Buoyed by a saffron wave of Hindu religious leaders endorsing him as PM candidate, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi on Friday defended his record on riots in his state. He also emphasised that Indian tradition talked about the welfare of all and not just Hindus.
Modi addressed a large gathering at Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Yogapeeth here to unveil the yoga guru’s new gurukul, Acharyakulam, which will seek to synthesise Vedic and modern knowledge.
“After the Gujarat riots of 2002, I had only one mantra: abhayam (no fear). There used to be recurrent riots in Gujarat. For 12 years now, there hasn’t been a single one,” Modi said. “This is because of our traditional values and culture, which teach us ‘sarve bhavantu sukhinah’ (happiness for all), and not just the happiness and welfare of Hindus. Our culture is unparalleled in the world.”
While Modi employed shlokas and Hindu symbolism throughout his speech, he connected them to universal good and not just that of Hindus.
Almost all religious leaders who spoke before Modi endorsed his candidature as BJP’s PM candidate. Modi got a chance to speak after four-and-a-half hours of speeches by sants.
Ramdev endorsed Modi’s national ambitions too. “I’ve met 11 crore people till now in my sabhas and I heard only one voice: The nation wants Narendra Modi. I am not saying so. It is the nation’s voice,” he said.
Modi praised Ramdev profusely, hitting out at the Centre for “targeting” him.
There were a few new themes in the Modi show.
Ramdev recalled that Modi wasn't from a dynasty but "washed tea cups as a child when his father sold tea". Modi's speech was preceded by a small introduction, which said he came from an "extremely backward caste". Clearly, there was an attempt to project the Gujarat strongman as a self-made leader.
Modi deftly played to the saffron gallery.
"It is our duty to save our culture, which has saved us all along. Any society that cuts itself from its historical roots and cultural shade can never make history," he said. He linked this celebration of culture to aspirations of the country.
"We have lost self-confidence. Which country has someone like Baba Ramdev who interacts with crores of people face-to-face while touring the country to improve people's health? Which country has a Mahakumbh where millions gather and everything happens smoothly? Can any management guru replicate this?" he said.
Modi spoke of tradition from a reformist prism, recalling the contribution of Sri Narayana Guru of Kerala, Mahatma Gandhi and Swami Vivekanand in serving the backward classes, working against untouchability and asking people to forget their gods and serve the motherland.