was busy planning his campaign schedule in Gujarat when V Gangadhar met him.

Looking at a map of the state, he issued crisp orders: "Helicopter from here to here.... then by road... house to house campaign in these villages.... public meetings here.... than again by helicopter." There is little doubt that Modi is running the BJP campaign in Gujarat. He helped choose the candidates, he laid down the campaign rules and he is among the party's most active campaigners. He has also visited all the 26 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state.

A favourite of the Sangh Parivar, Modi once again lords over Gujarat, from where he had been banished after the Shankarsinh Vaghela fiasco. Excerpts from an exclusive interview:

So, Gujarat's 'Strong Man' is back where he belongs!

It is all the creation of the media. I am just a humble party worker. Nothing more than that.

The Times of India says the BJP in Gujarat will suffer because of the absence of a charismatic leader.

Let them say that. There is absolutely no leadership crisis in our party.

Have you learnt your lessons from the 1996 debacle when the BJP split in Gujarat after being in power for just over a year?

I guess so. These issues will be decided by the people in the days to come. But we in the BJP have taken certain precautions. We have chosen candidates who are committed to our ideology and who are loyal to it. If you look at what happened in Gujarat, you will know that the leader with too much of ambition was thrown out in no time. That was the logical end to his ambition.

Didn't you build a wall around the party leadership so that it did not know what was happening in Gujarat? The average party worker was not able to reach out and inform the leadership what was happening here.

I was blamed for the Gujarat fiasco but kept quiet because one day the truth will come out. A recent popular survey showed that 82 per cent of the people in the state believed that Shankersinh Vaghela was responsible for the split in the BJP and the toppling of the Keshubhai Patel government. But the media targetted me.

Weren't you the remote control to then chief minister Keshubhai Patel?

Look, I am a humble party worker with no political ambition. When Keshubhai was in power, I never visited him at Gandhinagar, did not phone him or his ministers and never interfered with the functioning of the government. I was busy with party work. Mind you, I have been in active party politics only for the last six years.

It is hard to believe this 'Raja Harischandra' attitude!

But that is a fact. My party was happy with me. I respect not only L K Advani, but also all the senior leaders of the BJP. They also appreciate my work at the party level.

How did you go about organising this poll campaign?

I knew the background and history of all the contestants for the seats. I visited all the 26 Lok Sabha constituencies and met leaders at all levels. Any party worker who had something to tell me was welcomed. The fight in Gujarat is between the Congress and the BJP. We shall sweep the assembly election and win more than 20 out of the 26 Lok Sabha seats.

Will the Muslims and dalits in Gujarat vote for your party?

The dalits and the OBCs are now totally with the BJP. The Muslims can be divided into two. Those with the BJP and those who are indifferent. They will vote even for Independent Muslim candidates, but not for the Congress. The Rashtriya Janata Party is a non-starter and will be wiped out.

Your concept of Hindutva is rather rigid. You are supposed to be one with leaders like Uma Bharati whose audio cassettes spewed venom against the Muslims.

Hinduism is the most secular religion in the world. It accepts every faith. I know what leaders like Uma Bharati stand for. It is not any kind of extremism. Her cassettes do not contain anything offensive wounding the sentiments of other religions.

The Rediff Election Interviews

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