Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s ongoing image makeover exercise continued to raise political tempers in Delhi on Monday. The BJP defended him from the Congress and Samajwadi Party while obliquely endorsing his line that Gujarat’s economic growth had trickled down to all communities, proving that the state government was secular.
Accusing the Congress and SP of “untouchability” for their unease with any mention of Modi's development activities, BJP chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad sought to know why parties who talked about the 2002 riots were “silent” on the Assam violence issue.
He said their aim was to divert attention from Gujarat’s economic growth.
The context: The SP disowned Shahid Siddiqui for interviewing Modi for the Urdu weekly Nai Duniya — thus giving Modi another image makeover opportunity. The Congress too said it was enquiring into its MP Vijay Darda’s praise for Modi.
As BJP prepares for a generational leadership shift at the Centre — and he braces for yet another Gujarat poll — Modi is in the midst of a calibrated image makeover exercise to shed the tag of a hardliner.
His claim: Muslims too have benefited from Gujarat's economic growth. Here, secularism becomes a subset of economic growth, and thus Gujarat becomes more “inclusive” of minorities than most states by default.
But, Modi hasn’t “apologised” for the riots, including in the latest Nai Duniya interview where he offered to be hanged if guilty. He also refused to wear a skull cap offered by a Muslim cleric during his Sadbhavna fast in October 2011.
Clearly, he wants to guard his hardline constituency too, which look up to him as a “no-nonsense” focused leader not game for “appeasement politics”.
And at a time when “development” has arrived as a crucial catchphrase in India's political lexicon, Modi wants to project himself as the national frontrunner on this count.
His government hired top American firm APCO Worldwide in 2009 to project the state as the top investment destination and boost his government's global image.