It's not just the Muslims. Patels, displaced farmers, Sindhis and even right-wing fanatics have turned their backs on Narendra Modi. Rana Ayyub reports on why the Gujarat strongman is facing his toughest election battle yet
JUST BEFORE the Navratra celebrations, Chief Minister Narendra Modi addressed a meeting of senior Gujarat BJP members in Nabhoi village. In attendance were the 500 most important functionaries of the party from Gujarat. The venue was significant. Nabhoi is a stronghold of the Kadva Patels, at the centre of attention in Gujarat. On the podium were close confidants of Modi and a life-size portrait of Swami Vivekananda found prominent display.
Seated in the first few rows was an MP from the state known for his opposition to Modi. As the chief minister rose to speak, the MP whispered to the person next to him that Modi would cry while delivering his speech. The news spread across the room, whisper to whisper. Some laughed it off; others waited, curious to know if the prediction would come true.
Modi did not disappoint; he recollected a quote of Swami Vivekananda and a tear dropped from his right eye. As if on cue, the cameras zoomed in on him as he wiped his eye with a linen kerchief. The stunned neighbour turned searchingly towards the MP. The latter laughed. “In Gujarat,” he said, “our seniors, including the likes of Ashok Bhatt, have resorted to the same tactic when they seemed to have been losing ground among their own men.”
It's an interesting anecdote coming as it does in the wake of opinion polls that give Modi a sweeping victory in Gujarat. State Intelligence Bureau officers, however, are foretelling only a narrow win. There is no doubt the odds are in favour of India's most controversial politician, but as TEHELKA toured Gujarat, some factors pointed to the unpredictable nature of politics. It is possible that a different picture may emerge.
Shrewd as he is, Modi has sensed the possible pitfalls. So, while his public relations machinery went overboard playing up the visit of British High Commissioner James Bevan, the man himself made a hasty visit to the RSS headquarters in Nagpur just a day before Bevan arrived. A fitness freak and religious man, Modi broke a rule he had set himself. Known to fast for nine days during the Navratra festival and abstaining from leaving Gandhinagar, he made an exception for Nagpur. Why?
His concern was that the mood on the ground was changing. In 2002, the Gujarat riots and religious polarisation had won the BJP a thumping victory. In 2007 the “maut ka saudagar” statement backfired on the Congress. But today, the BJP, or rather Modi, is caught in the complexities he himself has created. In 2002, newspapers such as Sandesh and Gujarat Samachar were labelled Modi's pamphlets by critics. Today, their headlines lampoon him. “Troubled Narendra Modi runs to Nagpur with his can of worries” said Gujarat Samachar. Other newspapers, which till recently were toeing the government line, seem to have become “neutral”.
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