In his first public rally as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi on Sunday retained his characteristic aggressive tone to push pet themes of the party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, but with an important difference.
At Rewari, Modi appeared to be trying to pick up the political speak of nuanced criticism, not known to be his style until now.
Modi did not make any remark that could be construed by his political opponents as an anti-minority slur — as had happened in his Pune speech in mid-July, which was after he became the face of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) campaign.
Most significantly, Modi made it a point to make several references to former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, the moderate face of the BJP.
Modi couched his appeal to Pakistan to stop encouraging terrorism from its soil and join hands with India, with a call to fight poverty and hunger.
These were the very words the former PM had used to appeal to the neighbouring country during his two visits (including his famous Lahore bus ride) there.
Congress leaders could argue speeches made by PM Manmohan Singh over the decade have this point about the South Asian neighbours working together for economic uplift.
But coming from Modi, BJP leaders saw a change in his approach and preparations for a big role.
Indicative of a big shift in his strategy, Modi appeared to be keeping in mind the counsel he got from senior BJP leaders close to him and his band of trusted aides to be cautious in his tone of attack against the Congress.
Modi did dwell heavily on the Congress brand of secularism, particularly “vote-bank politics” to argue that its “divide and rule” policy had hurt the country.
But he saw to it that he did not “slip or blunder” on any reference like “burqa” of secularism, which could used by the Congress.
This time, Modi chose the term “umbrella of secularism” being used to perpetuate vote-bank politics.
Addressing ex-servicemen in this south Haryana town, he also described the army as a “symbol of secularism” from which politicians should learn.
Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi, raises his hands with supporters at a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rally at Rewari, in Haryana. (AFP Photo)