People of Wansda village in Navsari district gather to watch Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speak at Gandhi Maidan during an election campaign rally for upcoming Gujarat state assembly elections in Gujarat. (Satish Bate/Hindustan Times)
The Gujarat election this season was listless and low key even for chief minister Narendra Modi. After the debacle of 2007, the Congress was playing it safe focusing only on the gap between Modi's hype and the truth as known to people who have to suffer in silence.
With no new issues to focus his campaign on, Modi was in search of a 'maut ka saudagar' moment. He may well have got it on Sunday, squeezing an issue out of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's otherwise careful and understated address to the people at Vansda village in Navsari district, a tribal belt and a Congress stronghold in south Gujarat.
Modi picked on one single statement of the PM, made almost in passing, that the minorities, Adivasis and other weaker sections felt unsafe in Gujarat.
Modi seized the moment. Inadvertently helping him in this goal was Shaheen Dhada, the 21-year-old student from Palghar in neighbouring Maharashtra who posted an innocuous message on Facebook after Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray's funeral. She had asked why a city needed to be shut down for that and was not just arrested for no crime but her uncle's clinic was also vandalised by Shiv Sainiks.
Soon after her release, Shaheen went missing from Palghar and was traced to Gujarat. She was earlier quoted as saying she felt unsafe in Mumbai.
“Now this young Muslim girl says she feels safer in Gujarat than in neighbouring Maharashtra, a state ruled by the Prime Minister's own party. Moreover, Muslims were also killed in large numbers in another Congress ruled state, Assam, which the PM represents in the Rajya Sabha. And he has the gall to come to my state and sow the seeds of discord among communities who are living here in peace!” Modi said.
The applause was thunderous.