Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has been one to respond aggressively to any criticism of the more dodgy aspects of his record. But as elections come to a close, Mr Modi has opened up the heavy artillery in response to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s reference to reviewing the 1992 Gujarat riot cases. Daring the PM to arrest him, he cast himself as the mouthpiece of all Gujaratis, vowing that they would not be threatened. He then threw in the chilling caveat that if someone bothered Gujaratis, they would not be spared. And despite Supreme Court strictures, he challenged the Congress “to place a chadar on the grave of Sohrabuddin” who was allegedly killed in a fake encounter in Gujarat on charges of being a terrorist.
Mr Modi’s bellicosity comes at a time when LK Advani has just begun his innings as the party’s next prime ministerial candidate. For the moment Mr Advani appears to have let Mr Modi vent his spleen in the hope that this will give the BJP a decisive edge in what promises to be a closely contested poll. But sooner or later, Mr Advani will be under pressure from the Sangh parivar, which has no love lost for Mr Modi, to rein in the Chief Minister. There are two reasons why Mr Advani will have to do this. The BJP is trying to widen its appeal across the country before the next general elections. Mr Modi’s brand of Hindutva has few takers in places other than Gujarat. Certainly, the NDA allies will quail at being associated with this. Mr Modi’s popularity could also assume bigger proportions, if he does well at the hustings that is, and neither Mr Advani nor the party will be able to control him. Mr Advani knows that the politics of communal polarisation can take the party so far and no more. It will now have to tread a fine line between inclusive politics and bursts of Hindutva where required.
Mr Modi is an elected representative of the state. Yet, at times like now, he exceeds his brief. The BJP has been introspecting long and loud about how to reform from within. Well, it needs to begin with Mr Modi and his ilk. In a democratic polity, any head of government is bound to be criticised on policy issues, especially emotive ones like justice for riot victims. The response ought to be measured and not over the top, like Mr Modi’s has been. This is no good for the BJP’s image as it begins an era without its tallest leader, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.