That BJP workers have accepted a generational shift in the leadership and residues of internal differences were still present in the party was visible at a massive poll rally in Bhopal on Wednesday.
There was palpable coldness when party patriarch LK Advani and Narendra Modi came together on stage, separated by BJP chief Rajnath Singh. Advani showed no warmth when Modi touched his feet, almost as an afterthought.
The patriarch presented Modi a bouquet, but with an air of detachment.
Advani, whose stature appeared diminished, was the inaugural speaker. Customarily, he spoke at the end of each rally. The buzz in the party was that many feared he might be hooted if he spoke before Modi.
Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who is close to Advani, tried to create a positive atmosphere for him by walking up to the mike to welcome him.
But even this couldn’t prevent the inevitable. Advani had to face Modi chants midway in his speech and winded up almost immediately, as if taking the cue.
Though the crowd was admonished for interrupting the senior leader, they drowned the speeches of Rajnath Singh, Murli Manohar Joshi and even Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan with Modi chants.
Still, Swaraj and Chouhan made scant mention of Modi and restricted their speeches to the Madhya Pradesh theme.
Even as Advani praised the Gujarat, MP and Chhattisgarh governments for their track records on governance, he recalled the BJP’s rise from just an opposition party to one that attracted many allies, including socialists Jaya Prakash Narayan and Ram Manohar Lohia, two icons of the Janata Dal (United).
But he refrained from explicitly calling for the NDA’s expansion, thus steering clear on an issue that isn’t seen as Modi’s strength.
In sharp contrast to the restrain he displayed at a public meeting in Haryana some days ago, an aggressive Modi made a scathing attack on the Congress, saying the party will field the CBI to fight the assembly polls in five states as it had no guts to fight the BJP.
“Congress isn’t fielding candidates in MP, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Delhi this time. The CBI will fight the next polls,” he said, obliquely accusing the Centre of misusing the CBI against political opponents.
He warned the Congress that the country wouldn’t forgive it for its Emergency mindset. Accusing the Congress of massive corruption, the BJP prime ministerial candidate said the zeroes in the amount of the loot would cover the distance between Bhopal and Delhi.
“Towards the end of his life, Gandhi ji wanted Congress be disbanded. We have to fulfill his dream by delivering a Congress-free India,” he said and got the crowd to say “yes” to Congress-free India.
Accusing the Centre of discrimination against NDA states like MP, he said it held back schemes for housing for the MP poor and power through the Sardar Sarovar dam by not allowing gates to be built.
He added that NDA states had outperformed Congress states, leading to the Centre holding back data for the same.
In an election punch, he added: “Do you want your children to be poor, illiterate and ill? If not you’ll have to vote for freedom from this human misery. Surveys say a BJP wind is blowing. But even a 200-kilometer per hour wind can’t inflate a bicycle tube. That’ll require a pump (from you).”