Narendra Modi hardsells new face, but is stuck in the past
During his three-day fast for "harmony", Hindutva icon Narendra Modi slipped once while walking the tight rope to reach out to Muslims. He regained balance, but not very convincingly. Mahesh Langa & Vikas Pathak report. Makeover that wasn't | Fast dilutes BJP's anti-graft pitch | See videoUpdated: Sep 20, 2011 14:36 IST
During his three-day fast for "harmony", Hindutva icon Narendra Modi slipped once while walking the tight rope to reach out to Muslims. He regained balance, but not very convincingly.
On Sunday, the second day of his three-day show of clout among minorities - parading Muslim men and women at the venue - a maulvi offered him a skullcap as a mark of respect. Modi had to refuse. He accepted a shawl, instead.
What's more, his closing speech on Monday made no mention of the 2002 riots, a throwback to his attitude during the past nine years that had earned him the Hindutva icon status.
In fact, he suggested that Muslim welfare was a subset of Gujarat's overall growth.
The Congress attacked him for the skullcap episode, with spokesperson Renuka Chowdhary saying: "Modi topi pehnaata hai pehanta nahin (Modi makes a fool of others)…. He is playing the communal card to win the assembly elections."
"My government does not work for the majority or the minority, it only works for six crore people of the state. The majority-minority divide is the tool of those who practise vote bank politics," Modi said in his closing speech.
But the fast had been planned to reach out to the Muslims through written tributes to pluralism and harmony, besides Urdu advertisements likening Modi's fast to observing the roza - which the devout Muslim observes during the month Ramadan.
The nuanced reach-out plan aims at two things: ensuring that Modi approaches the next assembly polls with a strong chance of another victory and re-packaging him in a more acceptable image for a possible national role without shedding his hardline appeal.
While BJP president Nitin Gadkari, recuperating from a weight-loss surgery, and Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh chief ministers Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Raman Singh, respectively, were absent on the dais, Sushma Swaraj - widely seen as Modi's future competitor in the race for the prime minister's chair - echoed Modi.
She said, "His (Modi's) development plans do not seek out a Hindu or a Muslim... Development does not discriminate, it favours everyone."
She also said PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti had praised Modi at a recent National Integration Council meet.
Former BJP chief Venkaiah Naidu almost ended up suggesting that Modi be considered for the top post: "There is no leader to equal Modi in all of India. We ask the Congress: We have Modi, who do you have? … Modi should get ready to serve the nation."
Raj Thackeray of the MNS, too, said he would be happy if Modi becomes prime minister.
Renuka Chowdhary, however, said, "If Modi is the prime minister candidate, who is the BJP's CM candidate for Gujarat?"
First Published: Sep 19, 2011 18:32 IST