Narendra Modi’s expression of his desire to “repay his debt to Bharat Mata”, the clearest indication yet of his intention to run for prime minister, drew sharp criticism from rival Congress as well as ally Janata Dal-United (JD-U).
A day after the Gujarat chief minister’s remark, the Congress questioned his secular credentials while the JD-U said he could serve the country just as well by serving his state instead of hankering after the “Delhi crown”.
“I often worry about the Gujarat CM’s statements. I hope he does not want to do in the rest of India what he did in Gujarat in 2002,” said Union minister Manish Tewari, a loaded reference to the communal riots that Modi just hasn’t managed to shake off.
His party colleague Rashid Alvi appeared to compare Modi with Yamraj, the Hindu god of death. Asked if Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi had Modi in mind when he said at a CII meeting on Thursday that no “guy on a horse” would come charging through to fix India’s problems, the AICC spokesman responded: “Had he intended to indicate Modi, he wouldn’t have referred to somebody riding a horse but to somebody riding a buffalo (Yamraj’s vehicle). Rahul spoke about somebody on a horse, he must have been referring to a messiah.”
For the BJP, the barb brought back memories of Sonia Gandhi’s “maut ka saudagar (merchant of death)” comment from the 2007 Gujarat election campaign.
The JD-U, averse to projecting Modi as the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate, also mocked the chief minister’s statement.
"Modi is already serving the nation as Gujarat CM. But when some politician says such things, it reflects the latent desire in his heart for the Delhi crown. Woh kursi ki akansha rakh rahe hain (he is aspiring for the PM's chair," said party spokesperson Shivanand Tiwari.
I&B minister Tewari also took a potshot at the BJP's criticism of the dual power centre in the UPA: "It is a bit of an oxymoron, who is talking about divided power centres. If you look at the BJP, you have prime ministers in waiting, prime ministers in lurking, prime ministers who are sulking, and all sorts of tendencies… that can be characterised as internecine intra-party warfare."
The BJP's Prakash Javadekar said Tewari's comments betrayed the Congress' "exasperation and desperation". He said, "The central government is trying to hide its lack of achievements behind a fusillade of accusations against Modi. After the unfortunate 2002 riots, Gujarat is a state free of communal tension. Other states have riots too."
The criticism of Modi didn't stop at the Congress and JD-U, though. The Nationalist Congress Party's Tariq Anwar said it appeared the Gujarat CM wanted to "re-enact the carnage" in the entire country while Samajwadi Party's Naresh Agarwal felt there was more publicity than work done in Gujarat.