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Modi issue overshadows BJP meet

india Updated: Jun 14, 2010 17:00 IST

The controversy surrounding Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi over two advertisements virtually hijacked virtually hijacked the two-day party National Executive that ended on Sunday.

The resolutions and the debates at the conclave took a backseat with the row involving Modi and his Bihar counterpart Nitish Kumar taking the centre stage following the ad blitzkrieg praising the Gujarat Chief Minister.

In one advertisement Modi was shown holding a hand of Kumar and another listing the details of Gujarat government's aid to Bihar during the Kosi floods in 2008.

This riled Kumar no end that he cancelled a dinner he was to hold for the top BJP leadership on Saturday night. Kumar, who is heading a coalition government with BJP, is wooing Muslims in the elections scheduled later this year and does not not want to be seen in the company of Modi.

Perhaps, no other crucial meeting of the BJP had revolved around one man, relegating the issues challenging the organisation.

There was a sense of unease in a section of party leaders even before the meeting as Modi left no stone unturned to project his larger-than-life persona with some advertisements depicting him as a "Hindu Hriday Samrat" and some others claiming that Muslims were well-off in Gujarat.

The maiden visit of Modi in Bihar after becoming was preceded by a propaganda which provided fodder for the detractors of Nitish Kumar to target him ahead of Assembly elections in Bihar.

This came as an apparent embarrassment to Kumar, who has been assiduously wooing the Muslims, constituting 16 per cent of the state's population.

Nitish Kumar utilised the national media, which had come to cover the BJP meet, to send the message loud and clear to Modi as also the BJP top brass that he was not amused by the tactics of the Gujarat Chief Minister.

The manner in which Kumar went about the task made the BJP leadership rally around Modi with party chief Nitin Gadkari telling his party that the need of the hour is to behave as a "mature national political party" which would not compromise on self-respect for power-sharing.

Modi himself made the right noises, winning many supporters in the process. He was the toast of the "Swabhiman" (self-respect) rally on Sunday where BJP launched its election campaign for the assembly elections to be held in October-November.

Several supporters were seen carrying Modi posters and raising slogans in his name. They responded enthusiastically to his overtures to them. He raised the tempo with slogans like "Bharat Mata ki Jai" and "Vande Mataram".

Modi also kept away from the raging controversy, leaving it to senior BJP leader L K Advani to send across a message to the Bihar Chief Minister that the advertisements were not such a big issue and he would have been happy to see Kumar at the rally.

Modi utilised the occasion to target Congress President Sonia Gandhi, asking her to speak up on who was the "merchant of death" in the Bhopal gas tragedy which had claimed over 15,000 lives in 1984.

It was Sonia who had used the term "merchant of death" against Modi in the 2007 assembly elections in Gujarat. Modi also spoke on national issues like price rise, terrorism and farmer suicides.

That the BJP top brass stood behind Modi despite feelers from Nitish that he should not speak shows the clout Modi holds among the BJP pantheon.