Besides their visible angry reactions, there was a sense of glee within the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s unprecedented attack on its mascot Narendra Modi.
BJP leaders feel that the PM’s comments may actually reboot Modi’s campaign for the Lok Sabha polls, and bring its prime ministerial candidate back in the spotlight. The campaign has been overshadowed recently by the Aam Aadmi Party’s outstanding performance in last month’s Assembly elections in Delhi.
On Friday, Singh said “it will be disastrous for the country to have Modi as PM,” adding that the Gujarat CM presided over a “massacre of innocent citizens on the streets of Ahmedabad.”
BJP leaders said attacking Modi weeks after a Gujarat court found no evidence that he conspired to stoke the 2002 communal riots will work against the Congress.
“The Congress and its allies may think that the PM’s attack on Modi will endear to their vote base. But harping on the issue could be counter-productive in states like Uttar Pradesh where Modi is looking for a huge haul of parliamentary seats,” said a BJP functionary.
The PM could have inadvertently handed Modi and the BJP with an “advantage”, said the leaders. A BJP leader recalled that during the 2012 polls in Gujarat, the Congress consciously avoided falling into what its leaders called “the Modi trap” and the word “Godhra” did not find mention in the Congress manifesto, or in the party’s 34-page “chargesheet” against Modi. The PM’s criticism now means that the Congress will be forced to harp on the issue, “which should suit Modi and us,” said the leader.
Reacting to the PM’s comments, BJP president Rajnath Singh said, “Whatever happened in 2002 is sad. But when the SIT (Special Investigation Team) and court have given him a clean chit, such a statement is unfortunate and condemnable.”
Read: Manmohan's comment on Modi laughable, says Rajnath
Asked if the PM’s comments would adversely affect the BJP’s prospects, party leader Arun Jaitley said Sonia Gandhi’s “maut ka saudagar” (merchant of death) comment against Modi in the Gujarat 2007 polls did cause the BJP any damage, indicating that it should not now. But Jaitley criticised the PM for his choice of words. “It does not add to the dignity of the PM office… If the dirty tricks department of the Congress had used such language, it is understandable.”
Asserting that Modi would make a “very good” PM, Jaitley pointed out that the Gujarat CM has gone through immense scrutiny involving the police, Supreme Court and a commission of inquiry. “Even if one were to use the same logic advanced by the PM to defend corruption under UPA I because it won the polls in 2009, Modi has won three polls since the 2002 riots,” he added.
Read: PM's press meet a farce, admission of failure, says Jaitley