“I like him because he refused the topi.” This comment by an upper-middle class professional who attended Narendra Modi’s Gorakhpur rally last week might remind the BJP PM-in-waiting of a past he is trying to distance himself from. “Others wear the topi, and act only for that community. But Modiji showed he will not pander to them.”
The Gujarat CM had indeed refused to wear a skull-cap gifted by Muslim clerics during his famous Sadbhavana fast in September 2011, but he has since been courting the Muslim community at his various rallies in the run-up to recent state elections.
In this eastern UP town last week, Modi carefully avoided any rhetoric that could be construed as communal, sticking to ‘development and welfare’ while playing up his backward caste origin. But others warmed up the crowds to the tune of Hindutva, just before his arrival.
Former Bajrang Dal leader Vinay Katiyar greeted the crowds with ‘Jai Shri Ram’. He even went on to promise “a law to enable the construction of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya” if Modi were to become the PM.
Rajnath Singh targeted the SP for catering only to select communities and critiqued special schemes launched for Muslim girls and students.
Another office-bearer of the cultural unit recited a poem which suggested that Modi, when he becomes the PM, would tell the army general to “go to the border”, and face the enemy “once and for all”.
City MP Yogi Adityanath spoke of the dangers of open border with Nepal. “Pakistani terrorists are using the Nepal border to enter our territory.”
In UP, the BJP campaign relies heavily on the language of aggressive Hindutva.
Party soldiers and Sangh pracharaks admit the frenzy around Modi was partially driven by the perception that he would “keep minorities in their place”. “In UP, the government behaves as if Muslims are the only citizens. We will take advantage of the resentment,” a Sangh functionary told HT in Varanasi.
In an effort to broaden his social base, Modi has moderated his rhetoric. Many have veered to him because of his economic mantra. How he will keep his new supporters intact while appeasing his core extremist base is at the heart of BJP’s challenge as the election end-game approaches.